In Class Study Tips

What You Must Do In Class

Go To Every Class

This should be a no-brainer, but it is amazing how many college students skip classes. Remember, that is why I call this committed time. You can’t take notes if you don’t show up.

NEVER miss a class for any reason. Not one. Don’t be sick, don’t sleep in, don’t take a road trip, don’t go to a sporting event, don’t do anything that causes you to miss a class. I never missed a single class in college – ever. Not one. Your parents are paying a bucket of money for you to go to those. You have to show up.

Sit Front and Center In Every College Class

This is one of the most important things you can do. You’ll resist it, but it is critical.

Walk to the front and sit yourself down in the front row, directly in front of the lectern. Each and every class. Same spot.

Nothing focuses your attention more than sitting at the front of the class. It is a surefire cure for daydreaming, fiddling, doodling, or otherwise muddling your way through the class.

You won’t be on facebook. You won’t be texting. You won’t be ogling your secret crush in the seat in front of you.

You’ll be attentive, undistracted and totally engaged. Complete clarity.

The only reason you want to sit in the back is fear of getting called on, which is really a fear of not being prepared. That isn’t going to be an issue for you anymore. We’ll solve that problem shortly.

Park your *** at the front of every class.

Turn Off Your Cell Phone

Sitting at the front of the class usually solves this problem, but just in case, we’ll cover it.

I’m an old guy, but I’m also definitely a tech guy. I use all of the same stuff you do. There are all kinds of amazing applications for taking notes, recording lectures, planning your homework and class schedules and other things. Great stuff – but also a curse.

I recently audited a college class. I sat in the back and observed. What I noticed most was the distraction that technology brings to class. Everyone had a laptop. Many were taking notes. However, a huge number of people had other stuff on – facebook, chat windows, web browsers. Many were texting on their cell phones.

You have to turn this stuff off. I can’t emphasize this enough. It is a crime that colleges even allow it, but you are supposed to be adults now. You aren’t. You still waste your time and your money by not having a total focus in your class.

I know that every kid has a laptop now. I think those should be shut down completely during class. I’ll tell you why shortly. I realize that kids will use it anyway, but if you do, you need to shut down everything else except your word processor and calculator of choice. Everything – Turn it all off.

This Is How To Take Notes In College

First let’s talk about taking notes by hand. There is a fancy name for this: The Cornell Note-Taking System. Google it if you want, but we’ll keep it simple.

Go out and buy a standard bound notebook, then do this:

Draw a line down each of the pages about a third of the way over. Use a ruler or just draw a sloppy line down it like this with your pen. It doesn’t matter. The point is to separate the page into two sections so it looks something like this. You’ll be taking notes on the right side and writing test questions on the left. I’ll explain that later.



You are going to take all of your class notes on the right side of the line. You need to write down EVERYTHING. Fast and furious. Don’t try to figure out if it’s important or not. Yeah, I know, you saw it in the textbook so there is no need to take notes. Wrong answer. Keep writing. Try to capture every word of every lecture. The professor is saying it, so it must be important and you can bet it is going to be on the exam. Capture it all. Drill it in. You’ll need it all. (More later).

Use a Pen

I like a pen and not a computer for taking notes. Why? I’m sure I can type way faster than I can write, but writing by hand is much more flexible. Not many lectures involve just taking text notes. You’ll need to diagram or graph, or draw stuff. You may need to jump back.

Things will be moving so fast you actually may not be able to keep up typing. You’ll need to use your own form of shorthand and abbreviate when you get behind. You can come back and fill it in later.

More importantly, there is something about writing that just helps you remember it better. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s focused. That’s why it is my preference over a computer. My advice is get a notebook, draw that line down the page 1/3 of the way over and just grab a pen.  You’ll be glad you took notes by hand.

OK, If You Must, Use a Laptop

OK, I realize you have the fancy laptop. I’m a total computer guy myself. I get it. I realize that I am probably not going to win this pen argument, so if and when you do use a laptop to take notes, I want you to set the left margin to a 3 and move the right margin over to an 8. Type the notes on the right side, but leave plenty of room on the left. Everything else is the same. Capture it all. Don’t decide what’s important or what isn’t. Don’t say it’s in the textbook. Get it all.


If you are using your computer, you need to TURN EVERYTHING ELSE OFF. Everything that keeps you from focusing on class – turn it off. facebook, IM, the browser. It’s a sure recipe for failure. Turn off everything but your word processor.

Make Sure You Understand Everything

I know this sounds like an odd one, but it is amazing how many people say ‘well, I kind of get it, or, I’ll figure it out, or, it’s in the book’ or some form of ‘I’ll worry about it later’.

STOP. If you don’t understand something, you need to raise your hand right now and get it clarified. If it isn’t the right time to break a chain of thought, make a note in the margin and wait until after class. Then….

Ask The Professor

You should not leave that class until you understand the concept completely. Kids often think if you just keep going things will become clear. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn’t. The confusion just grows. Get it clarified immediately. If you have to leave, you need to get to the Professor’s office as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the next class. You need to know it NOW. Have a sense of urgency. Do it in person, not by email.

What To Do After Class

OK, you just left class. You could go back to the dorm and take a nap. You could go to the quad and throw the Frisbee or hang out with friends. You aren’t going to do that. Really. We’ll cover this more in detail, but no, not you. You are going to get a couple of things done right away while that last class is still fresh in your mind.

Review Notes Immediately

The time to review notes is immediately after they are taken. You were frantically writing. Lots of new concepts. Lots of abbreviations and shorthand. While they are still fresh in your mind, take a scan through the notes. I’m talking 10 minutes here – max. You’ll remember what you got and what you missed. Stop and fill in those areas. Do you need to see the Prof? The longer the time between class and clarification, the less you’ll remember. Wrap up each set of class notes before moving on to the next one.

Do Your Next Assignment – Immediately

When you left class, you probably got your next assignment. Now is the time to get on it. This is where time gaps come into play. Use the hour before the next class to get started on the next assignment. Every new assignment logically follows what you just did in class so the sooner you read it the clearer it will be.

Every minute matters. They add up to hours by the end of the day.

The Best Way To Prepare For Exams – Write The Test Questions

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew all of the test questions in advance of the exams? Kind of like breaking into the Professor’s office or hacking his computer to get your hands on those test questions?

Too much trouble. Just write them yourself. You’ve taken a lot of great notes. You know that stuff is going to be turned into test questions, so write the questions yourself.

That is what the left side of that notebook is for.


You are going to look at the notes on the right side and you are going to write a test question to the left. Yes, yet another review of those wonderful notes. See, you are studying already!

Now you are starting to look at the material in terms of how it might appear on your exam. Exams can be given in all kinds of formats from multiple choice, fill in the blank, problem / solution, to essay. The possibilities are endless. Also, the content and concepts of your notes could be in many different forms. Just write a test question in a way that makes sense for the material you are looking at.

Formulate the questions as you think they would most logically appear on the exam.

For example….

Define the meaning of…..

What are the three things that…..

Explain the concept of…

What are the 5 components of…..

Which is most important? Why?

I can’t begin to cover every possible form of test question. Professors often give concepts and then give questions designed to come at the topic from a different direction. Look at the content and think about the ways it could be tested on. You may need to write a question in more than one way.

Ask the Professor – ‘what is the format of the test?’ He’ll let you know. For now, just write. We’ll talk about how to review later.

DON’T WAIT TO DO THIS. Write your test questions as soon as possible after the class is over. Don’t wait until you are starting to prepare for the exam. Do this as soon as possible after the class is over. That is when things are fresh. Review your notes. Clean them up, complete them and clarify them, then form the test questions.

If you took notes with the computer, you can print out the pages and write test questions on the left side. OK, I guess you can just set two columns and type the test questions too if you want.

The key is to make sure that you write a test question for every single concept in your notes.

Let’s review:

Benefits Of Writing Test Questions

Writing your own questions forces you to complete and clarify your notes right away.

Secondly, it forces you to start thinking about the material in the way that it will likely appear on the exam.

Third, it forces you to better retain the material. By reading the questions and answering them by heart, you will have far greater retention than if you just read and re-read the material.

Lastly, it saves time because you focus your attention on what you DON’T know instead of what you DO. When you are confident that you know the answers to the questions, you simply cross each of them off. You can quickly scan down your pages and focus on those questions that have not yet been crossed off. You won’t be spending your time continually looking at material that you already know.

More on that later.

Nothing speeds preparation for exams better than writing the test questions.

Enough on notes. Let’s talk textbooks