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Study Skills

Study Skills

It’s time to buckle down and start to study for that exam you have next week (or tomorrow!). Perhaps you have to conduct research to prepare to write a paper. Or maybe you’re just reading about a subject in order to be able to discuss it in class. Regardless of the assignment, do you find yourself getting frustrated after spending a lot of time studying but not getting the results you want? It’s possible that part of the issue is HOW you are studying, and not just HOW LONG you are studying. To that end, we would like to share some information about good study skills.


One of the primary components of having good study skills is the ability to concentrate. Concentration is an elusive state of mind. Ironically, the more you think or worry about concentration, the less you're actually concentrating on the task at hand. That's why strategies to improve concentration usually approach it indirectly, by focusing on the elimination of distractions.

While there are few "quick fix" solutions for improving concentration, the first step is usually the same, whether you're having difficulties or just want to enhance your present ability. A thoughtful analysis of what distracts your concentration will often indicate the most effective course of action for improving it. A summary of typical disruptions is presented here to provide a framework for understanding your particular situation.

The Disruptions of Concentration

  • Study Location
    First-year students, especially those living in residence halls, often find concentration difficult because of noise, roommates, or an uncomfortable environment. Living at home or off campus can also present unique challenges. Knowing where to find a quiet, comfortable, and distraction-free place to study is one of the simplest and most effective means of facilitating concentration. The Library is an old favorite, and sometimes the study room in your residence hall or an empty lounge, classroom, or meeting room can work well too.

  • Physical Distractions
    Irregular sleep, exercise, and eating patterns can be the unsuspected cause of concentration difficulties. Many students don't realize the strong connection between physical health and intellectual functioning. Finding a regimen that works for you and sticking to it can help to maintain your brain at its physiological peak. Time management strategies such as planning study periods around your body's energy highs and lows will ensure that your physical ability to concentrate will be at its best.

  • Self-Talk
    Many people are not aware that as we perform tasks, including studying, we talk silently to ourselves. "Self-talk" can be motivating - praising accomplishments, helping to sort out what to do next, monitoring progress and achievement. However, if it becomes overly evaluative or critical, self-talk can have a negative effect on concentration. Have you ever started to write a paper, then given up in frustration because you can't even get through the first paragraph? An overly critical "inner editor" may be the culprit. Comparing your abilities to that of other students and having unrealistic expectations about how long or well you "should" be able to concentrate may also contribute to negative self-talk. With coaching, you can learn to manage this distracting internal chatter.

  • Personal Issues
    Some students find that designating a time to think about a problem can help reduce the amount of time that their mind spends wandering. For example, when you notice that you're not concentrating, say to yourself something like, "I'll think about that at 4 o'clock." Then, at 4 o'clock or whatever time you choose, sit down and think through whatever is bothering you. Using a strategy like this can help you to stop blaming yourself for not concentrating and get you quickly back to work.

In-Class Strategies for Concentration

Consider the following general strategies for coping with inattention:

  • Do not sit by the window.
  • Record class lectures when possible, or use your professor’s notes.
  • Participate in class discussions as much as possible to enhance your concentration.
  • Try to schedule the timing of medication doses to maximize your class performance.
  • When unsure of the meaning of exam questions, ask the professor. Inform the professor of this possibility prior to your exam.

Effective Study Strategies

  • Study in a distraction-free environment -- you may NOT want to study in your room.

  • Study in one-hour blocks. Do not expect to be able to study for extended periods.

  • Study with others to reinforce your understanding of the material.

  • Know your learning style -- auditory, visual, or kinesthetic -- to maximize learning; take this information into consideration when working with a tutor.

  • When you study alone, dictate and record key points to enhance learning.

  • If you are an auditory learner, read aloud to yourself while studying.

  • Always "over-learn" the material. Students with memory or attention problems need to practice or rehearse more than the average student.

  • Use active learning techniques, such as SQ3R, that allow you to do the following:
    • Skim a chapter to determine both content and important points in the chapter.
    • Change chapter headings into Questions.
    • Read the text to find answers to your questions.
    • Recite answers to yourself.
    • Review the major points. Read each heading and write down the main points you can recall.
  • Take advantage of free tutoring services on-campus!

Organization and Time Management Strategies

Managing time is a major problem for college students because of the considerable amount of unstructured time they have in college. It may be even more difficult for students with AD/HD, who will need to devote more time to studying than the average college student. These strategies can be effective for any student:

  • Learn to use a daily planner:
    • Put all due dates and exams in the planner
    • Break reading assignments into little bits and schedule times to do the reading
    • Include all your social, work and recreational activities in your planner
    • Always have your planner with you

  • Allocate 10-15 minutes in the morning or before you go to bed at night to plan your day.

  • Make a "To Do" list, and keep it in your planner.

  • Make constructive use of your time between classes, e.g., catching up on assignments, doing assigned reading, etc.

Class Scheduling Strategies

  • Try to schedule classes at times when you feel you are most alert.
  • Do not take more than two quantitative classes in a day.
  • Do not take more than two back-to-back classes in a semester.
  • Avoid taking several classes with especially demanding reading or writing requirements during a single semester.
  • Do not take more than twelve hours per semester.
  • Be aware of drop/add dates. Consider dropping a class if a professor is not willing to accommodate you.
  • If possible, plan on taking especially difficult classes on a pass/fail basis.

How to Get Help

For more information or assistance, please contact the Drexel University Counseling Center at (215) 895-1415, or e-mail

The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.