A simple college hack to make this your best year yet

Reading Time: 6 minutes Learn how the simple act of attending professor office hours can be beneficial to your academics and future career.

Ask the professor: “I’m trying to figure out what the best study method is for me—how do I do that?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes Everybody learns differently, and different assignments require different methods. Find out your study strategy using this simple equation.

Ask the professor: “How do I go about getting a recommendation letter?”

Reading Time: 3 minutes A good recommendation letter can be huge for landing a job or internship. Make sure you’re getting the best recommendation using these tips from a college professor.

Ask the professor: “Who can I talk to about an unfair professor?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes Have a professor who’s being unfair? Read this.

Ask the professor: “Any tips on managing anxiety when speaking in front of people?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes How can you transform from anxious orator to confident communicator? It takes some work, but here are a few tips to help you overcome your fear of public speaking.

Ask the professor: How can I get myself to focus when studying?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

—Jordan V.*, University of North Dakota

(*Name changed)

As I write this response, I’m listening to a radio station, checking Facebook (for the news, really), and monitoring my email for…well, in case I can find something urgent that needs a response. (By the way, there were no urgent emails when I just checked. I guess I need to finish this response.)

This is all to tell you that I, probably like you, am a distracted person. It has gotten worse as I have found more entertaining things to do to keep my mind off my work. I mean, cute cat videos are fun, and they make me feel better when I’m procrastinating. However, we all have deadlines and work to do, which is why I have created a list of tips to help you stay focused.

1. Acknowledge you have a problem

This is the first step to making a change. If you know you get easily distracted, you will more likely change your behaviors. How do you know you have a problem? One sign: Completing tasks takes you much longer than you think it should. Another: You find yourself completing assignments with barely any time to spare (or late), when you’ve actually had plenty of notice.

2. Set a time and place for distractions

Yes, you need to treat distractions as you would your work, instead of letting them “show up” whenever they want. Just as you schedule time for studying or writing a paper, you should also schedule time for checking your Twitter feed or Snapchat. For example, set a timer for 45–50 minutes to work on a task or study for a test. Then take a timed break for 5–10 minutes.

3. Fake it till you make it

Sometimes distractions lure us away from our work because we aren’t that enthusiastic about what we must do. A 20-page paper on the economy of an ancient civilization? Hmm…that may not shout “exciting activity,” which is why, by contrast, our diversions are welcome. If you find yourself faced with a task that is important—such as studying for a final exam—tell yourself, whether you believe it or not, “This task will be interesting,” or “I can improve my skills by completing this assignment and that will help me in the future.” Repeating these claims can motivate you to keep going when you want to find something else to do.

Ask the professor: What’s a good way to retain the information you just read?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

—Jaidan O.*, Portland State University, Oregon

(*Name changed)

Reading is one of those college activities that some students love to hate. And in this technology-driven world, which provides all kinds of engaging ways to learn, reading seems so… well, “last century.”

Here’s the difference: While your latest smartphone may be outdated next week, good old-fashioned reading strategies never go out of style. One of the most popular—and most effective—is Frances Pleasant Robinson’s SQ3R method:

Survey | Before you dig into any reading assignment, do a quick inspection of the material. What’s the title? Who’s the author? How long is the assignment? What are the first and last paragraphs? Surveying your reading helps you prepare for how much time you may need to spend and what you may expect. You can do this very quickly.

Question | Once you have read the title, maybe even the headings in the chapter and the summary at the end and other parts of the reading material, ask yourself a few questions to prime your brain to read actively. “What do I already know about this subject?” and “What did my professor tell me I need to pay attention to?” are two questions that can start you thinking about your reading assignment before the assignment even begins. You can do this part quickly as well.

Read | This is where you dig into the assignment. It’s usually best to read with a pen or pencil in your hand so you can make notes about what you’re reading, write questions about the material, and mark any unusual words, statements, or ideas. In some cases, you may need to reread difficult passages. You will need to take your time on this part; there’s no shortcut to reading an assignment thoroughly.

Recite | Reciting can be done by talking through what you just read or by writing a brief summary of the material. This step is important because it helps you check your comprehension. It can keep you from passively reading and not retaining anything you read. Depending on the length of the assignment, you will need to stop occasionally to recite before moving on. You can do this part quickly once you develop strong summary and comprehension skills.

Review | The chances are slim that you can read something once and recall all the important details. Therefore, you will need to take some time and review what you’ve read. This is where your reading notes come in handy. Instead of rereading the entire assignment, you can review the notes you took, the vocabulary you marked, and the summaries you wrote. Depending on how you will use the reading (e.g., you may be tested on the material), you may also need to translate the information into other study aids (such as flashcards or practice tests). You may spend the most time on this step, but it will pay off. You will remember and understand what you have read.