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How Long To Study In College

Many college students are unclear on how much they should be studying for their classes or what “studying” even means. I’ve worked with many students who made it into college by doing well in their high school classes just using their good memory, or they otherwise got by or even earned good grades based on natural intelligence. They may not have made much of an effort to learn material, and therefore never really learned how to study. Later in college is they realize that they can’t get by just on natural talent, they’ll have to make an effort, yet they are unsure of what to do. The shift in educational systems and learning environments, not just course difficulty, usually comes during freshman year and suddenly they realize they’ve got to change. They won’t be able to cruise through with very few notes and little effort like they did in high school, or just skim their notebook before a test and get a good grade like they always have. The first sign of needing to improve things usually shows up in their daily or weekly work, such as poor scores or outright forgetting their online reading quizzes and other assignments. On bigger tasks later, especially exams, the grades can be much worse since they require much more effort.

Getting The Right Definition Of Studying

In order to study effectively, as well as accurately estimate how much time it will take, students need to understand exactly what “studying” means. The actual efforts can vary by class, tasks, and other factors, but a general definition can be found. Studying is a purposeful effort to learn a given set of information needed to do well for a class. This means doing well on all assignments, essays, discussion posts, exams, and anything else that scores points so they can earn good grades for the class. In general, studying means creating memories, which happens through taking good notes during lecture, completing assigned readings, highlighting key information, taking notes on the book, making flashcards, creating diagrams, or many other things that can help a student to remember what they need to to score points for a test. At it’s core studying is simply any activity that creates memories that a student can use to do well on point-scoring events in a class. The mechanics of it are simple, it’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another, but the real issue is that a good study effort must be consistent and is time consuming.

Counting All The Work In To “How Long”

When students ask how long they should be studying, this also implies “how much time should I be spending outside of class doing work?” Defining this outside work is a key for defining the “how long” of study work efforts. For example, you can’t complete a discussion post related to assigned readings if you have not done the readings first. You cannot take notes on a book chapter if you have not read it first, and you can’t take a weekly module quiz if you haven’t watched the videos, read the articles, or finished any assignments posted by the Professor. When estimating how long to study and do outside work, it’s critical to count all the preceding work needed that happens before other things can be finished to score points. Without doing the pre-work, you run the risk of a poor outcome, because you’re essentially just winging it. Usually the required assignments are stated right in the syllabus for the class, or in the least they will be given in the course calendar that appears in a student’s, Blackboard, Canvas, or other learning management system used by the school. Students will also need to factor in “special effort” tasks like studying for exams or working on parts of term papers that are typically not listed in the syllabus or course calendar. On average, these can take 8 to 12 hours or more for highly difficult classes or bigger projects, with some end of semester projects taking 30 to 50 total hours.

A Rule Of Thumb Colleges Use

There is a “rule of thumb” colleges use to estimate how much work should be expected outside of class, but it’s a quick approximation so it can be an underestimate for certain courses. That rule says for every one hour spent in lecture, expect to spend three hours outside of class each week doing things related to the class like readings, quizzes, homework, or whatever the Professor decides to give. However, since that’s a general rule, it can be much higher for some classes. Classes like biology, engineering, chemistry, and others that require very high level of reading, memorization, or completing problem sets, so in reality it could be more like six hours outside of lecture. It isn’t unusual for the pre-med or engineering students I work with to spend six or seven hours outside of each class doing work.

Examples of estimating (this will vary by class and student ability):

  • Reading a 25 page textbook chapter- you’ll need to highlight key terms and comprehend the information, not just skim it: 3-5 hours.
  • Studying for an exam over 4 chapters: All of the assigned reading must already be done and key terms highlighted in advance. Studying to memorize the information well enough to score well on a test, taking notes on the book chapters, making flashcards to memorize. After readings are completed and highlighted, 10-16 hours depending on the class, so do not wait until the day before (that’s called cramming, which doesn’t create strong memories and just leads to bad grades).  The point is to learn it “to perfection” to get an A on the test, and it’s time consuming to learn multiple text chapters.
  • Completing weekly discussion posts- These usually require completing readings and then responding to questions about those. However, some Professors require students to respond to each others posts. After completing the assigned readings, 1-2 hours, but longer depending on how detailed the Professor wants the responses to be.

In Reality, How Long It Takes To Study

The bottom line for studying for any class is that it takes as long as it takes if you want to earn good grades in college. You must do all of the required assignments, whether it’s reading, homework, online work, or anything else in order to be successful in that class. There is no way to get through a college class by just showing up and taking a few notes, you’re basically rolling the dice and hoping for the best, which is never an effective strategy. Expect to spend, at a minimum, 40 or more hours each week attending class and working on your classes even if you are attending only minimum full-time. For example, if you look at the 1 to 3 ratio of one hour in lecture plus three hours of outside work, it shows why 12 credits is called “full-time.” For example, taking 12 credits in the semester system breaks down per class to 3 hours in lecture plus 9 hours outside of class work, so four classes will take up 48 hours of work time at a minimum. And if you decide to take 18 credits you’re spending basically all of waking hours working on the classes and probably have over-committed. Always keep in mind that college courses are a lot of work if you want to do well in them. Credits can be made up during summer so you don’t set yourself up for problems by taking on too much.

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