Study Habits of a Cum Laude College Grad

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I am not a perfect student. I do not get straight As. I have procrastinated before. I have failed tests before. I am not a perfect student. Yes, I graduated from college with honors, but I don’t credit that achievement to myself. I give all honor and glory to God because I know….

If He didn’t give me the brain to remember those facts,
if He didn’t provide me with food to nourish my body,
if He didn’t make a way out of no way for me to pay for school,
if He didn’t give me peace and keep me sane through those busy seasons,
I would not have graduated from college.

If you don’t read the rest of this post, I want you to know:

You are worth more than your grades.

I used to stress out so much over my grades in high school. Every time I failed, or even got a C, I attacked myself with so much guilt, shame and hate. That negative self-talk hurt my confidence and my motivation to do well in school. I wasn’t the only one experiencing this. Over the past four years, I have seen that unhealthy obsession with grades in so many of my peers. I hear so many students who boast about staying up all night writing papers or writing 100 flashcards for an exam. Sometimes that awards them an A, but when they fail, they are crushed emotionally and spiritually just as I was.  Seeing students like this breaks my heart because it’s so unhealthy.  

Stop beating yourself up because you don’t understand a concept or you receive a bad grade. I know you’re frustrated. You might be under a lot of pressure from your peers and parents. But in the grand scheme of things, your grades really don’t matter as much as you think. Believing in this does not mean you shouldn’t try in school or set goals for the future. It means you should put your best effort in school, and accept the result. Accept your imperfections. Maybe you suck at math. Maybe you can never remember grammar rules. That’s okay. You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to get straight A’s. You do not need exhaustive study habits--like all-nighters or five cups of coffee or skipping meals--to be successful.

Why? Because you are worth so much more than your grades. Think of it this way, you’re in school for only 18-25ish years of your entire life. Your life may be focused on school right now, but it won’t be forever. Your life is not school. You are not your grades. That F does not define you. God defines does. He crafted you with a higher purpose. He loves you as His precious child, not because of all that you do, but just as you are!

But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
— Psalms 86:15 NLT

Knowing that truth, you can live in freedom. You can succeed in school, reach your goals and not burn out, when you live in the freedom of not being controlled by your grades. Live in the freedom that your grades don’t affect your identity or your character. You are the same person when you fail and when you succeed.

Maybe I’m just giving myself a pep talk, but I hope something you read here today encourages you, whether you’re a student or not. In my four years of college and now grad school, I’ve studied for countless tests, prepared for 1,261 presentations, and written Lord knows how many papers. And knowing the truth of God’s love helped me get through it all. I also learned a few successful study habits that helped me handle my course load, stress less, manage my time and improve my grades. Today, I’d like to share my tips on studying for exams and writing papers:

Study Habits of a Cum Laude College Grad

Pray before each study session
When we connect with God, we connect with the God of peace. He will calm all your anxieties and strengthen the fibers of your brain, clearing your mind and helping you focus. Pray for your test, a good night's rest, your classmates' studying, and your professor. Pray before your test or presentation and turning in your paper. Make your classroom a home for the Holy Spirit.

Block out distractions
Stop multi-tasking and distracting your brain. If you really need to focus and complete something fast, you need to put 100% of your focus on your work. Go to a library cubicle. Put on headphones without music. Put your phone away in a backpack or purse. Still distracted? Turn off all your notifications. Still distracted? Turn the phone off, and put in another room or give it to a friend. Are Facebook and Spotify distracting on your computer? Set your browsers and word documents to full screen.

Study alone
Extroverts you have no excuse. Don't make all of your study sessions group meetings. Your friend may have all the answers, but he or she is still a distraction. Plan at least one study session alone, so you know what you know, not what your friend knows. If you study in a suite or apartment, plan to study when your roommates are gone.

Study in short bursts of time
It's time for a focused power hour of productivity. I struggle with focusing for long periods of time, so often times I set a timer on my phone. Set the timer for the minimum time you think you can focus. Try to get as much done as you can. Once the timer goes off, take a break, grab a snack, and repeat.

Take a praise break
Like prayer, praising God in the midst of struggle lifts your spirit about your circumstances. Turn on your favorite worship songs. And if you haven't already, check out Lecrae's new album. He speaks so much truth on those tracks. I'm listening to it on repeat as I type.  

Schedule non-negotiable homework time into your calendar
Schedule your homework time like it's an appointment you can't miss. Make this time slot non-negotiable, so no matter how busy you are you have time to study. When trying to find time to study, consider the time of the day you have the most energy. For example, I'm a night owl, so I am most efficient after 8 p.m. 

Communicate with your professor
Email your professor your questions immediately. Visit office hours for one-on-one help. Ask your professor what you did wrong on past tests or papers and Show the effort you’re putting in this class. It will make a difference in your grade at the end. 

Get help when you need it
Take advantage of your university's abundance of resources. Get a free stats tutor. Go to your TA's office hours. Edit your paper at the writing center. There's no shame in asking for help.

Studying for tests: Make a shortened terms list from notes and the textbook
This will be especially helpful during finals when you have to know everything from a whole semester. An entire textbook and notebook of notes may seem overwhelming. Consolidate everything into a list of terms typed into a word document you can print and study from separately. You're forced to review your notes, and you end up with a manageable list of terms to study from. 

No matter what grade you get, don’t forget to praise God again. He got you through another test and will get you through the next one.

To those of you still in midterms or just a stressful season of life, I pray that the ever-present and everlasting peace of God covers you today. Know that you’re not struggling alone. Other students may act like they’re on top of things, but we’re all freaking out a little inside. I’m still in midterms, too. Can I ask for you to pray for me too? Grad school is new challenge, and I’m feeling very rushed, like school and work are moving faster than I’d like, so keep me in your prayers.  

Wishing you all the best with your midterms. Stay focused, and do you best. Good luck, friends!