Student Profile with Introduction

7.1Studying in College

7.2How Memory Works

7.3Improving Your Memory

7.4Studying to Understand and Remember


Joe Miranda, 19

Engineering Major, Spokane Falls Community College, Washington


Early in high school, Joe Miranda did well enough in his classes to be able to play basketball and football. He hoped to be a college athlete, but then a knee injury changed that. In his senior year of high school in Spokane, Washington, one of Joe’s teachers recommended that he look into engineering as a profession. Joe had always been interested in math and science, but he hadn’t done much planning for college. He researched different careers and types of engineering and found that environmental engineering excited him. Then he researched programs close to home.

“I found a great tutor at the learning center on campus who is helping me keep up the good grades I am getting.”

Joe found an ideal pre-engineering program at Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) that would give him all the courses he would need to be able to transfer later to Washington State University. He enrolled at SFCC, but before he could take the courses like calculus and advanced chemistry that would qualify him for transfer, Joe had to take some college-prep courses he didn’t take in high school. Joe knew all his time and effort would be worth it. “I found a great tutor at the learning center on campus who is helping me keep up the good grades I am getting,” he says.

Joe is good at math and science, but that doesn’t mean his transition to college has been easy. “In high school,” he says, “my studying habits were slim to none. I was the type of high school student who was able to pass a test just from listening and from what I remembered from class.”

At SFCC, Joe had to improve his study habits when he found that he wasn’t able to remember everything the instructors required him to learn. “One of the biggest challenges in transitioning from high school to college was learning time management and study skills,” Joe says. He notes that, compared with high school, his college classes go twice as fast and instructors expect students to do a lot more work on their own. One of the first steps Joe took to develop better study habits was to stop setting aside huge blocks of unstructured time. “I learned that studying for more than four hours straight is not the best for me. I need to study for an hour, take a half hour break, and then study another hour. I realized that after an hour I had trouble remembering things.” By taking breaks to eat, exercise, or watch TV, Joe knows that he’s giving his brain time to process information.

His one piece of advice to other first-year students? “The first year is going to be the hardest because it’s so different,” he says. “But don’t give up. Before long, you’ll find that it all starts making sense.”


You might have learned to study effectively while you were in high school or, like Joe, you might find that your high school study habits no longer work. For example, Joe quickly learned that he did have to study, rather than just listening in class, but that for him a three- to four-hour study session was too long. If you are attending college after working or raising children for a number of years, you may need to form new habits to study for college courses. You also need to find ways to structure study times that work best for you, and to set aside regular times each week to review course material, do assigned reading, and keep up with your homework. From time to time, you may also want to do additional reading not assigned by instructors and to research topics that interest you. These strategies will help you learn more.

Studying, understanding, and remembering are essential to getting the most out of your college experience. Although many students think the only reason for studying is to do well on exams, a far more important reason is to learn and understand course content. The more you understand, the better your grades will be. And if you study to increase your understanding, you are also more likely to remember and apply what you learn to future courses, to your career, and to life beyond college.

This chapter considers two related topics: concentration and memory. It will begin with the role of concentration in studyingif you cannot concentrate, you’ll find it next to impossible to remember anything. Next, the chapter offers a number of tools to help you make the best use of your study time. It then concludes with a thorough discussion of what memory is, how it works, and how you can improve your own memory.