Here are some study tips to help you feel more on top of our class material. There are links to other college study guides at the bottom of this page and some more career advice available here:




Instructors assign reading so that everyone comes into the next class knowing the same information about the topic for the day. In Dr. Jones’ music classes, there will rarely be a lecture specifically about the reading, but you should expect to apply that new knowledge to the music we listen to together, sample quiz questions, and our class discussions.

So how do you read for lecture? Here are some strategies:

  • Start with the section headings–read these big font items first to give yourself a map to anticipate what you’re going to read.
  • Read the chapter summary/conclusion at the end of the chapter first. This will state the chapter’s main ideas.  Keep these main ideas in mind as you read so you don’t get too hung up on all the details at first.
  • Take notes: questions you have, ideas for a paper, interesting ideas in the text…
  • Think about how what you’re reading is similar to, contrasts, contradicts, or resonates with what we’ve already read or talked about in class.

Here’s a plan to get you through the week and help you feel prepared for class. I suggest reading everything assigned at least three times–once to get an introduction to the material, once for details, and once to refresh–because it takes time for your brain to process new material (we forget up to 60% of what we learn each day overnight!) and absorb it.

  • Saturday: Read through all of the assigned reading. Start with the chapter titles and section headings so you have a sense of what topics will be covered. Then read through the text.
  • Sunday: Read closely in small sections (between section headings or chapter headings in a textbook even by paragraph). Define words you’re unfamiliar with; make a list of new vocabulary that this reading is teaching you. Also summarize each section (or paragraph) into one sentence of your own words.
  • Monday: Continue your close reading if you didn’t finish it yesterday. Otherwise, it can be helpful to summarize the reading even further–read through the assigned reading again, and list the main ideas, making an even shorter summary of the text than the one you did yesterday. Also reread your notes from class/reading from the past week to see if there are any common ideas between the new material and what you’ve already studied. Jot down some questions that you have about the reading.
  • Tuesday: Take a day off!
  • Wednesday: Read the assigned reading one last time–you should feel like you are familiar with all the terms used, know what’s coming next in the text (no surprises!), and have specific questions about any big ideas introduced. Refine your questions from Monday.
  • Thursday: Email one question about the reading to the instructor (REQUIRED and due by noon!)
  • Friday: Ask questions in class about anything that’s still unclear. Apply your new knowledge from the reading to assignments, activities, and music listened to in class!

Think of reading as an active activity rather than a passive one — you’re not just absorbing information but instead are in a conversation with the author. You should be asking the author questions, arguing against them, thinking of ways their ideas might be true in some situations and false in others. One way to engage with the text more fully is by writing your half of this conversation in the margins of your book. If you’re interested in this idea, check out this article.


In class

  • Arrive on time!
  • Engage in the classroom material–don’t just sit there like a sponge! Participate in discussions. Stay awake and focused.
  • Ask questions if you’re confused. Being confused is the first step towards learning, but it can be your worst enemy if you let it fester instead of taking the next step: asking a question!
  • Participate fully in group activities.
  • Think of yourself as an active learner, not a passive one. Use and manipulate the information you come across in class, and you’ll be better able to actively remember it later.

taking notes

Taking notes

  • Always take notes for the class in the same notebook–this way, all your notes will be together, in order, for the entire semester.
  • Write enough to be able to recall the important ideas later. Don’t try to write everything verbatim that is said in class – edit for the most important content (main ideas, examples) and try to put it in your own world.
  • Review your notes after class. This is much more effective than trying to cram for an exam.
  • Rewrite your notes (or type them up), adding your own commentary, joining class notes with information from the textbook or other assigned reading.
  • Listen to the music covered in class again while reading your notes.
  • Reread your notes outside of class! This is crucial–your brain needs to be reintroduced to new ideas several times (usually 3-4) before it really absorbs them. Try to read your notes at least every other day.

Taking notes by hand is one of the best ways to help yourself learn new material. In class, writing notes by hand forces you to engage the material as you write it down: you think about what’s being said, try to translate it into your own words, pick out the main ideas, and along the way, you stop to ask questions to make sure that you’re getting the right things on paper. Interested in this idea? Check out this article on how taking notes by hand helps you learn more.

spiral clock

Manage your time

  • Use a day planner or calendar to write down all your due dates.
  • Start projects well before they’re due. Give yourself enough time to attempt the project, make mistakes, let your brain work out new solutions (usually 24-48 hours), create a new version, revise it, and double check it. Phew–that’s a lot, which means you should give yourself a 7-10 days for a big project (more if there’s research involved!).
  • Be aware of all your due dates for all your classes. Chances are, you will have exams, papers, or large assignments due at the same time in multiple courses.  The good news is that you will know about these dates ahead of time and can plan accordingly.
  • Do a little bit of work every day rather than doing it all in one sitting.
  • Take breaks! It’s better to work 30-50 minutes and take a 10-minute break than to force yourself to keep working for hours on end. Your brain needs time to process the information you’re cramming in there!


Take care of yourself!

  • Get enough sleep. Eat properly. Stay home if you’re sick (we don’t want to get sick, too!) and recuperate.
  • Find ways to reduce your stress: relaxing habits, working out, meditation.

More resources

Here’s a great resource from UC Berkeley with tips for studying, managing time, and preparing for tests.

More ideas from Rasmussen College on how to study.

Tips for taking notes from a blog on college survival.

Tips from QCC students