Study Habits for All Course Modes

Behaviors that correlate with academic success

When you’re preparing for class

  • Ask yourself what the goals of the upcoming session are, and how you can prepare to meet them.
  • Review your notes and textbook concepts and make a list of questions you can’t yet answer to ask in class.
  • Work through all the recommended practice and/or assigned homework problems.

When you’re in class

  • Listen for and write down answers to your prepared questions.
  • Don’t try to write down or type everything the instructor is saying.
  • Take notes by hand rather than on your laptop to minimize distractions, listen better, and prioritize and organize information presented.
  • Note and ask questions that aren’t being answered.
  • See course instructors after class or during office hours if you still have questions.

When planning a study session

  • Choose a quiet place to study, free of distractions.
  • Select an amount of time between 20 and 60 minutes. 3
  • Study often and for short intervals, soon after class and before you go to class.

When you study

  • Ask yourself questions, explain concepts in your own words, and make connections between what’s new to you and what you already know.
  • Think of concrete examples you can relate to that help explain abstract concepts.
  • Create visuals to go with words and words to go with visuals so that you have multiple ways of understanding.
  • Test your knowledge by working practice and/or homework problems or by taking a practice test.
  • Review by recalling what you know and writing it all down. This will highlight what you don’t know or understand. Spend time studying that and filling in the gaps.
  • As you review, switch the order of topics or questions and alternate the types of practice problems. This will increase retention.

When you get stuck or discouraged

  • Take a short break.
  • Attend to your basic needs for exercise, nutrition, mental health, financial planning, and sleep.
  • See a Penn State Learning tutor or course TA/LA.
  • Find good study partners or form a study group.
  • Remember that you are capable of learning anything with enough time, help, and persistence.


Download or print our Student Behaviors that Correlate with Academic Success flyer.

Adapting to learning via different course modes

Penn State updated course modes and added the remote synchronous course mode for fall semester 2023. Here are some study tips to help students adapt to learning via different types of course modes.

1. Stay organized

With the ability to take different types of courses, ranging from in-person to hybrid and fully remote, it’s important for you to stay organized.

How are your courses structured?

  • Are there in-person parts of this course (discussion, lecture, lab, etc.)?
  • Are there remote parts of this course, and are they synchronous or asynchronous?
  • Aside from scheduled class times, are other parts of class available any time?
  • Are parts, or all, of this course delivered via a technology, such as video or Zoom?

How are your assignments organized and scheduled?

  • Are assignments due every week on certain dates or are they more flexible?
  • Does your instructor have one assignment submission process?
  • How are quizzes or exams scheduled and delivered?
  • How can you best manage your time?
  • Time management goes hand-in-hand with being organized and following a schedule. Penn State partners with LinkedIn Learning to offer you many free courses and videos to help you be efficient with your time.

What should you do if you need help?

  • When and where are office hours being offered for your courses? Are they in person or remote, or both?
  • Is there an online forum for asking questions?
One example of a way you could keep track:
Keep Track of Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Important dates     Paper due Friday
Big changes No lab
Canvas Zoom link
Discussion & video lecture May do paper or group project
Important links Canvas Zoom link
Office hours
  Group paper folder

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2. Avoiding multitasking

Taking more than one mode of course may give you more free time, or your time may be less structured, than if you take all in-person courses, and you might be tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once, but research shows that only about 2% of the population can multitask effectively. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not… really, you’re switching between tasks very quickly (“micro-tasking”).

Multitasking & microtasking downsides

  • Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment from another app, you have to find your spot, remember what you were doing, etc.
  • You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain).
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks make your brain tired.

What to do instead

  • When you need to study something important, consider The Magic of Monotasking.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the “pomodoro method” to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

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3. Making the most of your classes

  • Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think! (See #2 above)
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person. Handwritten notes can improve your retention.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Course recordings are commonly used for multiples modes of courses. Research shows that a playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and result in lower scores. Faster playback speeds are worse for the complex, multi-step material that is presented in most classes. There hasn’t been research on 2x playback speed, but it is probably worse.

Boost your bandwidth during remote classes:

  • Turn off video unless necessary
  • Use a wired connection if possible
  • Locate yourself next to the wireless router, if possible
  • Ask others sharing your internet service to limit their use during your classes
  • Turn off all other wireless or ‘smart’ devices
  • Check with your internet service provider for tools to manage other devices connected to your network

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4. Setting a schedule

Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. If you don’t already keep a weekly or daily calendar, try something like the example below to organize your time. Include time for exercise and self-care.

If you are living with others and managing limited space, consider sharing your proposed schedule with them, so you can all coordinate your needs.

Schedule Template (Google Doc)

Time Schedule Activity Course Tasks Personal / Self-care
8:00 a.m.     Shower, breakfast
9:00 a.m. Class on Zoom    
10:00 a.m.   Read chapter 3 & prep Discussion Question responses  
11:00 a.m.     Break – video call with friend
12:00 p.m.     Lunch
1:00 p.m.   Read chapter 4  
2:00 p.m. Recap class session with classmate    

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5. Trading old strategies for new ones

Taking courses via different course modes may require you to develop new routines. Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones. For example:

  • If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study. See if you can recreate that where you are, such as studying at a table, or moving to a new spot when you change tasks. If you feel you need background noise, consider a white noise app.
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or phone-based study session with your group.
  • If you thrive on tight timelines, but now have a more open schedule, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you. When that gets hard, see if you can set mini-deadlines for yourself or work in 15-minute increments.

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6. Working with a group or team

Remote collaboration will look a little different, but it is definitely possible.

  • Try not to procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you don’t see each other regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Take small steps and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Have real conversations any week you’re working together.
  • Set a purpose for meetings and collaborate on the notes. Meetings might feel different when using video. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Take notes in a shared document so you can all contribute and follow along. Microsoft Teams and G Suite are free for all Penn State students.
  • Keep cameras on when possible. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, aim to keep the video visible on your computer screen. Don’t assume everyone has unlimited data or enough bandwidth — check first. Seeing others and their expressions can help you feel more connected.
  • Check on each other and ask for backup. If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them if they are OK and still able to participate. If you don’t get a reply in a day or two, let your instructor know. This isn’t being mean; instead it shows you care about your teammates.

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7. Staying connected to other people

Learning via a variety of course modes may limit how much face-to-face time we spend with others, so it is important to remember that staying in touch is critical to your success.

  • Staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and teammates is important for your success.
  • Talking to or texting loved ones and friends can help reduce stress and anxiety, so can taking time to laugh. It is important to stay in touch with friends and family, tell them about your courses and how you are doing—they are an important part of your support system at Penn State.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4. 0This document is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4. 0 license. Original document (PDF) ©2020, Regents of the University of Michigan. Accessibility and other minor edits made by The Pennsylvania State University.