Is It Time for Better Study Habits?

Most college students know what it takes to do well in their classes. Ask them to list important study skills and they’ll say, “Be organized, take good notes, ask for help, avoid distractions, make time for sleep and study breaks, don’t procrastinate!”

What your college student may need isn’t so much a lesson about appropriate study skills, then, but a conversation about actually using those skills and turning them into study habits.

We’ve all been there. We want to make a change — exercise more, eat healthier, start a meditation practice, read a book a week — and we are motivated! We start…and then we fail to make the new behavior a habit. It just doesn’t stick.

You can help your student think about skills and habits and make suggestions, but remember that your college parent role is that of consultant. It’s up to them to follow through.

Making good study habits stick:

  • Be realistic. Check to make sure your new habits are something you can actually accomplish and maintain. Break them into smaller goals if needed.
  • Find ways to remind yourself of new habits until they become second nature. Set a timer, ask a friend to remind you, keep a planner (either hard copy or electronic).
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick one habit and work on it for a week or two. As that becomes more routine, try another.
  • Pair a new habit with an old one. Do you stop by the snack bar every afternoon for a cup of coffee? Plan to review five vocabulary words each time. Check your planner for upcoming assignments right before you head to every class. Be creative in finding pairings that work.
  • Remind yourself of your goals. Write them down and put them where you can see them often.
  • Track your progress. We all like to know that what we’re doing is working. It may be as simple as putting a check mark on a chart each time you remember.
  • Reward yourself for sticking to your habits. Better grades can be their own reward, but rewarding yourself with something meaningful in the short term will also help to keep you going.
  • It’s more fun with company, so find a partner who’s interested in instituting better study habits. Cheer each other on (and hold each other accountable).
  • Ask for help. There’s support on campus — people who have even more suggestions for how to stick with those good study habits. Let them do their jobs and work with you.
  • Don’t get derailed by a bad day. We all slip up occasionally. If you forget, or are too tired, move on and try again the next day.
  • Believe that you can do it. If you don’t, you won’t. With the belief that you can make a change, the motivation to put the skill into practice, and some hard work to stay with it, you can make good study habits stick.
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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a college professor, academic advisor, speech coach and administrator. She has also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with her three daughters — all now graduated and married. Vicki’s experiences as both the parent of college students and as a professional working with students and their families every day provide her with a special perspective on college parenting and student success and inspired her to launch the website College Parent Central ( When she isn’t on campus or writing, you will find Vicki playing flute in a local orchestra, kayaking, or in her favorite role of “Gram.”