“I study and study and study. My grades just don’t get better. I guess college isn’t my thing.”

Perhaps these words or something similar are familiar to you.  Sometimes even if a student doesn’t have problems with grades, some still have a feeling that college isn’t for them. With the cost of college so high, its worth it for students and parents to tackle this limiting belief head on!

What is most often missing are updated and effective study strategies or internal awareness of why the college classes or degree matters. The “why college matters” conversation is for a later time. For now, I’ll focus more on which study strategies work least often and mention those that work the most. When people “study and study and study” and grades are not improving, it IS NOT about their ability to learn.  It IS about how they are studying for the way their brain works!  I’ve advised, instructed, and coached many college students who come to me with these words, and further conversation let’s me know that the HOW of studying is a noticeable gap in their readiness to succeed with college coursework.

education concept

Imagine the student in the picture is a college student pondering all the things she has to study. What gets in her way of making sense of all the “stuff” in her textbooks? Notice the images are not linked in any way, albeit they are close together.  What if a student was thinking about ideas from many subjects and worries about what’s going to be on the test and scattered concepts are floating in their mind more in a hap-hazardly?  Regardless of where a student starts, some basic principles of learning can change the tide toward increased learning, test taking confidence, and progress toward their degree.

Below are a couple of common study practices that DO NOT WORK well for learning content according to current learning research done by cognitive scientists and educational psychologists.

  1. Using highlighters:  A typical approach to  reading or studying a text book is taking a colorful highlighter and marking key points or ideas we believe are important.  The belief is that we can read through only the marked material to review it and remember what we need for a test. Some may also use the highlighted text to create an outline. Reality: Many students over-highlight and therefore can not pick out key points. It is also a relatively passive activity and does not engage the brain enough with the content’s meaning or context. There are skills to using this approach, and relatively few are taught. Since other ways are better regardless, why not take the time to learn them!
  2. Rereading the textbook: Another typical study strategy that is done with or without highlighted text is to simply read the material again…and again…and again. Believing that the more times we see the content, our brain will absorb it for taking the test.  We become familiar with the material and may even feel “ready” for the quiz or test.  Reality: With only visual cues to trigger brain recognition, when we get to the test, we recognize words or concepts – but can’t really apply them. This is one key area that makes college different than high school. It is the application and problem-solving questions that trip many students up when it comes to a formal assessment.

How does a student be more prepared with a usable knowledge for the brain to retrieve for an exam or quiz?  Consider one or more of the study strategies below as potential solutions.

Increased learning comes from:

  • using all of our senses to engage with the material,
  • trying approaches to note taking that fits the content and you,
  • utilizing a variety of study tools such as T-Charts or reading journals,
  • studying material multiple times over a number of days, and
  • practice testing yourself to see what is really learned and what is not.

With accountability partnering and life balance as valuable aspects of academic success, an option for studying smarter and enjoying more life success is connecting to an external certified academic life coach.  One key difference is that they are not tied to the institution and only serving the student’s needs. Benefits of working with an academic life coach are above and beyond the typical campus resource of a study skills class or success coaches, especially since students may not “ready” to hear the message at the time they are exposed to the ideas.

While academic life coaches have a variety of backgrounds, some are specifically trained in whole person life coaching PLUS a range of study strategies, executive function and ADHD, priority and time management, and organization strategies.  An academic life coach can customize your plan with YOU in control of what it looks like. Additionally, a coach is there for the journey. It means that we are ready for both successes and challenges. We listen supportively to encourage and challenge a student to raise the bar for themselves. We are mirrors  and insightful inquirers to work through the times when studying is working or not working throughout the semester. We work with a student through study plan obstacles, dream discovering, and career planning exploration.

We are ready to embrace the whole student and help integrate successful ways of learning and living. Beyond studying, school is just one aspect of a person’s life and success at college also means balancing health, work, family, social life, and any other community commitments.

If you or someone you know is struggling with grades, even to the point of being on academic probation or academically dropped, consider learning more about how academic life coaching can bring about the change needed for positive results!

As an academic life coach and experienced teacher, I understand how internal motivation impacts student engagement with instructors, the material, or campus resources. Designing a personalized learning and living plan with ongoing support for accountability and reviewing goals along the way is an excellent way to stay in college, feel good about the experience, and graduate to a new future!


Coach Pam works with individual and groups – in person or virtual video sessions to connect to people anywhere they feel comfortable.




Published by Pam Schoessling: Academic, Career, and Life Coach

I am passionate about helping people reach their potential at school and find fulfillment in their work. With over 10 years experience coaching, teaching, or advising high school and college students, I also am trained in career planning with design thinking for creating a visionary action plan to move forward. A Master's degree in Education and over 6 years of coach training programs round out my readiness and skills for increasing students' capacity for both achievements​ AND enjoying the journey along the way.

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