Studying efficiently is a vital part of earning good grades in college. Students don’t have unlimited time to complete assignments or prepare for tests, and they must manage their time appropriately. It’s important for students to prioritize their study material, and part of that is determining which reading assignments are worth completing, and which are best skipped. While it may sound strange at first blush, it’s possible to ace your classes while doing a fraction of your assigned reading.

How, you ask? Simply by following these five tips and tricks.

Take Notes

If you attend a lecture, don’t waste your time staring into space. Tests and assignments almost always cover material introduced in lecture, so take good notes. Reading materials often supplement lectures, but you probably won’t be tested on material that you didn’t encounter in class. Professors almost always discuss key concepts in class, and while course books can provide an additional layer of detail, if you took good notes, you’ll probably have enough information from lecture alone.

This isn’t true in every instance, of course. Some teachers, particularly in advanced classes, will include reading material in their exams. Usually they’ll provide a study guide though, which can help you focus your reading onto what matters most for your grades.

Occasionally, you’ll end up in a course where the professor does not provide a study guide and will draw on reading materials for tests. These are rare, but if it happens, you probably should do your assigned reading in that class from then on.

Read efficiently

The key to skimping on your reading isn’t ignoring your books entirely: rather, you should try to only read what interests you, and what you’re likely to encounter on a test. Professors are notorious for assigning more reading than is necessary to pass their classes, and it’s up to you to determine what you do and don’t need to read.

It helps to know the structure of your assignments and tests. If you have essay tests, you will only need to read the material directly related to the main themes of your essay. As an example, let’s say that you’re in a class covering United States history in the 20th century. If you’re assigned reading that covers three decades of history, but only need to write an essay about the Kennedy administration, you can skip most of the reading without adversely affecting your grades. Read everything your class offers with regards to Kennedy, and skip the rest.

This works for regular tests as well, particularly if your professor provides a study guide. It’s more efficient to use the index to research key terms than to try to retain several hundred pages of information, particularly if you’re pressed for time.

Skim the reading and focus on key words

Many textbooks put key terms in boldface text and then provide a definition for it in the margins. Oftentimes, if you know a term’s definition, you’ll be able to answer questions about it on an assignment or test. Skim through your textbook for all key terms, and memorize their definitions. You’ll be surprised how well you can explain most course material just by knowing several key words.

If possible, obtain a PDF copy of your textbook. It’s easier to scroll through a PDF quickly than a hard copy book, and the ‘CTRL+F’ function allows you to search for key terms quickly if you need to see them embedded in context.


A bit of research can help you learn the information you need quicker than your assigned reading. This method works best when you know exactly what you need to search for, but when you do, odds are you can find a summary of the requisite material.

Beyond Google, use your school’s database of scholarly articles (such as EBSCO or JSTOR) about your topic. If you’re working on an essay, quoting an outside and well respected authority on the subject can give your paper an insight that other students won’t have, and the extra effort may impress your professor.

Read The Teacher

Observe your professors carefully. Some will change their tone every time they talk about important material. Some will be even more explicit, and directly tell students when they’re discussing topics that will appear on an essay or an exam.

You should also see if they try to integrate textbooks or other reading material into their lectures. Chances are, if they never refer to the book in class, they won’t during exams either. On the other hand, if they mention particular passages or sections of a book often, there’s a chance that they’ll pull information from the book and put it on the test. In these cases, reading can do you quite a bit of good.


Ultimately, the idea here is not to get through college without doing any reading: some reading is necessary, of course, and students interested in their subjects should only be encouraged to read as much as they can about them. But college students must balance several classes and plenty of responsibilities: every minute spent reading irrelevant material is time that could have been used studying something else. In school, efficiency is important, and hopefully this guide can help you manage your time and teach you to study and read effectively.