Light blue graphic with magnifying glasses and text that says: 3 strategies for studying and learning in college

Three Strategies for Adjusting to a New Way of Studying and Learning in College

by Jason Pender

Making Waves Education Foundation » Resources » Three Strategies for Adjusting to a New Way of Studying and Learning in College

For students entering college, many things will change about their educational experience. One of the most significant changes they will experience is the expectation around learning.  

In the high school system, schools are accredited by the student population’s performance on standardized tests. In the college and university system, schools are accredited by ensuring that specific learning outcomes are provided by the university and met by the students enrolled.  

These learning outcomes will vary based on values and university type, but the design of the learning outcomes consistently use Bloom’s Taxonomy as the central tool used for drafting curricula across the country and in most parts of the world.  

Multicolor graphic with text for: create, evaluate, analyze, apply, understand, remember
Courtesy of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Overcoming challenges, pushing learning towards complex analysis 

Becoming familiar with the details of Bloom’s Taxonomy is crucial because of the structural shift in learning expectations from high school to college that is placed on incoming college students.  

Specifically, students are expected to push their learning beyond memorizing for standardized testing more towards complex analysis, well-supported evaluation, and ultimately, the creation of new ideas.  

Video: Use Bloom’s to Think Critically

Typical growing pains during the transition from high school to college that are discussed in the coaching meetings as a part of Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, include students feeling frustrated because: 

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great tool that can address all these concerns and challenges so many students face during their time in college.  

Here are three specific ways to consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as you plan for your college coursework and for studying for your midterms, finals, or other exams. 

1. Use your syllabi to create learning roadmaps for coursework, papers, and exams 

For starters, students can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to filter the syllabus of each class they take. This is useful because students can identify the assignments they have for the term in each class and what level of learning can be expected for each assignment.

For example:

In addition, by reviewing the entirety of each class and using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a filter to identify the learning “roadmap” of the term, a student can plan out their time to ensure they are not only giving themselves enough time to learn the material but also have a sense of how much time each assignment may take and how to balance out their entire course load. 

2. Breakdown prompts in assignments to understand expectations for different levels of learning 

Another way Bloom’s Taxonomy is useful for students in that it serves as a decoding tool during exams and when breaking down prompts in assignments.

As you can see in the graphic above, there are keywords associated with the different levels of learning. Words like define, list, state are all found in the remembering level. Those types of words are found on prompts for homework, multiple choice questions, and true-false questions.

Application based questions use phrases like solve, interpret, and demonstrate, and will require that you not only know details, but how they connect together and in which context they are appropriate to use. Students will see these words in their prompts for classroom discussions, online posts, and short answer questions on exams.

Finally, end of the term papers, projects and presentations require the highest order levels of thinking. Students are expected to compare and contrast, defend positions, and evaluate information to determine which answer is the most correct out of several correct responses, and ultimately contribute new ideas beyond what has been taught in the course. 

3. Evaluate progress and seek support  

Decoding the roadmap of each class over time, and deconstructing assignments and prompts can be very useful for success in college. But, perhaps even more important, Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a way for students to self-evaluate their own learning.

Using the different levels of learning to monitor their own progress can inform students on exactly what they need to do to perform at their full potential.

Moreover, they can learn how to ask for specific help and support from CAP coaches, classmates, mentors, tutors, and professors during office hours. During those meetings they can communicate the level of learning they have achieved on their own and what they may still need to be shown an additional time to fully learn the materials. 

Additional Study Tips and Strategies 

Video: The Perfect Mindmap: 6 Step Checklist

Video: 5 Techniques of Every Successful Student

Jason Pender

College Coach

With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating more than 1,100 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 500 Wave-Maker alumni.