There's one thing they never teach but you but you're supposed to miraculously know how to do: study. The thing is, I didn't learn how to properly study until about my second year of university, and I wish I knew how to before, so here are my six steps to being an expert studier.
STEP 1: DO THE READINGS!
I used to think I could get by not doing readings, and I was right. I could get by. But the semester I decided to stay on top of my readings is the semester I achieved a 4.0 GPA. Readings are so important because they give you a fuller, clearer picture of the topic at-hand. You may feel like they're useless & a waste of time, but I assure you one key way to become a quasi-expert on anything you're studying is to read. It's a tedious task, so be sure to put aside a few hours every week to get the job done. Highlight if you can and take notes in the margins, so you can easily refer to that later on and not have to read through the entire thing twice. When I say "take notes", by the way, I mean summarize what you read succinctly & in your own words.
STEP 2: ORGANIZE YOUR NOTES
During my first year of university we were prohibited from using our laptops in class, which forced me to take notes by hand. This, I learned quickly, was a blessing in disguise. To me, the best most effective way to organize my notes is to write them by hand in-class, and then type them out before a test. When I type out my notes in preparation for studying, I have all my readings done and I merge my margin notes with my class notes, which ensures I have a complete and clear synopsis of any topic. I then like to have a printed copy of my typed notes so they can be more portable.
STEP 3: USE FLASH CARDS
Never underestimate the power of flash cards! It may seem like a juvenile tactic, but it can be incredibly helpful for a number of reasons. First, the act of writing out the flash cards is a study method in and of itself. It helps you consolidate and remember information. Second, you're confining your notes on a given topic to one card, which potentially narrows down pages upon pages of information to something more realistic/manageable. I'm not saying to discard your full notes completely, but flash cards really help your brain bring recall key information quickly. This tactic is particularly useful if you're memorizing definitions or learning things word-for-word.
STEP 4: LEARN TO FORMULATE POTENTIAL EXAM QUESTIONS
Or in other words, think like a teacher to anticipate exam questions. What did the prof stress in class? If you know there's going to be long-answer or essay questions on your exam, which topics in your studying can you glean enough information on to write longform answers to? Having read your textbook can definitely help you navigate through this thought process quickly and efficiently. Pick a topic, ask yourself a hypothetical question about it, close your notes, and type out as much as you can. If you're not able to tackle this task sufficiently, try again until you can. Typing out answers to hypothetical exam questions helps you organize information, and it has happened to me a couple times where my own practice questions have actually showed up on an exam!
STEP 5 (OPTIONAL): RECORD YOURSELF READING YOUR NOTES
This may seem a little exaggerated, but it has benefitted me multiple times. This is especially helpful if you're not the best reader or it requires a lot of concentration for you to register what you read. Simultaneously seeing the words on the page and hearing them in your headphones ensures that every bit of information is given the opportunity to be processed. This is especially helpful if you're studying a very dense topic, or if it's a high stakes exam and you need to study on-the-go/at any given moment. This method + flash cards is really ideal for utilizing public transportation time.
FINAL STEP: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
One of the biggest issues when it comes to studying is discerning which information is important and which is not. Often, you don't have enough time to comb through pages and pages of stuff, so picking and choosing what gets studied is a really good skill to learn. But, like every skill, practice makes perfect. It's important to go to class so you can observe and anticipate which specific topics are most important to your professor. It may take a few tests to understand what your prof's testing style is like, but keep on it because eventually you'll figure it out. You also need to learn which methods work for you and which don't, but once you get that down pat you'll be so much better off.
I guess the last thing I'd like to mention is that, as you might have noticed, my favorite study methods are very hands-on and participatory. I like writing things out. I like reading things out loud. Skimming notes or reading them over and over has never proven helpful to me because I don't have a photographic memory, and chances are, you don't either - so don't be afraid to switch it up and try new things!