How To Study In College: The Chip Away Strategy

college-studyingPreparation is critical when studying for a test. We all know the importance of test scores, they hold a heavy weight on semester GPAs.

But, the date you begin studying and how you study can make all the difference between a stressed-out week and excited confidence for the exam. So, when should you start studying for the upcoming test?

Chip Away Strategy

My strategy, and one used by many other successful and not stressed students, is called the Chip Away Strategy (I’m the only one I know who titles it this way). This strategy focuses on breaking down all the necessary test information into daily, manageable chunks of study time—to mentally chip away at the exam and begin the persuasive essay intro. And to answer my previous question, you should start studying by this method a week in advance.

You might be upset and think it is ridiculous to study all night for a week straight. Because that would be insane if you think of studying as three coffees, a Red Bull, and three hours of sleep. Instead, I want you to think of studying in a different way, like a normal activity that is necessary, but not torture. If you prepare a week in advance, you don’t need to, and shouldn’t, study more than three hours a day.

How To Study This Way

Day 1) Spend the first day gathering all your materials needed for the exam. Don’t spend more than one hour doing this activity. The purpose of day one is to get started and build momentum for the rest of the week, not burn out.

Day 2) Transfer your materials into a study guide that covers all the possible concepts that you could be tested on. This process will help you notice areas where your understanding is foggy, and help your familiarity with the material.

It could be as easy as transferring your notes from a notebook to a stapled packet. Or it could be harder, like if you missed class and need a classmate’s notes, or want to add on clarity to your notes.

This will probably be the longest day, but not more than three hours.

Day 3) Focus on the concepts that you don’t understand or vaguely remember. If you went through your materials and are not confident you fully understand some ideas, I recommend that you talk to your professor or a classmate that you trust. They will most likely be happy to help.

This preparation could take one to two hours.

Day 4, 5, 6) Spend two hours each day doing a comprehensive run through of your study guide. Quiz yourself and speak your answers out loud. The next day, quiz yourself and write down your answers. If you’re right, then move on. If you’re wrong, then go back until you get it right.

And when you’re checking, make sure you fully understand the concept. It’s easy to cheat yourself by remembering the answer because you just saw it, rather than grasping the content.

Day 7) I recommend little or no preparation on exam day. If you’re nervous and want to be safe, look over the hard concepts that you were unclear about in the beginning of your preparation. You want to go into the exam feeling fresh and confident. Let your preparation takeover, you already put in the work.

Say Goodbye To The All-Nighter

After this preparation, you’ll have a big advantage over your classmates, especially those who only studied the night before. There are multiple reasons why an all-nighter isn’t as effective.

First, you wouldn’t come close to covering everything in one night compared to a week’s time. You would have blind spots in the material that you hope the test doesn’t cover. Next, you just fried your brain hours before you need to use it to remember all the information on the exam. I’ve talked about how the brain needs time to recover. So, you’re going into the test without understanding all the material and a dazed brain. How are you supposed to get an A?

Plus, no one enjoys putting themselves through a whole night of crammed studying and anxiety. And, the next day or two is usually wasted in large amounts of sleep where your body recovers. If you’re still not convinced, the negative health effects may be the worst part of your late-night study binge.

Study Smarter And You Will Be Rewarded

Avoid stressing out all week, being miserable during the test, and worrying until the grade is released. Take your studying day-to-day for one week, chip away at each concept, and you’ll be ready to dominate the exam. You’ll feel better during the study process and you’ll put yourself on pace to achieve a high GPA. By studying this way, you can get rid of one of the most stressful and anxious aspects of college.

Remember that being prepared for an exam and executing are two different things. So after you’ve studied efficiently, get a refreshed on these dumb exam mistakes to do your best test taking.

The Chip Away Strategy is Rule #19 of 80 in my bestselling book How To College!

Brian Robben

Brian Robben is the founder of Take Your Success, a site dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs grow a profitable business and reach freedom. For in-depth training, visit:

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Tam Pham

    This is the exact strategy I use currently… No idea why students still think all nighters work, great post Brian!

    – Tam

    1. Brian Robben

      Thanks for your comment Tam!
      I don’t know why either. All nighters can easily be avoided.

  2. Chenel

    Thank you so much. Current freshman who is not happy with her first midterm grades. I am definitely going to use this for my next set of midterms.

    1. Brian Robben

      Way to realize you’re not content with where you’re at, and that you want to improve. Good luck to you, Chenel!

  3. excelzior

    Do you have any tips if I have 9 papers over the course of 6 consecutive days (Friday, then Monday – Friday)?

    1. Brian Robben

      First of all, that’s a brutal schedule but at least you have the weekend to prepare after you do the first one for Friday. This post should help (

      And I would try to outline each paper as much as possible before starting. Write the introduction, get the topic sentence/main point of each body paragraph, and then try to fill in the conclusion if you can come up with it. Good luck!

      1. excelzior

        Oh crap! Where I live we call exams papers so they’re not paper papers they’re your equivalent of finals.

  4. Faisal

    If we put the idea of interference to play..studying a week before might not do the job..

    1. Brian Robben

      What’s interference about? Please tell me more.

  5. Kristen

    Ive had the FLU for 3weeks! Single Mom. Child gets FLU for 7days. Midterms coming up and I’m behind. I just failed an open book PSY test and failed my first ever math test(STATS). Im so heart broken! Im not studying smart! I cant give up, as the doctors said 23 yrs ago, that I would never be able to finish any kind of school!

    1. Brian Robben

      Oh no!

      You can do it though, I believe in you. Prove those doctors wrong and finish the semester strong.

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