Stay on Track: Building successful study habits during COVID-19

A person works alone in a home office at a neat desk with a laptop and a plant on it.

Transitioning to new learning environments and technology requirements is challenging even under the most ideal circumstances. Trying do do so during a worldwide pandemic where the guidance from officials changes by the hour and everyone is impacted differently is especially challenging.

Try to be patient with yourself and others as everyone is going through some form of transition. Creating a plan that not only includes study strategies but also methods to continually take care of yourself is key.

This guide aims to offer some tools and strategies to support your academic needs so you can finish the spring semester strong. Together we will make it through, Badgers. On, Wisconsin!


Click the links below to jump to any section of this guide.

  1. Staying Organized
  2. Staying Focused
  3. Setting a Schedule
  4. Note-Taking Strategies for Video Lectures
  5. Effective Reading Strategies to Ensure Comprehension
  6. Staying Connected to Professors, TAs, Advisors, Staff, and Others

(Download a printable PDF with quick tips for staying on track with remote learning: Learning Support with Virtual Class & Learning)

laptop graphicTip #1: Staying Organized

Staying organized is a good first step toward being a successful learner. We know that you might not know all of the answers to the below questions; however, we hope these provide helpful strategies and moments of reflection on what you still need to figure out. The key to organization is to create a system that makes sense to you and helps you be successful. The tips above can help you get there.

  • Take inventory of the current virtual platform and requirements for all of your courses
    • Make a list or chart of platforms for each course
      • How are the in-person portions of class or lab changing?
      • How do you access those platforms (link, Canvas, etc.)?
    • Make a list or chart of the academic requirements for each course
      • Are any assignments changing?
      • What are the due dates for assignments?
      • How do you submit assignments?
      • What are the formats for quizzes or exams?
    • Make a list or chart of the academic support resources available specific to each course
      • Are your professors/TAs offering virtual office hours? If so, when and how?
      • Is there an online discussion/forum for asking questions for the course?
  • Organize your materials by course
    • Create virtual folders for each course
      • Example platforms might include Google Drive, One Drive, folders on your laptop desktop specific to each course
      • Include the document that has the list or chart of the above information for each course
      • Download lecture videos or other resources provided to save, re-watch, and reference you can store those here
    • Create hard copy folders or binders for each course
      • If you prefer to write your notes in a notebook, use the same method above, but know that you will probably want a virtual folder as well for any digital resources like lecture videos

glasses graphicTip #2: Staying Focused

Staying focused can be challenging when you need to do several different tasks from home.

  • Activity listen during virtual lectures
    • Listen and think about what is being discussed and not just writing it down. Strive to understand main concepts not just facts.
    • If you find your mind wandering, try a technique called shadowing. In your mind, repeat the instructor’s last sentence or two until you are focused again.
    • Note what is important. Listen for main ideas, connections between ideas, and important details.
    • Stay connected in lecture. At times, you may have a question, lecture might be moving too fast, or you may disagree with a point. Do not let these stop you from listening. Instead write a quick note, leave a blank spot if you missed something, put a star next to a point, or mark a question mark to signal to yourself your thought and tune back in to what the instructor is saying.
  • Stay focused while studying
    • Make a space for studying and studying only. This space should have good lighting and enough space to spread out any material. Reduce visual distractions and noise around you.
    • Set a reasonable goal for each study session by dividing your work into small tasks before you begin.
    • Break-up study time by switching between different courses when possible
    • Reward yourself when specific goals are attained
    • Plan short breaks in your study time (5-15 minutes at most)
    • Stand up, stretch, walk around if you start feeling distracted
    • Keep a separate note for thoughts/tasks that come to mind while you’re studying. Quickly write down the thought/task to be addressed later, then get back to work
    • Sleep! Studying and concentration is better achieved when rested.
    • Tell everyone! Share your goals and accomplishments with people to help motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable.

clock graphicTip #3: Setting a Schedule

Setting a consistent schedule will help you stay productive and successful.

  • Choose/create a calendar
    • Use or create either a paper or digital calendar. You can google blank calendar templates to print and use or use a digital calendar – the easiest might be attached to your email. Make sure there is enough room to fill in a daily schedule with space for detail if you so choose.
  • Set a schedule
    • Start by looking one week at a time.
    • Add in any class time, tutoring time, academic meetings that have set schedules first. This should include marking deadlines for assignments.
    • Add in any other responsibilities you may have with set schedules.
    • Consider what time(s) of day you are most focused and productive to schedule study time. If possible, it is helpful to keep this time consistent across days. Your brain will start to recognize then that at this time of day, you do your studying.
    • Fill in the rest with time for self-care activities like exercise, meditation, reading, watching TV, or video-chatting with friends and family, etc.

notebook graphicTip #4: Note-Taking Strategies for Video Lectures

  • Before class
    • Read the assigned reading accompanying lecture
    • Attempt any practice problems or thought exercises in the text
    • Review your reading notes just before lecture begins
  • During class
    • Do not try to write every word said. Write down the main points
    • Do write down though anything the professor writes on a board or highlights specifically in a Powerpoint
    • Listen and note your professor’s cues to important points, repetitions of points for emphasis, changes in voice inflection or facial expression, etc.
    • Take note of any relationships between different parts of the lecture and past lectures
    • Write down any questions you have and ask them (if possible)
  • After class
    • Make sure your notes are dated so you can keep them organized
    • Review your notes within 24 hours of taking them
    • Write a short summary after each page of notes or at the end of your notes on the whole lecture
    • If possible, ask any questions you have either via email to the instructor, in a discussion forum for the class, or to a tutor

books graphicTip #5: Effective Reading Strategies to Ensure Comprehension

  • Pre-read the chapter
    • Look at the title, subtitles, boldface and italics, graphics and diagrams, summary and/or conclusion, and questions at the end of each article/chapter
  • Read for meaning, not only answers
    • Write down any information you sense is important for understanding
  • Write notes in YOUR language
    • Translate key ideas and new terms into your own words
  • Pause when confused
    • When confused, pause, and without re-reading, try to summarize what you just read (before the spot where you got confused)
  • Read aloud
    • If you are struggling to understand a portion of the text, try slowing down and reading the portion aloud to yourself
  • Skim or read upcoming sections of the text
    • Sometimes a current confusion will be explained later in text or it might be helpful to read the summary and/or conclusion section first
  • Discuss the reading with a friend
    • Try explaining the text or concept to a friend using your own words. This will help you recognize how well you understand the concept.

globe graphicTip #6: Staying Connected to Professors, TAs, Advisors, Staff, and More

  • Make sure you have internet access
    • Several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are offering free or low-cost internet access options in response to the COVID-19 health emergency. If you are in Wisconsin, visit this PSC website to find internet services where you live.
  • Create a list of preferred contact methods
    • Professors/TAs
      • Write down your professors and TAs email addresses for each course
      • Write down what their preferred method of contact during this time (email, virtual office hours)
      • Include links to virtual office hours or forums when possible
    • Advisors and career services
      • Add your DDEEA program advisor’s preferred method of contact to your list
      • Visit to set up virtual meetings via Starfish for department specific advising
      • Email if you have a question that cannot be found on their website
    • Staff
      • Add to your list any UW staff and their preferred contact information you might find helpful
      • Academic Coaching and Tutoring Services is happy to guide or assist you when looking for services on campus – email us at
    • More
      • Add to your list any other contact information that you might need or has changed during this time (employer contacts, doctors, etc.)
  • Use this time to make connections with faculty
    • Use this time as a chance to reach out, ask questions, seek advice, make connections with faculty on campus. Reaching out can feel intimidating at times and for some, reaching out virtually may feel less intimidating. Remember we are all in this together