Get to class early, or take time before leaving for class to prepare. Review your notes from the previous class period. Look ahead at the topic or the chapter that the professor is going to cover this period, so you are familiar with the ideas. Prepare to take notes by writing down abbreviations that are relevant to the topic and that you plan to use in your note taking, so that you don't have to spend time doing that during the lecture.
This is not to say that you should write everything down. Only, if you are debating writing something, don't spend time wondering, just write it down. Better to have a little too much information than to waste time wondering if something is important.
Don't write down too many words. Leave out unimportant ones. Use abbreviations. Write down a list of the abbreviations you will use pertaining to the subject. For example, if the lecture is about King Henry VIII, make a note somewhere that H = King Henry VIII. H could stand for a lot of things, but since the lecture is about King Henry VIII, it makes sense that you should not write his name out every time he is mentioned.
Different professors have different lecture styles. Choose a note taking style that fits well with the way your professor presents material. For example, the Cornell method works well if you professor is using an outline to lecture from, or is otherwise very organized. If a professor frequently jumps from topic to topic and back to previous topics, the note taking for visual learners style might be more useful. After the first lecture of the class, show your notes to your professor. Ask for feedback to see if you captured the main points of the lecture well.
Take a moment right after the lecture to go over your notes. Later, test yourself on the different points. If you review your notes interactively and at different points after the lecture, you will not have to cram the night before a big test. This relieves a lot of test-taking anxiety!
Not only is this a good review, but now you have a neat copy of your notes that you can use to study. It sounds like it will take extra time, but in the end it will save you time stressing and cramming for the final.
Think through your thesis. Take time to fully develop it. Outline your argument. This brings clarity to your ideas and helps ensure that the organization of your paper will be consistent.
Introduce your paper with a clear, specific statement of your main idea. Your thesis sets up the argument that your paper makes from the beginning to the end.
Build your paper around three structures:
the introduction, which presents your thesis and begins the argument of your paper.
the body of your paper, where you present evidence and reasoning in support of your thesis.
the conclusion, which ties your ideas together and directs attention to the main idea.
Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main idea of that paragraph. Effective topic sentences connect the idea of the preceding paragraph to the idea of the new paragraph.
Repetition leads to habit.
Reviewing notes and ideas immediately after each section helps build memory.
Write important concepts on post-it notes or notecards. Attach them to the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, etc. . .
If it is a longer session take 10 minute breaks every hour. Rejuvenate the mind. . . get up!
Use flash cards.
Try to link ideas from one class to another, from one aspect of thought to another.
Try to relate the material to your everyday life and incorporate it in conversation.
Always carry a book for class to fill in times when you have to wait.