A "difficult" college course depends on the student. Some people breeze through a class considered hard by other students. It just depends on your strengths. That isn't, however, to say that certain college classes aren't more demanding than others. Labs, department offerings requiring off-site observations, or courses with hundreds of pages of daily reading clearly fall under the classification of difficult. Managing hard coursework requires you to use high-level study techniques and a plan to manage the work in small packages.

Big Picture

Evaluating the big picture required to pass the class involves making a formal travel map that includes course readings, class lecture notes and supplemental course materials as stations along the route. Skim the large headings and major subpoints in the required readings and review vocabulary from your textbooks before the lecture or lab. This will help you clearly understand new concepts and ideas presented during the class.


It's easy to promise yourself that you won't fall behind in a course, but scheduling time to make sure you don't offers a better guarantee of passing the class. Make an outline of the overall course requirements, keeping the big class picture in mind. Use monthly calendars for the semester or quarter and your outline to develop a schedule for the required weekly readings, using pages from the text, laboratory meetings, and a list of midterms, finals and any required reports or term papers. Add assignments for other courses taken during that time to plan your overall work commitment for each week. Pencil in at least an hour a day on your calendar to study for your difficult class.

Staying Current

Seek help immediately when you get a sinking feeling during a difficult college course. If you wait until you receive a poor test score or a failing grade on a paper, you'll risk getting a lower course grade. Stay current on the reading and attend the lectures and any optional lab or discussion sessions. Ask for on-campus help from the tutoring center, the class teaching assistant or the class professor when you have questions. Write down questions to ask before the meeting so you keep the discussion focused on finding the answers.


Hard college courses demand you to set aside time to complete the required reading before class lectures or labs. These classes also require you to take detailed notes using an organized system. Mastering the new information means editing your notes immediately after class and highlighting material that fits into the course big picture. "Active studying," a term used by the University of California School of Medicine to describe effective study skills, requires you to make important editing decisions and filter class material and readings. Active studying involves identifying and organizing important information, memorizing this information and then applying the memorized material to complex situations, such as developing an essay answer.


Evaluate your peers during the first class meetings and target several students as possible study partners. Discreetly look for department majors in same field as the class and ask honors students, if available, to join your study group. Introduce yourself to teaching or laboratory assistants assigned to the course. Keep a paper handy during class to write down questions and explore answers to them with your class study group.