Within increasingly higher educational standards and expectations throughout the country, there is great pressure on students to study and perform well. Yet, Americans often fail to equip their children with fundamental study skills that are needed for academic achievement. A national survey of school guidance counselors by the American School Counselor Association and Sylvan Learning Centers reveals that nearly 60% if the counselors believe that students are not sufficiently prepared to tackle homework assignments and 40% among them believe their schools do not have the resources to teach study skills effectively (USA Today, 2000).
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Some of the skills associated with studying are time management, goal setting, concentration, listening skills, note taking, reading, metacognition, understanding of learning styles, memorization techniques, motivation, test-taking, co-operative learning, problem-solving, reference, decision making, stress management, concept mapping and critical thinking. Brilliant academic students are found to be naturally skilled in these areas whereas other students may be taught to improve these skills.
“The ability of any learner to study successfully depends to a great extent on his fundamental study skills, i.e. his ability to concentrate, to perceive correctly and accurately, as well as the ability to remember what has been perceived” (Du Plessis, 2009, p. 1). Working hard in a continuous manner, feeling confident, taking the effort to anticipate and deal with possible difficulties and taking advantage of all available resources can lead to academic success (Siebert, 2008).
Training of the memory known as “mnemonics training” is very important in the process of studying. A mnemonic is a specific strategy that allows new information to be linked to existing knowledge so that it can be easily retrieved during the process of recall. There are many mnemonic techniques such as “keywords, pegwords, acronyms, loci methods, spelling mnemonics, phonetic mnemonics, number-sound mnemonics, and Japanese “Yodai” methods” (Du Plessis, 2009, p. 1).
For example, the acronym BATA may be used to remember that the requisites of good information are – brevity, accuracy, timeliness and accessibility. To remember numbers there is a mnemonic involving number and sounds. There is a preset table with each number being linked to particular consonant and to remember a number, the consonants represented by the various digits are put together and made into words by inserting vowels between them. This method can be used to remember important numbers such as telephone numbers or dates. However, to use this method, the learner must first learn the number-sound relationships for each number.
In order to study well the first requisite is good organization and this can be achieved by making a schedule. By having a schedule, time is assigned for each task and this prevents the student from neglecting anything. Moreover, time scheduling prevents wastage of time and allows the student the flexibility to allot the best time frames for learning to the most difficult lessons (Mundsack et al, 2002).
Richard Palmer (2006) suggests that in the schedule for study, there must be room for fun activities and the schedule must be kept flexible enough to be practical and stress-free. According to Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (2004), the brain can be trained to think of a certain subject at a certain time and place. This means, a person can learn a particular subject best at that particular time and place. Likewise, the authors suggest that it is best to review tests during regular time slots as well. Shelley O Hara suggests that the study area should not have distractions such as television; game systems, music etc. and cell phones should preferably be switched off during study hours (O’Hara, 2005).
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Engaging in such distractive activities while studying can be seen as multitasking by the students. Urs Gasser and John Palfrey (2009) in their article titled “Mastering Multitasking” have said multitasking is unavoidable in recent times but the students should be aware multitasking increases the time needed for a learning task, decreases the quality of learning and impedes the students’ ability to acquire new knowledge. Ensuring there are large gaps between study sessions can increase learning according to a recent article titled “The Smart Way to Study” (2008).
Styles of Learning
People have different styles of learning – some learn visually, some by touch, some by hearing and some by a combination of these senses. It is important for a student to understand what his primary mode of learning is. While some students know by experience what their learning style is, there are testing procedures for others to find out their learning style (Mundsack et al, 2002). Visual Learners prefer to learn by observation and reading and generally choose to study alone (Gregory and Chapman, 2006). Auditory Learners find that they learn best by listening and talking and hence often love to study in groups where they can think loud, brainstorm and repeat information (Gregory and Chapman, 2006).
Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners learn by doing things. If a student finds he learns best by listening it is best that he uses group learning strategies, listening to lectures and audio recordings. A student who learns best by doing should get himself involved in projects related to his coursework. In a research by Ferla et al (2009), various student models of learning based on self confidence, learning concepts, attributions for academic performance and assessment expectations were found to have a deep impact on the study strategies of higher education students.
Lectures and textbooks are two important elements of input and hence listening to lectures and reading effectively are skills a good student must develop. Individuals read for different purposes and in the case of academics, students study with the purpose of understanding and remembering. Good readers use specific reading strategies that would help them understand and retain what they read by linking it to prior knowledge. The SQ3R study method outlines an effective strategy for learning through reading. SQ3R stands for “Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review” (Rozakis, 2002, p. 53).
First, the written material is scanned generally to get an overall idea of what the material is about. Next, questions related to the written material are developed and the reading becomes a quest for answers. The material is then read carefully and during this process notes may be taken to expand on the concepts. In the Recitation phase, the learnt material is rephrased in own words and recited.
Finally, the notes are reviewed periodically to keep the information fresh in the mind (Rozakis, 2002). Some general principles that can help in studying through reading are: identifying main ideas and separating them from examples, summarizing information, drawing inferences, generating questions and monitoring comprehension. In a study by Sporer (2009), it was found that students who used reading strategies of summarizing, questioning, clarifying and predicting obtained high scores in reading comprehension compared to students who did not use any strategies.
Studying through lectures involves active listening. It is important to listen carefully to the lecturer and take notes. Good notes can be taken only when the student is able to listen carefully, discriminate the important from the not so important, condensing speech and understanding and evaluation ideas. “Active listening is metacognitive – it depends on having a sense of purpose and on being aware that the student is engaged in a learning activity as he prepares for the lecture, listen to the speaker and make notes” (Cooper, 2003, p. 53).
According to Professor Walter Pauk of the Study Center at Cornell University, there are five essential elements of note-taking called the “Five R’s”: recording, reducing, reciting, reflecting and reviewing (Mundsack et al, p. 47).
However, it must be remembered that it is more important to understand the lecture than make notes. To understand a lecture well, it is important to familiarize oneself with the subject before the lecture. Note making during the lecture should involve summarizing and paraphrasing. Abbreviations may be used to minimize writing and maximize listening and thinking time. (Cooper, 2003). While listening to the lecture, it is important to read between the lines and look for verbal and non verbal sign posts and emphases.
This can provide clues to what the lecturer considers important. Moreover, it is good if the lecture can be logically structured in the mind as the student listens, because this would allow summarizing and rehearsing new information. It would also help the listener to connect the parts of the lecture to each other and to the main topic. By anticipating where the lecture is headed, the listener can force himself to think constructively without distraction (Cooper, 2003). Notes made during the lecture should be edited for personal comprehension and reviewed periodically till the new information is totally absorbed.
No matter how efficiently a person reads or listens or take notes, ultimately his performance in studies will depend on his ability to concentrate which in turn is dependent on his motivational level and physical fitness. The student can get himself self motivated by setting long term and short term goals in studies. Further, scientists have found that learning depends on the whole body and not just on what happens in the head (Conner, 2004).
Physical fitness involves maintaining a good balance in food, sleep, exercise and recreation. Apart from that, it helps to bring as many senses as possible into the act of studying. Hence many students find it effective to pace the floor and read aloud while studying.
Conner, M. L. (2004). Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter & Faster. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Cooper, Geoffrey (2003). The Intelligent Student’s Guide to Learning at University. Common Ground Publishers.
Du Plessis, Susan (2009). The Difference between Study Skills, Study Techniques and Study Methods. Web.
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Ferla, Johan; Valcke, Martin and Schuyten, Gilberte (2009). Student models of learning and their impact on study strategies. Studies in Higher Education, Volume 34, Issue 2, pages 185 – 202.
Gasser, U. & Palfrey, J. (2009). Mastering Multitasking. Educational Leadership, 66 (6), 14-19.
Gregory, Gayle and Chapman, Carolyn (2006). Differentiated instructional strategies: one size doesn’t fit all. Corwin Press.
Kesselman-Turkel, Judi and Peterson, Franklynn (2004). Test-taking strategies. Univ of Wisconsin Press.
Mundsack, Allan; Deese, James; Deese, K. Ellin and Morgan, T. Clifford (2002). How to Study. McGraw-Hill Professional.
O’Hara, S. (2005). Improving Your Study Skills : Study Smart. Study Less. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Palmer, R. (2006). Getting straight ‘A’s: a students’ guide to success. Routledge Publishers, New York.
Pashler, H. and Wixted, J. (2008). The Smart Way to Study. Psychological Science.
Rozakis, Laurie (2002). Test Taking Strategies and Study Skills for the Utterly Confused. McGraw-Hill Professional.
Siebert, A. (2008). Adult student’s guide to survival and success (6th Edition Ed.). Portland, Oregon: Practical Psychology Press.
Sporer, N. B. (2009). Improving students’ reading comprehension skills: Effects of strategy instruction and reciprocal teaching. Learning & Instruction, 19 (3), 272-286.
USA Today (2000). Students Lack Needed Study Skills. USA Today, 128 (2659), p. 15.