Study skills were an early and important topic in reading; however, since the 1970s, they have received relatively little research attention. The authors systematically analyzed the research conducted on study skills from 1900 to the present. Several themes emerged including: (a) motivation and affect; (b) activities described; (c) metacognition; (d) programs described; (e) assessments created; and (f) the use of study skills in electronic environments. The final theme has made an impact on how students study. The authors make the case that students must learn how to study in a different environment, specifically the electronic environment, to be competitive in today's world.
Let's face it: the topic of study skills is not glamorous! Jack Cassidy, who has offered a list of "What's Hot, What's Not" since 1997, notes that none of his lists have ever included study skills, although he agrees that this topic ought to be included (personal communication, February 8, 2007). The closest the "Hot" list comes to mentioning study skills is with the topics "technology" or "informational texts" (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2007; Cassidy, Garrett, & Berrara, 2007). Yet, study skills may be the "premier practical attainment" (McBride, 1994, p. 461) of schooling. In this article, we present a brief history about study skills. We posit that, while much has remained consistent, the explosion of computer-based tasks have greatly influenced the behaviors students use, or ought to use, while studying.
What are Study Skills?
Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary (2007) defines study skills as the "application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge." Study skills are the "techniques and strategies that help a person read or listen for specific purposes with the intent to remember" (Harris and Hodges, 1995, p. 245). Lenz, Ellis and Scanlon (1996) distinguish between study tactics, a sequence of steps or procedures, and a study strategy, which is the learner's overall approach to selecting the best tactics for a study task. Gettinger and Seibert (2002) elaborate: "A strategy is an individual's comprehensive approach to a task; it includes how a person thinks and acts when planning and evaluating his or her study behavior" (p. 352). Those who read to learn are employing study strategies/skills. Learners may use different behaviors/tactics to accomplish their study goals. Such an interpretation is important, as it helps explain how study skills/strategies can remain constant over time while study behaviors/tactics may change as the environment for study changes.
Lists of study skills, consistent over many years, usually include creating and understanding visual representations of information, previewing a text before reading, locating information, taking notes, taking tests, listening and reading with attention and intention to learn. For instance, McMurry (1909) proposed as the domain of study skills:
(a) setting specific purposes for study
(b) identifying supplemental information
(c) organizing ideas
(d) judging the worth of the material
(f) keeping an open attitude
(g) relying on self-direction in learning
Sixty-one years later Dechant (1970) listed study skills in five categories:
(b) location and reference
(c) use of graphics
(d) use of library resources
Moore, Readance and Rickelman's (1983) historical review of the literature about content area reading noted that study skills included organizing skills, such as note-taking, underlining, outlining and summarizing. Blai (1993) identified comprehension of main ideas, self-monitoring, physical setting, organization, goal-setting and pacing as crucial to effective studying. Gettinger and Seibert (2002) contributed a significant perspective by proposing that study skills be grouped into four clusters.
(d) metacognitive skills
Study skills, according to these authors, contribute to academic competence because they are cognitive skills and processes for effective learning, requiring that one acquire, locate, organize, synthesize, remember and then use information learned. Study requires specific techniques, intent and individual decisions, as well as the self-regulatory process discussed by others cited above.
A Brief History of Study Skills
Our review of the literature included searching reading journals and related data bases (ERIC, Google Scholar Search, and InfoTrac). We looked for any mention of study skills that, in our estimation, contributed significantly to the base of knowledge and research. For instance, we reviewed comprehension studies that related to reading and thinking specifically for study/retention purposes (This category is consistently listed among study skills from the early 1900s on). Our review is presented by decades from 1970 onward, with a concise summary of the time span from the early 1900s to 1969.
A Summary of Study Skills from 1900-1969
According to Moore, Readance, and Rickleman (1983), study skills was an important issue in the early 1900s. As evidence, they cite many works such as Supervised Study (Hall-Quest, 1916): and Directing Study of High School Pupils (Woodring & Flemming, 1935). In 1908 (reprinted in 1968), Huey stated that "Study skills such as library skills and note taking should be taught as early as possible in the elementary grades" and "in high school, students should be given free reign to read widely on subjects of interest. This is preferable to a focused and analytical study of a few texts and authors" (Huey, 1968, p. 6-7). Gray (1919) was very interested in the relationship between study and reading. Gray stated that, "pupils should be trained to study effectively as they read" (Gray, 1937, p. 580).
Strang (1928, 1937, 1962) published several texts and articles in the 1920s1960s about improving reading and study in high school. Robinson's introduction of the study strategy SQ3R (1946) is historically important because it was designed to put readers in charge of their own study of content material. Students were to Survey the material, create Questions to guide their reading, then Read, Recite, and Review. Robinson led the way to other similar study strategies presented over the next several decades, such as Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review (PQ4R) (Sanacore, 1982).
Even though study skills were an early and important topic in reading, research declined markedly in the 1950s-1960s. Teacher-preparation textbooks continued to discuss study skills (Dechant, 1970), but Tierney and Cunningham (1980) found almost no studies about how to retain information in their history of research on comprehension. An information side-bar in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL) (Sebasta, 1997) notes the "Hot literacy topics of the past" decades at International Reading Association conventions from 1960-1990s. Study skills are nowhere on this list.
A Summary of Study Skills from the 1970s to the New Millennia
As we reviewed the literature from the 1970s to the current decade, several themes emerged including:
(a) motivation and affect
(b) activities described
(d) programs described
(e) assessments created
(f) the use of study skills in electronic environments
These themes and the research conducted in relation to them are described in Table 1. The role of motivation, discussed from the 1980s, has been embedded into the discussion of self-regulatory behavior since the late 1990s. Activities for study have always been popular. The search for a perfect study skills program and perfect activities will most likely continue, but our comprehensive view of reading processes indicates that attention must be on strategic reading versus activities or programs or a simple discussion of motivation. Strategic reading demands the construction of models that raise literacy to a high standard, or a high …