Study Skills

Study skills is a term that describes the key methods used in the process of learning, leading to a successful outcome for the learner.

According to Richard Palmer, author of Brain Train: Studying for Success (1996) this concept was mentioned in George Eliot's classic work Adam Bede (1859), when the schoolmaster Bartie Massey declared: "'l'll have nobody in my night-school that doesn't strive to learn what he comes to learn." Palmer believes that it is "astonishing" that a book set in 1799 picks up on the importance of what we now describe as study skills.

Palmer argues that we all have a short-term memory and a long-term memory, with most study skills designed to move as much from the former to the latter as possible. He believes: "It is obvious enough that you need study skills when undergoing an academic or professional course of study. What is much less obvious is that you also need them just as much to get work."

Educators and researchers have tried to identify some general techniques designed to produce positive results in the majority of cases. In psychology, special attention is paid to study skills for students with learning disabilities. Sometimes students need more time to read materials, or experience difficulties extracting meaning or retaining information in their long-term memory. Therefore, study skills are believed to be crucial for students with special needs.

With all students, study strategies play a lead role in the learning process, as a lack of good study skills can result in frustration and failure at school. The overall prerequisite for success at school is the definition of goals, values and priorities. This prerequisite constitutes a general framework to ensure the effectiveness of certain learning strategies. In particular, study skills include mnemonic practices, which help the learner retain information, note-taking exercises, reading and revision tactics.

Learning strategies can be based on memorization, which includes reading notes and textbooks and re-writing notes, or flashcards and visual imagery. One of the widespread learning strategies is known as the PQRST method - Preview, Question, Read, Summary, Test. It enables the learner to prioritize information. There is evidence that it improves a reader's understanding and ability to recall information. Using this method, first the learner skims through the text and asks questions that will find an answer in the reading part. After reading, during self-recitation, the learner thinks back about the main ideas of the text. The process ends with testing and revision.

Another version of this method is called SQ3R, or Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (Robinson, 1970.) Under this method, the learner has to get first a good overall picture of the topic, before going into detail. He or she has to prepare certain questions relating to the scope of the study. This is followed by ‘active' reading, which means reading with a goal to answer questions. Meanwhile, reciting, or summary in one's own words, will help the learner recall the major ideas in the text. Thus, the learner develops an overall idea and puts it into his or her own words. Finally, a review involves rereading, reading notes, clarification of missing parts and misunderstood concepts.

Regardless of the study method used by the student, time management is widely seen as crucial to the success of study skills and developing a schedule plays a key role in learning. A well-prepared schedule will save time. It should be flexible so that the learner can make adjustments as appropriate. The plan should include time limits, which will keep the student focused. Educational researchers believe that if the tasks are broken into management units, the overall plan will be implemented more easily.

Psychologists have studied an individual's physical and mental condition in a learning environment. They have discovered that study can be effective only when the learner is rested and alert. Last-minute study before classes or before the exam is believed to be counter-productive.

In terms of reading techniques, the aim is to ensure that the learner has grasped the main idea of the text. As part of this, note taking is seen as an efficient tool in reading which helps the learner remember and systemize the main ideas in the text. Making marginal notes may also be a useful technique. Highlighting key concepts and important information will definitely help the learner summarize and retain the idea of the text. Furthermore, using tools such as diagrams can help to show relationships between concepts.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach
Myron H. Dembo.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Managing Your Learning
Geoffrey Squires.
Routledge, 2002
The Relationship between Study Skills and Learning Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis
Purdie, Nola; Hattie, John.
Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 43, No. 1, April 1999
Thinking and Learning Skills: Research and Open Questions
Susan F. Chipman; Judith W. Segal; Robert Glaser.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.2, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Techniques Available to Author, Teacher, and Reader to Improve Retention of Main Ideas of a Chapter"
Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research
Rona F. Flippo; David C. Caverly.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
The Relationship of Academic Cramming to Flow Experience
Brinthaupt, Thomas M.; Shin, Chul M.
College Student Journal, Vol. 35, No. 3, September 2001
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