The Relationship between Study Skills and Learning Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis

By Purdie, Nola; Hattie, John | Australian Journal of Education, April 1999 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Study Skills and Learning Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis


Purdie, Nola, Hattie, John, Australian Journal of Education


This paper reports the results of a meta-analysis of 52 studies that investigated the relationship between a range of study strategies and outcomes measures. Low correlations were found between a range of different types of study skills and various outcome measures. Having many study skills (i.e. versatility), as assessed by total study skills scores, produced the largest correlations with both cognitive and affective outcomes. Various deep and achieving approaches were positively related to outcomes. Surface approaches were negatively related to outcomes, although many surface strategies such as inflexibility and reproducing were unrelated to outcomes. Merely increasing time-on-task was not correlated to outcomes. Results are interpreted not as an indictment of the usefulness of engaging in good study behaviour. It is suggested that students do not do this of their own accord; however, when they are taught to implement effective learning behaviours, then cognitive and affective outcomes are enhanced.

There have been many studies investigating the relationship between various study skills and learning outcomes. The typical study of this genre specifies a variety of study skills and then correlates the scores on tests that measure students' use of these skills with some achievement outcome, typically GPA. The results of studies that have found a positive association between achievement and the use of a particular strategy or set of strategies have been used by writers of many study skills programs to justify teaching students a pot pourri of study methods. The skills typically stressed are related to organisation and management of time, setting goals, textbook study methods (such as scanning, underlining, SQ3R), memorising, using the library, essay writing, and preparing for and taking examinations.

Not all methods that students use in learning situations are viewed as wise choices. The term `learning pathologies' is applied to non-strategic behaviours that hinder rather than help in learning, often because they are the antithesis of those behaviours that have been shown to assist in learning. For instance, some study skills instruments measure the extent to which students are disorganised, test anxious, absent from school, work avoidant, or globetrotting (over-ready to jump to conclusions). There are conflicting views about how much other learning behaviours can be described as pathological. Strategies of memorisation, for example, are promoted in some instances as being appropriate (such as when studying for a vocabulary test in a foreign language), whereas in other situations the use of memorisation strategies leads students to focus on surface detail at the cost of seeing relationships between different pieces of information and ideas (for example, when trying to memorise the `structure' of a novel).

Regardless of whether a study skill is perceived to be helpful or detrimental to academic performance, the theory of study skills is more sophisticated than implied by this `dust bowl of empiricism' approach. It is increasingly becoming clear that there is not a best set of study skills. Nist, Simpson, and Hogrebe (1985) criticised some of the studies that have compared study methods on the grounds that they were not conducted in naturalistic settings in which students were free to select and employ the strategies they preferred. Often the experimental conditions were such that students were taught a particular method or methods and then placed in a situation in which they were instructed to use what they had been taught. Their achievement was then compared with that of students who had been instructed in a different method, or who had received no training at all.

In a previous meta-analysis, we investigated the effects of study skills interventions on outcomes (Hattie, Biggs, & Purdie, 1996). The meta-analysis of 270 effect-sizes from 51 studies demonstrated that study skill intervention programs, in general, do work most of the time. …

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