A History of Study Skills: Not Hot, but Not Forgotten

Article excerpt

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

(e) memorizing

(f) keeping an open attitude

(g) relying on self-direction in learning

Sixty-one years later Dechant (1970) listed study skills in five categories:

(a) dictionary

(b) location and reference

(c) use of graphics

(d) use of library resources

(e) organization

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. …