Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Students' Study Activities and Their Relationship to Study Context, Reference Course, and Achievement

Academic journal article College Student Journal

College Students' Study Activities and Their Relationship to Study Context, Reference Course, and Achievement

Article excerpt

The Study Activity Questionnaire (SAQ) was administered to 83 college students who were enrolled in either an introductory research methods course or an introductory statistics course in the college of education at one university. At the beginning of the term the students were asked to complete the SAQ with reference to how they typically studied (pretest), and at the end of term they responded to the questionnaire with reference to how they studied for the target course (posttest). One purpose of the present study was to assess the reliability of the instrument, and we found consistently high inter-item reliabilities across SAQ scales on both the pre and posttest administrations. A second purpose of this study was to investigate college students' study activities and whether their study practices differed depending on (1) whether they were responding with reference to how they typically study or how they studied for the target course, (2) whether they were enrolled in the research methods or statistics course, and (3) whether they were reading an assignment for the first time, engaging in in-class activities, or preparing for the exam. We found that study activities varied as a function of reference course, time, and context. Composite cognitive scores in the test preparation context increased for students enrolled in the research methods course, and these scores decreased for students enrolled in the statistics course. A similar finding was observed for effort management scores, with scores increasing in the research course and decreasing in the statistics course. Finally, we investigated the relationship between SAQ scores and achievement. Our results revealed that a focus on higher-order knowledge products significantly predicted achievement in the research methods course. In the statistics course, more proactive, self-directed study in preparation for the exam was predictive of final exam scores.

Although a defining characteristic of academic studying is its autonomous and self-directed nature, one cannot deny the influence of contextual variables, such as course and task demands, on students' study activities. The research and theory on situated cognition show that cognitive processes are inextricably linked to learning contexts (Brown, Collins, & Diguid, 1989; Ceci & Ruiz, 1993; Greeno, 1992; Linn, 1983; Pressley, Van Etten, Yokoi, Freebern, & Van Meter, 1998). In fact, a recent meta-analysis on the effect of learning skills interventions on achievement showed that the most effective training occurred in context with tasks that were in the same domain as the target context (Hattie, Biggs, & Purdie, 1996). These researchers concluded that "the thrust of these findings is quite compatible with the thrust of situated cognition" (1996, p. 131). Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that study strategies differ by subject area (Biggs, 1976; Goldman & Warren, 1973; VanderStoep, Pintrich, & Fagerlin, 1996), study purpose (Nolen & Haladyna, 1990; Warkentin, Bol, & Thomas, 1990; Winne & Hadwin, 1998), and incentive condition (Pintrich & De Groot, 1990; Tuckman, 1996;). The underlying assumption guiding this line of research is that because course characteristics influence student study activities, study practices will differ depending on the reference course and study context. Therefore, study strategies should be assessed with an instrument that asks students to describe their study activities for a particular course and in particular context.

The tenet that study activities cannot be understood without reference to context has both theoretical and applied import. The obvious, applied goal of this line of inquiry is to arrange course conditions that promote more sophisticated study strategies that in turn promote achievement. There is ample empirical and anecdotal evidence to suggest that student study activities need improvement, even at the college level (e.g. …

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