Study Skills Every Student Should Master
We all absorb, process and retain information differently. Figuring out what works for you is key to supporting your learning. Learning is a life-long skill and one that you should try to build on every day. As a student, having an arsenal of strong study skills at your disposal can not only help you succeed academically, but also in other areas of life.
Developing good systems and techniques to help you learn will enable you to better manage your workload, improve your memory and build confidence, all valuable skills to take into later life. Crucially, studying better will give you more time to do the things you enjoy most outside of your coursework. So, if you want to start working smarter, read on to find out about the study skills that every student should master while they are at university.
Take Ownership of Your Studies
One of the simplest and most effective routes to developing good learning habits is to take ownership of your studies. As a student, you are ultimately responsible for your learning. This fact has been emphasised most recently with the growth in students choosing to study online rather than on campus. You can attend every lecture and tutorial, but making an effort outside of scheduled class time is what will help to consolidate that learning. A good place to start could be by determining what your learning style is.
Psychologists have determined that there are several different ways in which the human brain learns things. Understanding what these learning styles entail and which one is most effective for you can be helpful. One of the most common frameworks for defining learning styles is VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic) and is useful to begin to understand what might work best for you.
These learning styles aren’t hard and fast rules, of course, but could provide you with a new way of thinking about your learning. If your usual technique of making handwritten notes doesn’t seem to be helping, why not record yourself reading them back and listening to the information like a personal podcast? Is solo study is proving to be challenging? Call a classmate and ask if you can quiz each other on what you’ve learned that week.
However you choose to build your study skills, remember: it’s your responsibility to do so.
Good Study Skills = Good Time Management Skills
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, by 2025 the most sought-after candidates will be those with excellent self-management skills. One aspect of self-management is time management, a skill that will serve you not only in future roles but also now as a student.
Statistics show that a huge 87% students could improve their grades if they improved time management skills. Of those students surveyed, half had no systems for revision, note taking and time management in place at all. With numbers like that, it’s clear that even a relatively small consideration of how you manage your study time could help you get ahead of the game.
Look ahead to what’s coming up in your course and think about any books and resources you will need to read ahead of time. Use a digital calendar to block out study time and add in key dates like submission deadlines and exam dates too. A digital calendar is more flexible and you can see your schedule on your laptop, phone and any other devices, no matter where you are. Be honest about the time you will need to complete a task. Things often take longer than you think they will!
An important but sometimes overlooked aspect of time management is communication. Be clear about when deadlines are and any expectations around how and when your work is to be submitted. Ask for clarification from your tutors if you are unsure. Most importantly, ask for help when you need it, not months down the line when your deadline is looming. Your tutors are there to support you. They will appreciate you taking the initiative to solve a problem instead of burying your head in the sand.
Spread Out Your Study Time
When developing good study skills, consistency is key. Having an all-or-nothing approach to your learning might help you scrape through, but will not result in a deeper level of understanding or analysis. No one likes the feeling of cramming for an exam at the last minute or staying up all night to complete a project. Distributive practice – or spreading out your study time – is a much more effective way to process and retain what you learn.
The benefits of this ‘little and often’ style of study are not a new discovery. In the late 19th century, scientists defined a phenomenon known as the ‘curve of forgetting’. This showed that learners retained the most new information (up to 80%) if they reviewed what they had learned within 24 hours of learning it. If they continued to revise this information every day, even for a few minutes, they were still able to recall 100% of it after a week. Those who didn’t undertake these regular intervals of study did not retain as much information.
Building this consistent study habit will not only increase the amount you can learn, but also the depth of your learning. As you build your knowledge, you will begin to make connections between pieces of information, thus further strengthening your memory. When you feel confident about retaining information, you are more free to consider how the content of your lectures applies to a wider context. Think about where you can find value and apply this knowledge in real life.
Choose An Effective Study System
There are plenty of tried and tested techniques and systems to help improve your learning. Some are straightforward study skills and some might take you a while to get used to. What they all have in common is proven efficiency when it comes to helping students study better. Here are a few techniques you might like to try, whether you’re studying for an exam or need a better way to take notes.
The Feynman Technique
This is a model of learning that emphasises the importance of simple language and concise information. It’s great for deepening your understanding of a topic you already know well, or breaking down a difficult subject that you don’t quite get.
The Feynman Technique requires you to first choose the topic you need to focus on and write down everything you know about it. Repeat this process but this time imagine you are explaining it to a child. By using simple, straightforward language you will start to highlight any gaps in your knowledge, while constructing a memorable story-like way of remembering what you’ve learned.
You read more about the origins of the Feynman Technique and how to apply it here.
The Leitner System
This study technique is great for memorising bite-sized pieces of information, like naming processes or even learning language vocabulary. Invented by science journalist Sebastian Leitner, the Leitner System uses flashcards to help you quiz yourself and retain information over a longer period of time.
It uses a system of boxes to separate the information that you know inside-out from the things you need to spend more time studying. It’s a good example of the benefits of distributive practice, as mentioned above. You can read more about how to make it work for your studying here.
Learn to read efficiently
Reading every single page of a source in preparation for an essay or exam isn’t always the best use of your time. What if you get to the end only to discover it doesn’t include any information that’s useful to you? Instead, knowing how to efficiently read a text will help you determine early on how applicable it is to your studies. Scanning the text for any relevant words and reviewing chapter titles or an abstract first can save you a lot of valuable study time.
Nail your note taking
Whether you’re taking notes from a live lecture or a written source, knowing how to put things into your own words is a valuable study skill. Using mind maps, diagrams, lists, tables and even learning basic shorthand are all effective ways to help you memorise information.
As well as breaking down the information that’s presented to you, note taking is a good way to make new connections and pose questions about what you are learning. Studies show that a greater depth of learning comes from this questioning approach to your notes, rather than simply writing down word for word what’s on a lecture slide.
But Remember…Don’t Study Too Much!
It’s true that doing nothing to enhance your study skills is never going to do you any favours. At the same time, it might be useful to remember the old cliche of ‘everything in moderation’. Don’t overload your brain, either by multitasking or by focusing on one subject for too long.
It might sound strange, but knowing when to stop studying is also a great study skill to have. In fact, taking a break to move your body instead of your mind can even help improve your learning. It’s healthy to switch things up and if you’re studying online, taking a break from your screen is even more important. You are in control of your learning and ultimately your academic success. Take the time to build effective study skills that work for you and make a great start to your life-long learning journey.