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Study skills or study strategies are approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, are considered essential for acquiring good grades, and are useful for learning throughout one's life.
There are an array of study skills, which may tackle the process of organising and taking in new information, retaining information, or dealing with assessments. They include mnemonics, which aid the retention of lists of information, effective reading and concentration techniques, as well as efficient notetaking.
While often left up to the student and their support network, study skills are increasingly taught at High School and University level. A number of books and websites are available, from works on specific techniques such as Tony Buzan's books on mind-mapping, to general guides to successful study such as those by Stella Cottrell.
More broadly, any skill which boosts a person's ability to study and pass exams can be termed a study skill, and this could include time management and motivational techniques.
Study Skills are discrete techniques that can be learned, usually in a short time, and applied to all or most fields of study. They must therefore be distinguished from strategies that are specific to a particular field of study e.g. music or technology, and from abilities inherent in the student, such as aspects of intelligence or learning style.
The term study skills is used for general approaches to learning, skills for specific courses of study. There are many theoretical works on the subject, and a vast number of popular books and websites. Manuals for students have been published since the 1940s.
In the 1950s and 1960s, college instructors in the fields of psychology and the study of education used research, theory, and experience with their own students in writing manuals. Marvin Cohn based the advice for parents in his 1979 book Helping Your Teen-Age Student on his experience as a researcher and head of a university reading clinic that tutored teenagers and young adults. In 1986, when Dr. Gary Gruber’s Essential Guide to Test Taking for Kids was first published, the author had written 22 books on taking standardized tests. A work in two volumes, one for upper elementary grades and the other for middle school, the Guide has methods for taking tests and schoolwork.
One of the most basic approaches to learning any information is simply to repeat it by rote. Typically this will include reading over notes or a textbook, and re-writing notes.
The weakness with rote learning is that it implies a passive reading or listening style. Educators such as John Dewey have argued that students need to learn critical thinking - questioning and weighing up evidence as they learn. This can be done during lectures or when reading books.
One method used to focus on key information when studying from books is the PQRST method. This method prioritizes the information in a way that relates directly to how they will be asked to use that information in an exam. PQRST is an acronym for Preview, Question, Read, Summary, Test.
There are a variety of studies from different colleges nation-wide that show peer-communication can help increase better study habits tremendously. One study shows that an average of 73% score increase was recorded by those who were enrolled in the classes surveyed.
Flash Cards are visual cues on cards. These have numerous uses in teaching and learning, but can be used for revision. Students often make their own flash cards, or more detailed index cards - cards designed for filing, often A5 size, on which short summaries are written. Being discrete and separate, they have the advantage of allowing students to re-order them, pick a selection to read over, or choose randomly to for self-testing.
Summary methods vary depending on the topic, but most involve condensing the large amount of information from a course or book into shorter notes. Often these notes are then condensed further into key facts.
Spider diagrams: Using spider diagrams or mind maps can be an effective way of linking concepts together. They can be useful for planning essays and essay responses in exams. These tools can give a visual summary of a topic that preserves its logical structure, with lines used to show how different parts link together.
Some learners are thought to have a visual learning style, and will benefit greatly from taking information from their studies which is often heavily verbal, and using visual techniques to help encode and retain it in memory.
Some memory techniques make use of visual memory, for example the method of loci, a system of visualising key information in real physical locations e.g. around a room.
Diagrams are often underrated tools. They can be used to bring all the information together and provide practice reorganizing what has been learned in order to produce something practical and useful. They can also aid the recall of information learned very quickly, particularly if the student made the diagram while studying the information. Pictures can then be transferred to flash cards that are very effective last minute revision tools rather than rereading any written material.
A mnemonic is a method of organizing and memorizing information. Some use a simple phrase or fact as a trigger for a longer list of information. For example, the points of the compass can be recalled in the correct order with the phrase "Never Eat Shredded Wheat". Starting with North, the first letter of each word relates to a compass point in clockwise order round a compass.
The Black-Red-Green method (developed through the Royal Literary Fund) helps the student to ensure that every aspect of the question posed has been considered, both in exams and essays . The student underlines relevant parts of the question using three separate colors (or some equivalent). BLAck denotes 'BLAtant instructions', i.e. something that clearly must be done; a directive or obvious instruction. REd is a REference Point or REquired input of some kind, usually to do with definitions, terms, cited authors, theory, etc. (either explicitly referred to or strongly implied). GREen denotes GREmlins, which are subtle signals one might easily miss, or a ‘GREEN Light’ that gives a hint on how to proceed, or where to place the emphasis in answers .
Often, improvements to the effectiveness of study may be achieved through changes to things unrelated to the study material itself, such as time-management, boosting motivation and avoiding procrastination, and in improvements to sleep and diet.
Time management in study sessions aims to ensure that activities that achieve the greatest benefit are given the greatest focus. A traffic lights system is a simple way of identifying the importance of information, highlighting or underlining information in colours:
This reminds students to start with the things which will provide the quickest benefit, while 'red' topics are only dealt with if time allows. The concept is similar to the ABC analysis, commonly used by workers to help prioritise. Also, some websites (such as FlashNotes) can be used for additional study materials and may help improve time management and increase motivation.
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