Developing strong study skills involves more than just hitting the books
By Keener A. Tippin II
Greek life, football and basketball games, making new friends, no curfew, being on your own for the first time. With so many social activities associated with college life, some students may fall behind in their studies.
Developing good study skills is one of the keys to achieving academic success, but a Kansas State University educator estimates only about 20 percent of college freshmen have developed good study habits prior to entering college.
"I think students develop good study habits when they're challenged and when they have to, but for a lot of students that doesnt happen in high school," said Judith Lynch, director of the K-State academic assistance center.
According to Lynch, for students who do not have good study habits, developing them is pretty much "trial and error" -- or they can take a specific class that teaches the keys to effective study habits.
"A student's first year in college is when it becomes apparent that the sooner they learn good study habits the better off they will be," Lynch said. "The ones who don't realize that they need to develop study habits usually aren't here the next year."
Many colleges and universities, such as K-State, offer a course that instructs students on the keys to academic success: time management, note taking and other vital skills. The premise of such courses, according to Lynch, is to teach what has been learned by following around good students and watching what they have done to be successful.
"Some students have never taken notes; they have relied on handouts the teacher has given them," Lynch said. "Even now, with PowerPoint and PowerPoint slides being available, students don't always learn good note-taking skills during the first couple of years of college because notes are given to them."
Taking notes is not the only skill involved in developing good study habits. Organizing the information after you've taken the notes is equally as important. Lynch said pulling together all the information students have from reading their textbooks or given by their instructor and organizing it into something meaningful and easy to retrieve when needed may be the most important skill to be learned.
Although there are many ways to study -- survey, question, read, recite, review; preview, read and recall; etc., Lynch recommends any method of studying that encourages active reading. This, she said, will involve the student in understanding the material, combat boredom and will increase retention.
Developing good study habits in a generation rife with short attention spans can be tough but attainable, Lynch said. The secret is to study in short spurts during dead hours of the day when a lot of time is wasted, she said.
For example, she said, if a student has an hour-long break between classes, they should learn to use that time by studying the subject that they just came from.
"That's optimum studying, that's prime time," she said. "It is within a few hours from when they heard the material, so they're going to remember it better."
Even students with short attention spans, if they are motivated, can study for long periods. The secret is a matter of connecting it to something they want, Lynch said.
"Even if it's just, 'OK, I want to be a teacher but even though I'm not going to teach mathematics, I can see why this mathematics course is required. If I don't do well, then I can't do what I want which is to teach,'" Lynch said. "Even if it is very indirect, if students can see that connection to what they're asked to do, then they would be willing to put in the hours to do it."
Many schools also offer free or low-cost tutoring to students. Lynch said while K-State and other schools do a good job of "putting the services out there," the biggest challenge is to get students to take advantage of them.
"I think students who have experienced some failure academically, aren't as competent academically, may be more reluctant to ask for help because they don't want people to realize how much they don't know or may not want to risk getting help and still failing," she said. "The students that tend to take advantage of this help tend to be 'A' students who want to keep their A average; 'B' students wanting to make an 'A'; and 'C' students trying to make it up to a 'B.'
"But the students that really struggle are the ones that tend to not ask for help or they wait until it's too late, like three weeks before finals."