Posted on: February 10, 2020
Every student is familiar with the term ‘study skills.’ But not everyone really knows or understands what they are or why they matter. After all, if your grades are pretty good why you should worry about improving your study skills?
What are study skills?
Study skills are a range of approaches to learning that improve your ability to study, and to retain and recall information. Spending time on improving your study skills, no matter how good your grades are, has to be time well spent.
Some people are naturally good at time management but may struggle with critical thinking. Another student may be great at taking notes but isn’t great at putting a concept into their own words. To be able to really do your best in your studies and easily demonstrate your learning, you need to spend time developing your study skills.
Many universities will offer classes in improving study skills and it is always worth signing up for them. But there’s many things you can do yourself to push your studies forward that bit further.
Some key study skills
Too many people think students have an easy life. After all, it’s all drinking, hangovers and having fun with your friends. Students only bother studying around exam time, right?
We all know that isn’t true. Yes, university is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of hard work. Juggling your classes, coursework, and reading assignments alongside your part time job can be exhausting. When you’re busy studying your time management skills becomes essential.
At the start of each term or semester, as soon as you get your timetable and course information, write down every due date then work backwards, deciding when you will need to begin each piece of coursework. Give yourself more time than you really need but stick to the planned dates to make sure you are prepared for any unexpected blocks in the road.
It’s also a good idea to block out a set time every day to study and, no matter what comes along, do your best to stick to it. Form good habits early in your university life and you will find it much easier, and with discipline you’ll find yourself achieving more.
We all learn differently. Some thrive in lectures, absorbing everything that is said. Others take copious notes in order to remember. For some, diagrams and charts are an important part of taking information on board. There are many tools out there to aid learning. Some will work for you and some won’t. Talk to your friends and find out what they do to make sure they remember important information and ideas. They may use tools that you have never encountered, tools that you may find really useful. Just make sure you share with them in return!
There are many useful ways of learning; flash-cards, mnemonics, mind-maps… there are so many tools that everyone can find something that works for them. If you find you’re struggling to grasp a concept, speak to your lecturer who will definitely have suggestions for how you can get a form hold of that idea. Don’t forget that they were students once too.
Taking good notes is an art form and there are many ways to make your notes work for you. It’s rarely helpful to write down everything, word-for-word, that you hear in a lecture. Instead, write down key thoughts or ideas that the speaker is discussing. Write down thoughts and questions that you have around the subject. Once the lecture is over try coding each separate concept in a different colour, with supporting points in the same colour as you’ve used for the concept. That way you’ll build up a bank of easy-to-reference notes throughout your course making things easier to find and easier to reference when you need them.
Revise your notes as soon as possible after you’re written them. Make sure that everything you’ve taken down makes sense, that you understand all the concepts and haven’t got any unfinished thoughts to confuse things. If any questions come out of your notes speak to your lecturer.
What is critical thinking? Put simply it is using your reasoning abilities to challenge the ideas and concepts that you are learning about. It is a skill essential for many subjects of study and one that will prove useful in class discussions and in essay writing. It is likely that this a skill your lecturers will help you to develop, and for some courses there are focussed classes on it as well as many books available. Improving your critical thinking skills is essential to you being able to dig deeper and develop your understanding of your chosen subject of study and it will be of huge use in your day-to-day life too.
Is asking questions really a skill? Yes, it is. Apart from demonstrating to your teacher that you are an active participant in class it also enables you to find out more about areas that may be confusing you. It’s a way to (kindly) challenge what another class member has suggested and to help yourself gain a deeper understanding.
As has already been touched on, asking your lecturer questions when you’re stuck or need a clearer explanation will help you further in the course. It can be intimidating admitting that you don’t understand something, but every teacher was a student once and one of the reasons they are in this job is to help you do the best you can.
Joining, or starting, a study group can be invaluable. It offers you the chance to support others on your course and to learn from them. The interaction will build your teamwork skills as well as friendships. You may find that other members of your study group have insights into your subject that haven’t occurred to you. And at the stressful times around coursework deadlines and exam periods you can test each other and help each other too.
In all of the pressure of university life, looking after yourself is a bit of a skill too. Don’t forget to set aside time to relax, to see friends, to exercise, or simply to sleep. With a deadline looming it can be tempting to spend every minute working on that essay or preparing for that exam. But evidence shows you will do worse if you haven’t been taking care of yourself.
Even if finding a spare half-hour seems impossible, it’s important to find it. Cook yourself a nice dinner, watch an episode of your favourite TV programme, find some way to relax. It may feel indulgent, but you’ll be glad you did later on.