Key Study Skills That Every Successful Student Knows

While many students lack some study skills and need to develop more, my experience as a tutor, study coach, and long-time student is that more study skills aren’t the biggest need. Most students know and can do the basics needed to study well. Most possess workable knowledge of note taking strategies, memorization techniques, planning, organization, and reading strategies.

The bigger need is not more study skills, but rather a refined set of skills.

Consider the following situation I encountered in a study group. I was one of four students in the group, all of us in the same undergraduate major and class. All four of us were intelligent people. It was clear from our conversations and the school we were attending. We had all been keeping up with our class work, had done the reading, and had already studied for the test. The study group was really a test review where we were just trying to finish preparing for the final exam.

But about halfway through the session, the other group members stopped me as we walked through the review sheet I had made. Their question was simple: “How did you know what to do?” The other group members were not nearly as prepared for the test, and they did not know what they had missed.

This story repeats itself daily in college and high school campuses across the globe. Some students succeed and others struggle and it has nothing to do with intelligence. Most students simply lack a comprehensive way to know if they are barking up the right academic tree, so to speak. They feel like they are doing well, they know they are spending the time necessary to do well, but they constantly find themselves several points behind the highest achievers in their class.

For those students who are interested in finding more academic success, knowing the following five elements will become a simple and yet comprehensive tool that can help them approach every academic assignment with confidence.

1. Know your educational opportunity.

For must students education is the most important opportunity of their lifetime. The degree to which high school and college students understand this will effect the outcome of their education.

It’s important to note, though, that being more motivated doesn’t necessarily ensure students will remember more or do better on a test.ย Samford Universityย actually did a significant amount of research on the effects of motivation on retention. They were essentially meaningless. Motivation has little to do with retention.

However, it has everything to do with focus, clarity, drive, and stick-to-it-iveness. Without a clear goal in mind for ultimate success, students will struggle during those long, grueling Latin sessions, or organic chemistry, or physics. Few people enjoy those subjects. There must be something other than “fun” that keeps a student going.

If you know your educational opportunity, you can find that motivation.

2. Know how an idea works.

Education is all about ideas. Some students miss this fundamental point. There is a tendency to enjoy the either the overarching ideas – what I call the “Big Ideas” – or the specific facts, the details that explain that Big Idea.

Some students are fantastic at explaining the major themes, movements, or events that move a class along; however, they tend to miss the important details. People, places, events, dates, and anything that requires a flash card tend to get skipped over.

On the other hand, some students make thousands of flash cards, memorize hundreds of dates, can give the middle name of every president, but cannot put them together in a coherent way to make a point on an essay. Knowing these two complementary elements of ideas is a vital task for every student.

Successful students understand how ideas work, can follow the movement of those ideas, and explain it on an exam.

3. Know what makes an effective study session.

Success or failure is largely determined during study sessions. Great study sessions leave students feeling sure of themselves. Their brains hurt. They’re tired. But the responsible adult inside all of them feels great.

Terrible study sessions almost always deliver on their promise to make students feel ridiculous. Weekends full of “The Office” reruns and ice-cream sundaes are the most frequent reading books for 4th graders medication for such feelings. No, watching “The Office” is not helpful for increasing academic performance. It is extremely helpful, however, for forgetting the test you bombed.

Study sessions will make or break a student. Successful students invest the energy into learning how to answer this question.

4. Know how to live the lifestyle of a successful student.

No one can compartmentalize his or her life. The lie that your exercise habits, sleep schedule, and chosen recreation have no effect on your mind, emotions, or will is foolish. Most of America believes it, but it is still a lie. Every student have one life. Family, friends, athletics, volunteerism, and academics are all parts of the same life that cannot ever truly be separated. Each area influences the others.

If you’ve ever had to take an exam with the flu or after a major break-up with a long-time significant other, you’ve experienced the unity of your life. Your physical condition influences your emotional condition, influences your mental condition, influences your relational condition, influences your physical condition. It’s a cycle that successful students leverage to their advantage, and unsuccessful students ignore.

Depression, for example, could have many causes. Sometimes chemical imbalances cause depression. Sometimes a lack of sleep causes it. Sometimes getting dumped by a girlfriend while proposing at a Yankees game causes it. If that’s you, you should be depressed. That is a depressing life event.

Similarly, academic success requires a lifestyle that breeds health in every area. Diet, exercise, rest, relaxation, and stress relief all play a part in the development of successful students.

5. Know how to complete the required tasks.

Some things in life just require the right know how. I don’t know how to fly a plane, scuba dive, change a my truck’s transmission, or build a salt-water aquarium. Accordingly, I don’t do those things.

But students assigned a twenty page research paper or a book report are not at liberty to decline a project. They have to perform those tasks, so they must know how to perform those tasks.

Additionally, some tasks are hard just because students haven’t learned a good technique finished them successfully. The good news is that there are resources available for teaching students highly effective ways to accomplish every task they will encounter in school. The important key is whether or not those students will invest the energy needed to learn those skills.

 

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