Steps to Developing Effective Study Skills
Step 1: Assessing Your Learning Style
Step 2: Knowing Your Interests
Step 3: Developing Appropriate Tools to Enhance Studying
Step 4: Making the Subject Work for You (even if you hate it or don’t get it)
Step 5: Constructing a Learning-Style-Friendly Environment
Step 6: Other Considerations in Developing Effective Study Skills
When we sit down to study, most of us follow a routine. We get our books together, get comfy (at a desk, on the bed, sitting on the floor, etc.), and set to work. Some of us turn on the TV or some music; others of us make our environment as quiet as it can be. What we do to study varies, but generally we reread our notes, textbooks, or study guides, and call it a day. The day of the test, we struggle to recall what we studied. Afterwards, we admonish ourselves for not studying hard enough or long enough, and doubt our performance. Does this sound familiar? It doesn’t need to be this way. Effective study skills are the key.
Effective study skills: increase our ability to retain and recall information; decrease the amount of time we need to spend studying; and, improve test performance. Effective study skills can also improve self-confidence, encourage curiosity/exploration, and lessen anxiety. They try to teach us effective study skills in school, but there is a major flaw in this method: teaching a classroom full of individuals that the same methods apply to everyone pigeon-holes students into boxes that they don’t necessarily fit.
STEP 1: ASSESSING YOUR LEARNING STYLE
What are effective study skills, if not what we are taught in school? Study skills- like life skills, work skills, or athletic skills- have two parts: ability and practice. The practice part is easy to understand: any skill requires doing in order to create habit (ease of use). The ability part is built on an individual’s unique make-up. Just as some individuals excel in baseball or basketball, painting, drama, or art, etc, every individual excels in taking in information in different ways. This is referred to as “learning style” or “learning preference.” Learning style refers to an individual’s natural tendency to pay attention to certain forms of stimuli over others, or to more efficiently process information when presented in particular ways. Assessing your learning style is the first step in developing effective study skills.
Learning style refers to the way an individual receives and interacts with stimuli most efficiently. In other words, information comes at us in many different ways, and every individual attends to the way (manner, mode) that information is conveyed before attending to the content of the information. Every individual also has an inclination, tendency, or preference for particular modes of presentation, or a disinclination, revulsion, or difficulty with particular modes. Basically, there are 3 main “types” of learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (body/movement oriented). Visual learners use visually presented stimuli most efficiently; auditory learners use verbally presented stimuli most efficiently; and, kinesthetic learners most efficiently learn by incorporating their bodies into the learning situation. These “types” can be combined in varying degrees, as well (visual and auditory; visual and kinesthetic; auditory and kinesthetic). This way of considering learning focuses on the manner (or mode) that information is presented.
(There is another way to consider learning style, used mainly by researchers. This other way looks at how individuals think, organize, and process information; and, is referred to as “cognitive style.” This way of considering learning style is more theoretical, as the mechanisms and processes can only be assessed indirectly. Future research may prove beneficial to the topic of study skills, but at present it is just an interesting side note.)
Learning style assessment is an easy process. Such assessment is done by questionnaire, interview, and academic/work history. There are many online sites that offer the questionnaire assessment free (such as http://www.vark-learn.com), although educators can help make the assessment more personalized (something an online assessment cannot do). I begin all my tutoring relationships with some form of learning style assessment. This helps me get to know the client more quickly, identify problem areas more accurately, and develop a session plan that will benefit the student for a lifetime- not just to pass the next test.