Section 2. Study skills
Henna Niiva, Aalto University
Key questions: Which skills are important for your success in studies? 2. How can you affect and practice your study skills.?
Study skills consist of a variety of different abilities that enable students to manage their studies, learn effectively, cooperate with other students, and regulate study-related motivation and emotions. These skills help students proceed smoothly in their studies, and many, such as teamwork skills, time-management skills, and skills to learn effectively, are also appreciated in working life. It is useful to remember when beginning to study in a new country, that the study culture may also be different. The assignments, evaluations, and study structure may differ from your previous studies. This means that you may need to practise some new study skills, and it may take some time to adapt to the new way of studying.
Many factors influence study success measured by GPA, but five are considered of particular importance. Students’ prior knowledge and self-efficacy are the factors most strongly connected with success. Self-efficacy means the extent to which you trust yourself as a learner and believe that you can manage with your studies. The third factor that is strongly associated with study success is the skill to regulate motivation and emotions. For example, generating interest in learning topics and overcoming disappointments are skills that most students require during their studies. Finally, the fourth and fifth factors that influence study success are regulating learning techniques and time-management skills.
Motivation and emotion regulation skills
Study motivation can be seen as the force that encourages students to study. Motivation is not a quality that is either present or completely absent; rather, it may vary depending on the situation and the task you are supposed to work on. In addition, study motivation is a quality that you can regulate, and often motivation is created by doing. That is why it is usually unwise to wait for motivation to arise before beginning a task.
In their university studies, students usually require both intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. It is easier to achieve targets and goals if you are interested or excited about the topic and have an internal reason for studying. However, most students are also required to complete study tasks that may feel boring. In these situations, external motivators, such as passing the course or graduating, can help you finalize the task. In addition, emotion management skills are also important in studying. There are moments when you might feel confused, insecure, or disappointed in your studies. There may be also study tasks that cause you performance anxiety or fear of failure. It is important to notice and recognize these different emotions, give them space, and be compassionate towards yourself. Students who are compassionate towards themselves cope better with academic failures, and their well-being is better.
In order to be motivated, it is important to know your values, i.e., what is truly important to you and why you are studying. You can also influence your motivation by setting yourself good goals. Meeting targets and achieving your aims is usually rewarding and boosts your motivation for the next study session. Studying together is also an effective way to boost your motivation. Motivation is also connected to your energy level. If you are drained and exhausted, it is difficult to feel motivated. This is why low motivation may be a sign that you require more free time and rest.
Approach to learning and effective learning techniques
Your approach to learning refers to your learning goals and the way you study. Is your aim to remember the content for the exam or deeply understand and connect the new piece of information to your prior knowledge? Are you listening to lectures passively? Or do you actively try to understand the most relevant content of the lecture?
A deep approach to learning means that your goal is to truly understand the topic you are learning and the way it is related to your previous knowledge. When employing a deep approach to learning, you ask yourself how you can use the information in question and why it is important to you. Effective learning occurs by actively processing a new piece of information, and it often leads to lasting long-term memories. Learning techniques such as testing yourself, asking yourself why and how questions, or explaining step by step to yourself or others why you use particular strategies, are effective techniques to learn in higher education.
By contrast, a surface approach to learning means that your goal is simply to remember the new piece of information. Quite often, this approach to learning leads to fragmented knowledge and fails to produce long-lasting memories. A surface approach to learning might be related to fear of failure, and if you use a surface approach to learning often, it commonly leads to study-related stress. In the Allwell? survey, a surface approach to learning is one of the factors most strongly connected to study-related burnout. However, a surface approach to learning may be useful in some situations, for example when you are studying on a course that is not so important for your future.
Self-leadership skills and time-management
Studying at a Finnish university may include more independent work than your previous studies. Therefore, skills to plan and schedule your studying are extremely important. Many university students encounter different time-management pitfalls. University studies include many broad-based, challenging tasks, and studying is independent, so procrastination is more common among higher education students than among the general population. In addition, student life is often busy and filled with many different courses, events, and activities, so prioritization is required but not always easy. In addition, most of us use smartphones throughout the day, so different ‘time thieves’ may be taking more of our time than we even notice. A lack of energy and well-being also commonly affects our ability to complete tasks effectively and achieve our aims. Time-management and scheduling may initially sound rather boring, but planning can ensure that you use your time for those activities that are truly important to you.
For effective time-management, it is important to be aware of how you spend your time and to know your values and priorities. Good goals help you become productive and progress with your studies. The SMART goal model helps us recognize the features of a useful goal. In addition, dividing your goals into concrete tasks for every week is an effective way to support your productivity. It is easier to start when you know exactly what you are supposed to do. Scheduling is a skill to practise, and, at best, your schedule is an excellent tool for ensuring that you are spending your time according to your values.
Reflection is important in effective self-leadership. It is essential to know what time of the day you are most energetic or which place works best for you to be productive. People are different, and, for some of us, an extremely precise schedule works well; by contrast, others require a lot of flexibility in their schedule and broader time blocks. It is good to ask yourself how your week went and how you spent your time. Did you notice some time-management pitfalls? Are you aware of your most important tasks for this week? How is your energy level at the end of the week? Should something be changed in your schedule for the next week in order for it to be an even better tool for you and support your well-being and studying?
Allen D. (2001) Getting things done.
Dunlosky et al. (2013) Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques
Richardson et al. (2012) Psychological Correlates of University Students’ Academic Performance.
Last modified: Tuesday, 4 April 2023, 9:34 AM