Female college student studying April 6

Student-Led Advice on How to Study

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Most of the advice students hear on how to study comes from teachers. We offer it verbally in class before and after exams, in online communications, and on the syllabus. We talk about study strategies during office hours, especially when we meet with students who aren’t doing well in the course. The problem is students don’t always follow our wise advice.

I was once observing a physics class and, at the end of the session, the teacher reminded students that there was a test next week. Students went about packing up and preparing to leave, but then he said he had a handout with some advice on how to study for the exam. As he began distributing it, the packing up stopped. Book bags were put down; students began reading the handout.

When a copy of the handout came to me, I saw why students were so interested. The handout contained study recommendations from students who had taken the class previously. They were identified by name and beside their name was the grade they’d received in the class (not something to be done without student permission, which this professor did get).

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Students at university lecture raise hands to ask questions March 5

Conducting In-Class Reviews Effectively

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Good study skills are the key to successful performance on exams in college, and good study skills are what many of today’s college students don’t have. We can spend time pontificating about who bears the responsibility for these absent skills. We can philosophize about who should be going to college. Or our time can be spent helping students become better learners thereby upping their chances of success in our courses, in college and in life.

Exams do manage to motivate most students. They take them seriously. They study for them. That still doesn’t always improve their performance on them. However, there are activities that do improve exam performance and those activities can be modeled and demonstrated by teachers within the course.

I can hear the objections. But I already have so much content to cover. I don’t have time to teach study skills. And shouldn’t students know how to study by the time they get to college?

Fortunately, a lot of these activities don’t require huge time investments. They can be embedded in ongoing course activities, which is the most effective place anyway. One of the tough lessons learned from the efforts to remediate learning deficiencies has been that learning skills are best taught in the context of a discipline-based course. They make sense there and course work provides authentic practice opportunities.

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students studying January 12

How Do You Study? A Questionnaire for Students

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Good instructional decision-making rests on accurate information. And in the case of tests and exams, we should be seeking student input more often than we do. No, we aren’t asking whether they want exams or what kind of exams they like. We need to know more about their learning experiences associated with the exams.

We’re making decisions about exams mostly based on suppositions—how we think they’re studying. We rely on feedback provided by their performance. Those with poor exam scores didn’t study, or they didn’t use good study strategies, or were so stressed by the exam they couldn’t think clearly. Those reasons aren’t all the same—they have different instructional implications. Exam performance feedback is after-the-fact input. Feedback collected at other times can provide details that enable us to better use exams and the events that surround them to promote learning and improve performance.

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taking test deep in thought April 27, 2016

Test Anxiety: Causes and Remedies

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There hasn’t been a lot written recently about test anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an issue for a significant number of students. Those of us who don’t suffer from test anxiety—and I’m betting that’s most faculty—can find it hard to be sympathetic. Life is full of tests, and students need to get over it. Besides, if students have studied and prepared, there’s no reason for them to feel excessively anxious about a test.


November 27, 2012

Test Prep: Getting Your Students to Examine Their Approach

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I was inspired by Maryellen Weimer’s article on “Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning” and the accompanying article by Kimberly Tanner on “Promoting Student Metacognition.”

Tanner reflected on a comment I have heard many times: “…it’s my job to teach [your discipline or learning outcome goes here], not study strategies.” How often have we heard that our students don’t know how to learn? Regardless of whose fault it is, Weimer’s article shows how relatively easy it is to incorporate practical “meta-learning” strategies into our lesson plans. It’s a no-brainer if a teacher conducts a structured pre-test review class, and a post-test follow-up activity, where many of the issues on clarity, confusion, and preparedness will be brought into the light.


November 13, 2012

A New Way to Help Students Learn Course Vocabulary

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Most college students struggle with the vocabulary of our disciplines. In their various electronic exchanges, they do not use a lot of multisyllabic, difficult-to-pronounce words. And virtually all college courses are vocabulary rich—unfamiliar words abound. Most students know that the new vocabulary in a course is important. They use flash cards and other methods to help them memorize the words and their meanings for their exams. Two days later, the words and their meanings are gone.


October 22, 2012

Targeted Skill Development: Building Blocks to Better Learning

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Teachers have much to teach these days. There’s the standard content knowledge students need to take from their courses, all the while the amount of new information in all our fields continues to grow exponentially. Next, there are all those essential intellectual skills like critical thinking, problem solving, analysis of evidence, argument construction to start the list. Then there are the basic skills many students are missing — like the ability to do college level reading, write coherently and calculate correctly — and all those study skills, like time management, review strategies, attentive listening and good note taking. Lastly, there are the metacognitive skills and the fact that most students aren’t aware of themselves as learners and don’t monitor how they are or are not learning. How in the world can a teacher address all these learning needs in a 15-week course?


July 14, 2011

Study Game Plans: Do Students Know What and How to Study?

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“Few teachers effectively prepare students to learn on their own. Students are seldom given choices regarding academic tasks to pursue, methods for carrying out complex assignments or study partners. Few teachers encourage students to establish specific goals for their academic work or teach explicit study strategies. Also, students are rarely asked to self-evaluate their work or estimate their competence on new tasks.” (p. 69)


May 5, 2011

Questions Around Students’ Study Habits, and What Constitutes Studying

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I had breakfast with my colleague and friend Larry yesterday. We pretty much cover the higher education waterfront during these morning sessions. Among the many topics covered yesterday was the matter of how much time students spend studying, or as most faculty are more likely to note, how much time they don’t spending trying to master course content. In support of the lack of attention to studying that many of us see in our classes is all sorts of survey data (from the well-known NSSE surveys to findings reported in the new and much talked about book, Academically Adrift). Depending on the survey, something close to 80% of students are reporting that they spend less than 20 hours a week studying.