Study Skills for College Success: Activities & Ideas

Instructor: Rebecca Harkema

Becca teaches special education and is completing her doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

College students require many skills in order to be successful. In this lesson, you will learn how to help students develop skills in the areas of time management, note taking, and test taking.

Study Skills

When I first started teaching a college success course, I didn't quite know where to start. After all, students need many skills to be successful in college! They need to be able to manage time, set boundaries, communicate effectively, work collaboratively, write efficiently, and the list goes on! The task of teaching a college success course can be overwhelming and daunting, but I have found a few key areas that are crucial to students' success.

In college, study skills are the learning and study techniques that students need to be able to experience success. For many students, these skills do not come naturally, and they need to be learned. In college success courses, students essentially 'learn how to learn.'

College students are leaving their structured education experience behind. For this reason, there are some skills that college students need to address for the first time. Some of the areas that students may have issue with are time management, note taking and test taking. Now that we know some of the main areas of difficulty, let's discuss some activities that a college success course instructor can do with students to help them develop these skills.

Time Management

Students entering college for the first time often have difficulty managing their time. In high school, they were used to going to every class every single day. In college, they might only have class twice a week, but be required to complete more of the work on their own outside of class.

Students also might have larger projects instead of daily homework assignments, and students can find it challenging to break these projects into smaller pieces. Add to that the difficulty of balancing work schedules and a social life, and managing a calendar can be difficult.

Let's look at some activities that can help new college students manage their time.

  • Scheduling: An important skill for students to learn is how to use a planner or schedule. Students can use an paper planner, or they can use technology to support them (such as a cell phone). Whatever they use, it is important that students write down all of their responsibilities into their planners so they can reasonably schedule their study time.
  • Planning: Along with writing assignments into planners, teach students how to break assignments down into smaller pieces with shorter deadlines. Show students how to give themselves mini-deadlines so that larger projects aren't as overwhelming.

Using planners and scheduling time takes a lot of practice, so students will probably need ongoing help with this throughout the course.

It is also important to teach students to identify how they use their time. A fun activity is called the time waster challenge. Each student (and the instructor) identifies one of their biggest time-wasters (television, technology, etc.) and monitors the amount of time they actually spend on that activity. After a week of recording the time spent on their time-waster, students are usually very surprised by how much time per week they could have for studying if they reduced the amount of time spent on their time-waster.

Note Taking

Students may find it difficult taking notes, especially if professors do not give an outline as many high school teachers did. Many new college students struggle to identify the important information in a lecture and will often try to write down everything instead of the most important concepts. This is an impossible task, and students may become frustrated and give up. To avoid frustration, students should learn how to take notes using some of these activities:

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