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Study Skills: 15 Study Skills You NEED To Succeed At School Or University

Study Skills: 15 Study Skills you NEED to succeed at school or University

This blog post is a simple guide to what study skills are and why they are important, especially in higher education. We will cover the 15 most important study skills that will help you succeed at school or university. In fact, you will be able to apply many of these to other areas of your life as well.

Table of Contents

- What are study skills?
- Importance of study skills in higher education
- Different types of study skills
- Study skills checklist
- References

What are study skills?

Study skills are skills that will essentially help you learn, retain and reproduce knowledge.

The idea behind these skills is that there is more to learning than ‘just’ reading a book and learning things by heart.

Instead, there are strategies that apply to time management, note-taking, learning, revision, and producing academic work that will make you stand out.

Importantly, these skills are not subject-specific.

In fact, they are not even specific to the domain of academics.

Indeed, most of the study skills discussed in this blog post are transferable to all aspects of life and information processing of any sorts.

Some of the most important study skills are mentioned in the below video.

We will go into detail of the six study skills mentioned in the “Study skills checklist”.

Importance Of Study Skills In Higher Education

Succeeding at school and university requires you to learn lots of information, to truly understand it and to be able to reproduce it in a meaningful way, such as in sitting an exam or writing an essay.

Therefore, there is more to learning than recognizing information when reading a text passage for the third time.

Study skills are important because they equip you with methods and techniques to guide your learning all the way from reading or hearing about it for the first time, to conducting your own research in the field.

Some of these study skills will be intuitive to you.

Maybe you have practised them without explicitly learning about them because you discovered that this was something working for you.

Or you might have come across a study skills technique that you don’t enjoy practising.

Here, it is important to distinguish why it is not working for you.

Sometimes, going the slightly harder route aids the integration and encoding of information.

Therefore, it is definitely worth giving different types of study skills a go, before deciding that they are not for you.

You might, however, want to incorporate different study skills and tweak them to fit your schedule and routine.

Importantly, there are as many truths as there are myths - about almost anything.
Maybe you have heard of people matching their preferred learning style (i.e. visual learning) to their revision style.

This has been proven not to be an effective strategy for the retention of information.

We will go into more detail when discussing multimodal learning below.

For now, the main point is that using actual effective study skills in higher education is beneficial and important as it will most likely improve your grades and because the skills learned are transferable to other areas of life, including future jobs, as well as the management of your free time.

Different Types Of Study Skills

There are various different types of ‘study skills’.

You might even argue that ‘study skills’ is an umbrella term for all skills relating to time management, active reading, learning, note-taking, and reproduction of knowledge.

Because, in the end, succeeding at the above, will (a) require you to master some skill set and (b) will lead to you performing better on a task involving studying.

Below, you will find an outline for the most essential 15 study skills that will help you to succeed in academics, be it uni or school, and that you’ll be able to transfer to other areas as well.

Study Skills Checklist

1. Meaningful note-taking

In lectures as well as classrooms, you will often see students ‘blindly’ copying down exactly what the lecturer or teacher is saying.

Similarly, many people tend to copy word for word that is written on slides and presentations etc.

However, actually listening and understanding what is being said and then writing down in your own words what has been covered is far more effective.

This is due to the fact that you will need to understand something to be able to do anything with that knowledge.

In order to encode, apply and reproduce the information you are exposed to in the classroom, make sure you are taking meaningful notes.

A great active reading technique is SQ5R, and luckily for you, we have an article on that very subject.

2. Spaced learning

Whilst it is tempting to live under the illusion that cramming a whole semester into one weekend will be sufficient and effective to prepare for an exam, it is not.

Research has repeatedly shown that spacing out the learning and doing short, but regular sessions on a topic, for example, is a far more effective way of both learning and retaining the information.

3. Avoid sticking to your preferred learning style

As briefly mentioned above, many people will be able to tell you what their preferred learning style is.

Someone might claim to be a ‘visual learner’, i.e. enjoying to learn information displayed visually, whilst others may be ‘auditory learners’, i.e. preferring to listen to information.

However, it has been shown that when learning information and studying for a test etc. sticking to one style of learning is not effective.

4. Multimodal learning

Instead, you should engage in multimodal learning, which basically means integrating multiple senses.

In a way, most teachers and lecturers will ask you to do that anyways. 

By doing a reading for a lecture and then listening to the lecture and interacting with the slides and visual information provided, you are involving multiple senses as well as modes of learning.

Try to incorporate this idea into your revision.

This will not only make it more effective but potentially also more fun.

5. Switching between topics

Related to the above concept is the study skill of switching between topics.

When preparing for the end of year exams, for example, avoid dedicating a whole day to one subject or topic.

Instead, try to switch it up.

Doing an hour or two on one topic and then moving on to the next will be more effective than studying a single topic for 5 hours straight.

Again, this will not only help your studying, but you might also prevent being ‘bored’ by a subject or topic.

6. Self-testing

If there is only one study skill you are taking away from this, let it be self-testing.

Self-testing is extremely beneficial when it comes to the retention of information.

Incorporate testing yourself on the knowledge you have acquired throughout learning and try to provide feedback for yourself.

Don’t wait for your exam to see what you can and cannot do. You can easily self-test by going over information in your head when not looking at your notes or by taking past paper exams.

7. Explain what you have learned

Another great way to test your understanding is to explain what you have learned to someone.

Whether that person is indeed familiar with the topic or not is irrelevant as long as you can explain it in a manner that would make sense if the other person was not informed on the subject.

Here, you are taking self-testing a step further by actually reproducing the knowledge in a different setting.

You will need to thoroughly understand something before explaining it to someone else.

This is especially true when trying to explain a complex topic in simple terms that still represent the core of the issue.

8. Ask yourself how and why and what?

Whilst you are learning and applying those study techniques, ask yourself why you are learning these things, how they relate to other information you already know and what the significance of the material is.

This will deepen your understanding of a topic that may seem niche at first.

9. Relate to everyday life

Relating what you have learned to everyday life and establishing its significance and impact on real-life events broadens your understanding.

It also equips you with memory cues that will be useful when it comes to your exam.

10. Examples that are practical and concrete

Similarly, try to actively create and incorporate examples that are practical and concrete.

This is especially helpful when tackling a complex and abstract concept.

It provides you with a memory cue but it also helps your own understanding as well as your ability to explain the concept to others.

11. Avoid circular explanations

When seeking to explain a statement, for example, try to avoid going in circles.

You don’t want to explain a statement using the same words that have been used to describe it in the first place.

Indeed, that is not really an explanation at all.

This seems very obvious, but sometimes, when topics are complex, and you are not yet familiar with it, you might mistake a circular explanation for a meaningful explanation.

This will not only hinder your own understanding, but it also will not score high on exams and essays.

All of the above techniques are successful strategies to improve your learning.

To make the most out your time and effort, there have been methods developed incorporating multiple study skills.

The four study techniques mentioned below are all discussed in individual blog posts, so please give those a read if you are interested in trying out these methods.

12. Getting Things Done (GTD)

The GTD method is a time management technique that follows 5 simple steps to organize your actions.

This technique will help you to come up with a schedule to tackle all the tasks that you need to get done in the most effective and least time-consuming way.

13. Pomodoro Technique

Similar to the above, the Pomodoro Technique helps to manage your time as well.

Here, 25 min slots, called Pomodoros, are used to enhance your focus on a task.

Between each Pomodoro, you will take a short break and after a cycle of Pomodoro, consisting of four Pomodoros, you will take a longer break.

You can apply this technique to almost any other study skill. It is especially useful when getting started on a task.

14. SQ5R

The SQ5R is an active reading strategy that will ensure that you understand the material covered.

This will help you when it comes to reproducing it.

When using this technique, you are actively engaging with the content of the text, which will help the encoding of the information as well as later retention.

15. Cornell Notes

The Cornell note-taking system will help you to question the material covered, to pull out the main themes and to filter out the information that is relevant.

This technique requires you to connect ideas and themes and to reduce a lecture content to a core message.

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    • Butler, A. C., & III, H. L. R. (2007). Testing improves long-term retention in a simulated classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19(4-5), 514-527.
    • Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968.
    • Krätzig, G. P., & Arbuthnott, K. D. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 238-246.
    • Larsen, D. P., Butler, A. C., & Iii, H. L. R. (2013). Comparative effects of test-enhanced learning and self-explanation on long-term retention. Medical Education, 47(7), 674-682.
    • Newton, P. M. (2015). The Learning Styles Myth is Thriving in Higher Education. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
    • Oxford, U. of. (n.d.). Study skills for students. Retrieved 25 February 2019, from
    • Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A. C. (2011). The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(1), 20-27.
    • Study Skills | SkillsYouNeed. (n.d.). Retrieved 25 February 2019, from
    • Study skills guides. (2016, May 10). Retrieved 25 February 2019, from

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