Academic Study Skills

Academic Study Skills

Thank you for visiting the SSC’s student resource pages. Below you will find content on key academic success skills and tips that many students find helpful. The information provided here can help you achieve your academic goals by helping you learn how to study better, take notes, talk to professors, and more.

View these Study Skills plus more at the MCC Library Website

Time Management & Organization

What is Time Management?  ⌚
Time management is the process of organizing and planning how much time you spend on specific activities. Some benefits of time management include:

• greater productivity and efficiency
• less stress
• opens up more time to do what you enjoy
• creates greater opportunities to achieve important life and career goals
• plus, many additional personal benefits that attribute to your health and happiness

Effective Time Management aids
Time management aids are an essential tool for helping to organize and prioritize your time wisely. A few of these time management aids include:

• To-Do Lists. Lists help to focus the mind on what is important, they help you decide on priorities, you’re less likely to forget to do a task, they save you time, and to-do lists help you to feel more in control.
• Planners. Daily/weekly/monthly planners make it easy to write down appointments, class schedules, assignments, meetings, work hours, etc. First thing every day, be prepared and check what’s coming up. Plus! They are easy to color-code if you are more visual.
• Time Management Apps. There are many smartphone/tablet apps available that make using your time wisely easy and fun. Some of these apps include TIMEFUL, EVERNOTE, FOCUS BOOSTER, ANY.DO, FINISH, 2DO, and many more that can fit your needs. Find the tool that works best for you.

Using Time Wisely ?
1. Don’t overextend yourself. Set limits, accommodate others, and expect interruptions.
2. Get motivated. Stay motivated. Remind yourself of your motivators.
3. Prioritize. Ask yourself these questions: What has to be done first? When is it due? What is worth more in terms of your grade? What is worth more in terms of your personal, educational, or career goals?
4. Understand the task at hand. Ask questions. Get help if you need it.
5. Breakdown tasks into chunks. Break down tasks so that they are “do-able” and not overwhelming. Remember! Stay up-to-date on assignments to help avoid any overload.
6. Perfection need not apply. Give it your best effort and don’t be too critical of yourself.

Talking to your Instructor

  • Consider talking to your instructor during their office hours.
  • Utilizing your instructor’s office hours shows you are motivated and will help you develop a better learning foundation with your instructors.
  • Start getting in touch with your instructor early (within the first three weeks) so that if you have trouble later, it will be easier to approach your instructor.

        • Start by simply introducing yourself
        • Ask about the proper way to address them.
        • Ask them about their experiences in college or their research if it’s something that interests you.
        • Ask about the syllabus, course expectations, or study tips.
        • Definitely talk to your instructor if you are having difficulty keeping up with class, whether it’s because of personal or academic reasons. Your instructor can help you create a plan to succeed.

  • Other reasons: ask for clarification on homework or notes from class, discuss ideas for project or paper, get advice about majors and other courses or careers, review your exam with instructor.
  • Working hard makes instructors more likely to help.
  • Your instructor has been where you are and can offer support, advice, and wisdom. Take advantage of the opportunity to forge a relationship that connects you to learning.
  • It’s much harder to make a good impression in writing, so consider video conferencing with your instructors.
  • When emailing or messaging, be polite and professional and make sure to proofread before sending.

Staying Motivated

Motivation comes from two places: extrinsically or from outside sources; and intrinsically or from within. Examples of extrinsic sources of motivation include money, grades, rewards, and praise. A few examples of intrinsic sources of motivation include personal enjoyment and satisfaction, a personal value system, and curiosity. Research has shown intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation. When you find yourself struggling to stay motivated in school, it may help you to look for inner sources of motivation rather than outer sources.

BYU-Idaho Study Skills Center.(2016, May 23). Motivation [Video]. YouTube.

Using Study Groups Effectively

Why participate in a study group? 
  • Opportunity to share materials/resources and clarify understanding. 
  • Venue to regularly test yourself and your peers. 
  • See the material presented in alternative ways to those presented in class. 
  • Material put into a student’s own words can aid in remembering it. 
  • Teaching others can be the most effective way to master information.

It can be exciting to form groups to complete a project, especially when you have a group full of friends. However, sometimes gaining support and cooperation from all of the group members can prove to be challenging!  Some group members may be unwilling to accept responsibility, while others may be dominant or pushy. This kind of dynamic within a group can have adverse effects on your performance in the project. Unfortunately, this is so common that you are likely to find yourself facing similar situations in your future career.

These resources will help you work effectively in groups.

Reading Critically

What does it mean to read critically? 

Critical reading is active engagement and interaction with the text. It is important to your academic success and your intellectual growth that you learn and utilize critical reading skills. 

Thinking-Intensive Reading (or critical reading) These methods will quickly become habits as you transition from just moving your eyes across a page to “seeing” (engaging) with what you are reading. 

Strategies to Critical Reading

  1. Preview. Previewing lets you get an idea of what the text is about and how it is organized before you read in-depth. Take note of introductory materials, head-notes, or an abstract; what is known or unknown about the author such as credentials/ reputation and how these impact your perception of the text; the organization or layout of the text and information as well as getting an overview of the basic content; and identifying the rhetorical situation.

  2. Contextualize. Contextualizing means to place a text in its historical, biographical, and cultural context in order to recognize the difference between the attitudes and values presented in the text and your contemporary values, attitudes, time, and place. 

  3. Annotate. To annotate is to have a conversation with yourself and take notes as you move through a text. Write down words, phrases, ideas that come to you, and notes about things that seem important; connect what you find in the text with notes and discussions from class. Develop a symbol system (such as *!, or ?) all your own. These personalized symbols will allow you to capture the important insights that occur to you as you read and take notes. Finally, in your own words, ask questions about the content and write them down.

  4. Outline, Summarize, Analyze, and Reflect. Outlining a text is much like creating a skeleton of the main argument of the text: the thesis, the main points, and conclusion. Summarizing is similar, only it is in sentence and paragraph form, and it makes direct connections between the main ideas. Analyzing requires that you ask questions about what you are restating; test the logic, credibility, and emotional impact of the argument. By analyzing, you also reflect upon and decide how effectively or ineffectively an argument has been made. Also, at this stage make note of your personal response to the text. How did it make you feel? Did it challenge your attitudes, beliefs, or understanding?  

  5. Compare and Contrast. Explore and examine the differences and likeness between other texts in the class. Often times authors ask the same question or discuss the same issue, but they approach it in different ways. Ask yourself how they fit together (compare & contrast), why are they both being read, and how do they contribute to the concepts of the course? 

Note-Taking: Reading & Verbal


Before you begin reading, survey the chapter for:

  • Title, headings, and subheadings
  • Captions under graphics
  • “Good to Know” facts in the side notes
  • End of chapter discussion questions *for teacher- made study materials
  • Introductory and Closing paragraphs
  • Chapter summary

Make sure that your note-taking format encourages reading in an active way such as bullet points, highlighting, mapping, etc.

When taking notes from written material, do the following:

  1. Identify the main points in a paragraph
  2. Transform the main point into note form
  3. Show the link between the main points

 Always remember! Being a critical reader means active engagement and interaction with the text.

Testing Taking Strategies

Preparing for a test begins long before the actual exam time. Test preparation techniques help students retain and understand content they will be tested on. These techniques include notetaking during lectures and readings, reviewing notes soon after and before lectures, and a thorough review at the end of each week.  

Here are 5 Steps for effectively reviewing materials:

  1. Read assigned text before lectures, attend class, and take good notes. Lectures, PowerPoints, and textbooks often hold the content covered on exams.
  2. Collect and sort notes, texts, and assignments. Organize all materials to help make reviewing more time-efficient and retention effective. 
  3. Calculate the estimated time needed to reviewConsider how much time is needed to thoroughly review all materials on course content to be covered on the exam. 
  4. DRAW UP A SCHEDULE. Block out sections of time to review material regularly and avoid interruptions.
  5. Self-examination. Quiz yourself on the material being reviewed.

Organizing for test-takingA few strategies to consider while setting up to study for a test, include: 

  • Conduct short daily study sessions. Ease into longer, more intense study sessions as you approach the exam date. 
  • Read assigned text before class/lectures. Becoming familiar with the course content before class can help garner better class discussions and more effective notetaking during lectures. 
  • Review notes after class. Helps to identify material that will need further clarification and ask the instructor or other students for help in understanding the material.  
  • Review with a group. Group studying allows for the opportunity to cover material that may have otherwise been overlooked during independent study. 
  • Do a major review early on. Consider an intense review session of all notes from lectures and readings to allow for a visit during office hours for any questions or clarifications needed. 
  • Breakdown tasks into chunks. Breakdown each task into manageable 1–2-hour time blocks, where only specified chapters or content are being reviewed. 

    NOTE: Review the more difficult concepts when most alert; studying while tired often results in poor retention. 

     Study Tools   

    • Study checklists. Identify all the material that will be on the test: formulas, ideas, class notes, text readings, assignments, etc. Creating a checklist breaks down test preparation and material review into manageable tasks.
    • Record your notes. Audio recordings of notes or even key points from notes make it easy to study with a smartphone or tablet, while walking, at the gym, or in any non-academic environment. 
    • Summary notes, maps, and flashcards. Summary notes should display lists and order of ideas. Mapping is a type of visual framework that helps recall important concepts/ ideas and the relationships among them. Flashcards test one’s ability to recognize and recall information.
    •  Study tool apps (for computers or smartphones). There are a variety of apps available that facilitate studying on-the-go or at home, including: QUIZLET, STUDYBLUE, FLASHCARDS+, BRAINSCAPE, ACCELASTUDY, XMIND, EXAMTIME, EVERNOTEPEEK, and many more.

    Reducing Test Anxiety

    Many students experience some level of test-taking anxiety. The idea of an upcoming exam can lead to anxiety and can affect not only test performance but also preparing for a test.  There are different strategies for preparing for a test and building confidence to help reduce anxiety and relax while test-taking. 

    Test preparation to reduce anxiety

    • Be prepared. Practice test-taking strategies: organize notes, review and self-examine, use additional study tools, and checklists. 
    • Attack with confidence. Do something that helps build up belief in oneself: visualization, logic, pep talk, journaling, etc. This is an opportunity to show what’s been learned and the effectiveness of studying. 
    •  Allow plenty of time. Ensure enough time to prepare for the exam on the day of and arrive to the exam a little early. 
    • Avoid cramming. Overloading the brain will likely cause tension rather than relaxation. 
    • Strive for a relaxed state of mind. Avoid negative environments that may cause a distraction, including other students who may not be as prepared.
    •  Don’t go hungry. An empty stomach can be a distraction, so eat a healthy meal before test time. Fruits and veggies help to reduce stress, while highly processed and preserved foods weigh down the brain.
    • Bring a small snack. A healthy snack, nothing high in sugar, can help keep your mind off the anxiety. 

     Get a good night’s sleep!

    Keep these 5 tips in mind when starting an exam:

    1. Read the directions slowly and carefully 
    2. Be aware of the time allotted and break it down accordingly. Don’t waste test time on difficult questions, instead, skip to easier questions then circle back around when ready.
    3. Move around. Sometimes changing positions in your seat will help you relax.
    4. When stuck on a question or go blank on the whole test, pick a question, and start writing; it may trigger the brain and reveal the answer.
    5. Don’t panic if other students start handing in their exams. There’s no reward for finishing first.

      Use relaxation techniques during an exam to help remain calm.      

    • Relax, you are in control. Take deep breaths, be mindful, and take it slow. 
    • Don’t think about the anxiety. Pause. Take each task step-by-step. 
    • Stay positive. Remind yourself that you are doing your best, and your best is still an accomplishment. 
    • Expect the anxiety. Feeling anxiety is a reminder that you are trying your best, just find ways to manage it. 
    • Understand anxiety can be a “habit.” It takes practice to manage anxiety. You can get help and find tools to succeed.   

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