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. 
  •   Calendars. Use a monthly calendar so that you can plan ahead. Long term planners also serve as a great way to plan time for yourself. Calendars are easy to color code as well. 
  •  Time Management Apps. There are many smartphone/tablet apps available that make using your time wisely easy and fun. Some of these apps include IMEFUL, EVERNOTEFOCUSBOOSTERANY.DOFINISH2DO, and many more that can fit your needs. 

Finding a tool that is easy to use, fits your needs, and keeps you on track to reaching your goal is essential to using your time wisely. 

Using Time Wisely   

Your needs and your use of time are precious. Learning how to use your time wisely helps you to meet your goals. Here are some tips on avoiding procrastination:

  1. Don’t overextend yourself. Set limits around being interrupted and reschedule your work time and other obligations to accommodate others. You want to give your full attention to your studies without feeling guilty about what you’re not doing.
  2. Get motivated. Stay motivated. Create a work area that is free from distractions and commit to staying there for at least one to two hours. 
  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. Be certain you understand the expectations of your instructor. Then evaluate how important the task is and what level of performance is acceptable to YOU. 

Talking to your Instructor

Staying Motivated

Motivation comes from two places: extrinsically or from outside sources; and intrinsically or from within. Some 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.

Surprisingly, intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). 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. Try to remember why you are in school. Recall feelings of accomplishment after completing an assignment on time. Think about how proud you felt when you understood difficult material.

Watch the following short video on staying motivated in college.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627-668.

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) may seem and feel awkward as you first assume the role of the critical readers and begin to use the strategies needed to engage with a text. But 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 begin to read closely. What to take note of here are head-notes, introductory materials, 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. When you read a text, you read by understanding the words on the page and their significance to what you know and to your values from living in a particular time and place. 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 and attitudes. 

3. Annotate. To annotate is to have a conversation with yourself and take notes as you move through a text. This does not mean you have to highlight everything or anything in the text. Often times highlighting can distract you from engaging with the text and remembering the information. Rather 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, ask questions about the content and write these questions down. Questions should focus on the main idea- not on details or illustrations- and should be written in your own words not copied from the paragraphs. 

4. Outline, Summarize, Analyze, and Reflect. Outlining a text (like annotating) is much like creating a skeleton of the main argument of the text: the thesis, the main points, and all the through the 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

Reading Texts & Taking Notes 

  When taking notes from written material we have to do the following:

  1. identify the main points in a paragraph
  2. transform the main point into note form
  3. show how the main points are linked


Make sure that your note-taking format encourages you to read texts in an active way-

 such as bullet points, underlining, highlighting, etc.

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

Before you begin reading survey the chapter for:

  • The title, heading, and subheadings
  • Captions under pictures, charts, graphs or maps
  • End of chapter review questions for teacher- made study materials
  • Introductory and concluding paragraphs
  • Chapter summary

  PART 2: Taking Notes in Lectures  

Note Taking in Lecture
Note-Taking in Lecture

Click on image to download and start PowerPoint

Testing Taking Strategies

Preparing for a test begins long before the actual exam time. General test preparation techniques help you to better understand the material you are learning and will be tested on. These techniques include taking good notes in a class lecture and as you read your textbook, reviewing your notes soon after class and briefly before the next class, and scheduling time at the end of each week for a longer review. 

A good rule of thumb for general test preparation is to always review the material. 

Here are 5 Steps for reviewing material:

  1. Take Good Notes. Lectures, PowerPoint, and your textbook often hold the content of your exams.
  2. Organize your notes, texts, and assignments. Organize all your materials. Organized materials help you to use your review time more efficiently. 
  3. Estimate time needed. Consider how much time you will need to review all of the materials. 
  4. Draw up a schedule.  Use and manage your time wisely. Block out sections of time to review material and avoid interruptions.
  5. Test Yourself. Ask yourself questions about the material you are reviewing.


How to prepare for a test  

   Organizing for test-taking

There are a few strategies you can consider while getting organized to study for a test. These strategies include: 

  • Begin reviewing early. Listed above are the 5 steps to reviewing material early.
  • Conduct short daily study sessions. Think of this as slowly applying the gas to full acceleration. Ease yourself into more intense study sessions as the exam gets closer. 
  • Read textbook assignments before class/lectures. Know the concepts and arguments of the text that your instructor sees as important. This strategy helps you become somewhat familiar with the content as you head into class discussion and begin to take good notes.
  • Review notes after class. This strategy is great in helping you to identify material that you may not understand as the lecture is still fresh in your mind. Ask your instructor or other students for clarification on the information. It’s important that you understand the lecture information before it is too late. 
  • Review with a group. Group studying enables you to cover important material that you might overlook on your own. 
  • Do a major review early on. Consider an intense review session of all your notes from the lectures and textbook readings to allow for a visit to your instructor with any questions you might have. 
  • Breakdown tasks into chunks. As you schedule your study times try and breakdown each task into manageable one or two-hour time slots where you study certain chapters or similar content and concepts. 

NOTE: Study the most difficult material when you are most alert as trying to study while you’re mentally tired usually results in poor material retention. 

  Study Tools   

There are tons of study tools available to you on the internet, for your smartphone or tablet, and even tools you can create yourself. Useful study tools include:

  • Create study checklists. Identify all the material that you will be tested on; formulas, ideas, your notes, text assignments, etc. Creating a checklist allows you to breakdown your tasks into manageable chunks.
  • Record your notes. Audio recordings of your notes or even key points from your notes make it easy to study with your smartphone or iPod. Having an audio recording makes it easy to study as you’re walking, at the gym, or in any nonacademic environment. 
  • Summary notes, maps, and flashcards. Summary notes should display lists and orders of ideas. Mapping is a type of visual framework that will help you recall important concepts or ideas and the relationships among these ideas. Flashcards enable you to test your ability to not only recognize important information but also your ability to retrieve information.
  •  Study tool apps (for computers or smartphones). There is a wide variety of apps available to help you study either on- the- go or at home. A few of these apps include QUIZLET, STUDYBLUE, FLASHCARDS+, BRAINSCAPE, ACCELASTUDY, XMIND, EXAMTIME, EVERNOTEPEEK, and many more. 

Reducing Test Anxiety

Many students experience some level of anxiety while taking a test. There are different strategies for preparing for a test and building your confidence to help reduce anxiety and relax while test-taking. 


The idea of an upcoming exam can lead to anxiety and this can affect not only test performance but also how you prepare for a test. 

Test preparation to reduce anxiety

  • Be prepared. Remember all of the test-taking strategies you learned; organizing your notes, reviewing and studying, preparing with your study tools, making checklists, etc. All of these strategies help you to learn the material, so gather your reviewing materials back up and learn your test content thoroughly. 
  • Attack with confidence. Find what makes you happy, confident, and strong; visualization, logic, pep talk, journaling, etc. Think of this test as a chance for you to show how much you’ve learned and how hard you have studied. 
  •  Allow yourself plenty of time. Take your time getting ready for the exam and getting to the exam. Give yourself plenty of time to do the things you need to do before test time and still get there a little early. 
  • Avoid cramming just before. Think of this as overloading the brain. It can only cause tension instead of relaxation. 
  • Strive for a relaxed state of mind. Avoid a negative environment. This includes other students who have not prepared as you have. Negativity will only distract you. 
  •  Don’t go hungry. An empty stomach can be a distraction. Eat a healthy meal before test time. Fruits and veggies help to reduce stress: Highly processed and preservative-filled foods weigh down the brain.
  • Bring along a small snack. Sometimes a healthy snacking item, nothing high in sugar, can help keep your mind off the anxiety. 
  •  Get a good night’s sleep!

Keep these 6 tips in mind as you begin your exam:

  1. Read the directions slowly and carefully 
  2. Be aware of how much time you have and break it down accordingly. Don’t spend most of the test time on the difficult questions. It’s okay to skip around to the questions that are easy for you.
  3. Move around. Sometimes changing positions in your seat will help you relax.
  4. If you’re having trouble answering questions or you go blank on the whole test, pick a question and start writing. It may trigger the answer in your mind. 
  5. Don’t Panic when you see other students 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 keep it manageable. 
  • 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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