Improving your study skills

What are study skills?

Study skills are simply the various skills you need to be able to study efficiently. Many people have surprisingly poor study skills.   Attempting to learn facts and recite them like a parrot isn’t enough to pass most exams nowadays.

Not every subject requires exactly the same techniques, but we can identify a list of core skills that are common to most subjects. Without these skills successful study would be difficult or impossible to achieve. Some of these skills are listed below.

Receptive skills

The following skills are largely receptive skills. That is, they deal with acquiring and processing new information.

  • Skimming*
  • Scanning
  • Using abbreviations
  • Making notes
  • Taking notes
  • Summarising
  • Understanding classification
  • Recognising different kinds of text
  • Reference skills
  • Using the media in a discerning way

*Skimming consists of reading rapidly to get an overview; when skimming you don’t read every word. Instead you look at introductory pages, titles, headings and any pictures or diagrams for clues about the contents and how the text is structured. You might glance at parts of the main text but would not read it in detail.

Productive skills

  • Brainstorming, mind-maps and planning an assignment
  • Breaking up large tasks into smaller units
  • Recycling your studies
  • Resolving problems
  • Improving your memory
  • Making inferences
  • Translating information from one form into another
  • Empathising
  • Assessing your own progress

Here’s an activity for you to try out:

  1. What do the two terms receptive and productive mean?
  2. If you don’t know the answer, how can you find out?
  3. What do you think is the main difference between ‘receptive’ and ‘productive’ skills?
  4. Can you identify any overlaps between the two lists above?
  5. In other words, which of the above skills involve both receptive and productive aspects?


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