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Day 05/05/2014

Study skills and time management: soft skills for success

As finals week begins and I try to juggle my jobs and workload along with many other responsibilities that I’ve managed to take on this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about study skills and time management. As a PhD student taking a full workload, TAing a course, conducting research in afterschool programs, and working at rethinkED, I’ve had to develop pretty great time management and general organizational skills (if I do say so myself). While there is definitely some genetic component to self-regulation and organization, many of these skills can be learned. In fact, I took a class devoted to “Study Skills” in my private middle school as a child. I was actually shocked when I realized that other students did not get this sort of course in their education.

In fact, as outlined in this short video below (don’t you love whiteboard animation?), studies have indicated that in the job world, soft “study” skills, including things such as critical thinking, problem solving, and organization, are more important for career success than technical skills. Yet the majority of schools do not teach study skills, even though these have been shown to both improve student achievement and ultimate job success.


I’ve been training to become a mentor to a student from a low-income, low-performing high school through iMentor this past month. A major aim of this three-year mentoring match is college readiness and easing the transition for these students into college. During training, one of the things I learned is that time management and study skills are often one of the biggest challenges for these students when entering into college.

I’d go as far as to suggest that this finding would likely extend to students from many different backgrounds. After K-12, there is simply far less monitoring and micro-managing. Students are expected to know how to organize their schedules, set timelines to complete assignments, develop a system for note-taking and storing class readings, and develop their own study habits.

Some of my favorite organizational habits and tools include:

1. Using google Calendar for ALL of my appointments, meetings, and major deadlines. I have individual calendars for classes, meetings, research, work, exercise, and personal. My calendar syncs with my phone and is available anywhere, so it’s useful when I need to know where to be or what I have coming up. Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 2.59.09 PM

2. Highlighting, taking notes and using post-its while reading. I highlight EVERYTHING I read for school, and I always use a dark highlighter that is legible because I also take notes. I star important ideas, I write in the margins, and I also use post-its to note if there’s a piece of this reading that could be relevant, say, for a rethinkED post. People have told me that they love borrowing my readings for my commentary, and there is tons of research to support the use of elaboration and integration to  promote deep learning and transfer.

3. Lists, lists, lists. I make lists all the time. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off of my “to do” list, and I usually throw in a bunch of stuff that is easy to do just to give myself some positive reinforcement (i.e., “Make breakfast” or “Print Statistics Lab Assignment”). I find that starting each week by making a list where I plan what I’m going to accomplish each day makes me feel a lot more in control of an often absurd amount of work to be done.

I’m curious, what sorts of study habits have you developed? What advice would you give to a student starting his or her freshman year of college? And how can we promote the development of these skills early on?

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