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A history of study skills: not hot, but not forgotten.

Study skills were an early and important topic in reading; however, since the 1970s, they have received relatively little research attention. The authors systematically analyzed the research conducted on study skills from 1900 to the present. Several themes emerged including: (a) motivation and affect; (b) activities described; (c) metacognition; (d) programs described; (e) assessments created; and (f) the use of study skills in electronic environments. The final theme has made an impact on how students study. The authors make the case that students must learn how to study in a different environment, specifically the electronic environment, to be competitive in today's world.


Let's face it: the topic of study skills is not glamorous! Jack Cassidy, who has offered a list of "What's Hot, What's Not" since 1997, notes that none of his lists have ever included study skills, although he agrees that this topic ought to be included (personal communication, February 8, 2007). The closest the "Hot" list comes to mentioning study skills is with the topics "technology" or "informational texts" (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2007; Cassidy, Garrett, & Berrara, 2007). Yet, study skills may be the "premier practical attainment" (McBride, 1994, p. 461) of schooling. In this article, we present a brief history about study skills. We posit that, while much has remained consistent, the explosion of computer-based tasks have greatly influenced the behaviors students use, or ought to use, while studying.

What are Study Skills?

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary (2007) defines study skills as the "application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge." Study skills are the "techniques and strategies that help a person read or listen for specific purposes with the intent to remember" (Harris and Hodges, 1995, p. 245). Lenz, Ellis and Scanlon (1996) distinguish between study tactics, a sequence of steps or procedures, and a study strategy, which is the learner's overall approach to selecting the best tactics for a study task. Gettinger and Seibert (2002) elaborate: "A strategy is an individual's comprehensive approach to a task; it includes how a person thinks and acts when planning and evaluating his or her study behavior" (p. 352). Those who read to learn are employing study strategies/skills. Learners may use different behaviors/tactics to accomplish their study goals. Such an interpretation is important, as it helps explain how study skills/strategies can remain constant over time while study behaviors/tactics may change as the environment for study changes.

Lists of study skills, consistent over many years, usually include creating and understanding visual representations of information, previewing a text before reading, locating information, taking notes, taking tests, listening and reading with attention and intention to learn. For instance, McMurry (1909) proposed as the domain of study skills:

(a) setting specific purposes for study

(b) identifying supplemental information

(c) organizing ideas

(d) judging the worth of the material

(e) memorizing

(f) keeping an open attitude

(g) relying on self-direction in learning

Sixty-one years later Dechant (1970) listed study skills in five categories:

(a) dictionary

(b) location and reference

(c) use of graphics

(d) use of library resources

(e) organization

Moore, Readance and Rickelman's (1983) historical review of the literature about content area reading noted that study skills included organizing skills, such as note-taking, underlining, outlining and summarizing. Blai (1993) identified comprehension of main ideas, self-monitoring, physical setting, organization, goal-setting and pacing as crucial to effective studying. Gettinger and Seibert (2002) contributed a significant perspective by proposing that study skills be grouped into four clusters.

(a) repetition-based

(b) procedural

(c) cognitive-based

(d) metacognitive skills

Study skills, according to these authors, contribute to academic competence because they are cognitive skills and processes for effective learning, requiring that one acquire, locate, organize, synthesize, remember and then use information learned. Study requires specific techniques, intent and individual decisions, as well as the self-regulatory process discussed by others cited above.

A Brief History of Study Skills

Our review of the literature included searching reading journals and related data bases (ERIC, Google Scholar Search, and InfoTrac). We looked for any mention of study skills that, in our estimation, contributed significantly to the base of knowledge and research. For instance, we reviewed comprehension studies that related to reading and thinking specifically for study/retention purposes (This category is consistently listed among study skills from the early 1900s on). Our review is presented by decades from 1970 onward, with a concise summary of the time span from the early 1900s to 1969.

A Summary of Study Skills from 1900-1969

According to Moore, Readance, and Rickleman (1983), study skills was an important issue in the early 1900s. As evidence, they cite many works such as Supervised Study (Hall-Quest, 1916): and Directing Study of High School Pupils (Woodring & Flemming, 1935). In 1908 (reprinted in 1968), Huey stated that "Study skills such as library skills and note taking should be taught as early as possible in the elementary grades" and "in high school, students should be given free reign to read widely on subjects of interest. This is preferable to a focused and analytical study of a few texts and authors" (Huey, 1968, p. 6-7). Gray (1919) was very interested in the relationship between study and reading. Gray stated that, "pupils should be trained to study effectively as they read" (Gray, 1937, p. 580).

Strang (1928, 1937, 1962) published several texts and articles in the 1920s1960s about improving reading and study in high school. Robinson's introduction of the study strategy SQ3R (1946) is historically important because it was designed to put readers in charge of their own study of content material. Students were to Survey the material, create Questions to guide their reading, then Read, Recite, and Review. Robinson led the way to other similar study strategies presented over the next several decades, such as Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review (PQ4R) (Sanacore, 1982).

Even though study skills were an early and important topic in reading, research declined markedly in the 1950s-1960s. Teacher-preparation textbooks continued to discuss study skills (Dechant, 1970), but Tierney and Cunningham (1980) found almost no studies about how to retain information in their history of research on comprehension. An information side-bar in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL) (Sebasta, 1997) notes the "Hot literacy topics of the past" decades at International Reading Association conventions from 1960-1990s. Study skills are nowhere on this list.

A Summary of Study Skills from the 1970s to the New Millennia

As we reviewed the literature from the 1970s to the current decade, several themes emerged including:

(a) motivation and affect

(b) activities described

(c) metacognition

(d) programs described

(e) assessments created

(f) the use of study skills in electronic environments

These themes and the research conducted in relation to them are described in Table 1. The role of motivation, discussed from the 1980s, has been embedded into the discussion of self-regulatory behavior since the late 1990s. Activities for study have always been popular. The search for a perfect study skills program and perfect activities will most likely continue, but our comprehensive view of reading processes indicates that attention must be on strategic reading versus activities or programs or a simple discussion of motivation. Strategic reading demands the construction of models that raise literacy to a high standard, or a high literacy (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987). Applefield, Huber, and Moallem (2000) have stated:
   The field of education has undergone
   a significant shift in thinking
   about the nature of human learning
   and the conditions that best promote
   the varied dimensions of human
   learning. As in psychology, there has
   been a paradigm shift in designed
   instruction: from behaviorism to
   cognitivism and now to constructivism.
   (p. 36)

In a constructivist model, the reader actively constructs meaning by relating new material to the known, using reasoning and developing concepts (Applefield, Huber & Moallem, 2000). While some programs and courses can be effective, a number of students don't want to change their study skills, while others do not believe in the concept of study skills at all (Yukel, 2006). In some cases teachers may not realize which study procedures their students use, nor which could be effective behaviors. For these reasons, a constructivist approach is beneficial for students.

Assessment of study skills has been primarily in the form of checklists and interviews. Since the 1990s, it appears that instruments to assess study skills have not significantly changed, not keeping pace with the role of electronic study behaviors, or with metacognitive practices.

A major change reflected in the literature and in instructor observations is that computer-based study behaviors are needed in today's world. While the literacy skills required in the technological age are not new, the way that electronic materials must be read is new. As Reinking (1997) noted, although technology itself is neutral, the way we use it to learn enables learners to be more creative and engaged. A reader still must use comprehension, vocabulary and study skills to construct meaning, but the behaviors that students must use are different than those required for a paper-based environment. For instance, when reading from a textbook, one may write notes on index cards or sticky notes. When reading on a computer, one may take notes by inserting remarks into the document with red font, or by using track editing or footnoting. The age of multiliteracies is helping to reintroduce study skills, an area dormant since the early 1900s. Readers must now be "information literate" (Henderson & Scheffler, 2004), that is, able to find and use information in any form, including paper or electronic forms. "New Literacies" (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Jet ton, 1994) emphasize the importance of media other than the paper-based book as ways to gain knowledge.

New Directions for Study Skills in the Twenty-first Century

Before discussing new directions, we must note that our review of the history of study skills indicates that almost all themes we have cited are "recycled"! The earlier decades discussed many of the same issues we are discussing today. However, study skills have now been imbedded into discussions about information text, new literacies, reading to learn, and high literacy. Models such as EXIT (Wray & Lewis, 1999) have "absorbed" specific and selective attention to study skills. We would argue that explicit attention must be paid to study skills. For instance, Wray and Lewis (1992) note that children often do not transfer what they know about a study skill such as using an index to what they do when they turn book pages versus using that index. Because students must make "conscious decisions about which reading strategies to adopt" (Wray & Lewis, 1999, p. 9), it seems logical that we pay attention explicitly to study strategies rather then simply wrapping them into theories and models of constructivism and self-regulated learning.

Study strategies/skills require intensive reading and thinking; the more complex the strategy, the deeper the processing will be. If several tactics or behaviors need to be used, more energy is expended. For instance, to study, one needs to read the information and repeat the reading via note-taking, highlighting, mapping or other means of learning the information. Then one needs to organize that information by schematizing it and decide how the information applies to the learning goal, perhaps by generating questions and linking answers from the organized notations. All during this time of study, the learner must be planning, monitoring and assessing how the study is progressing and when to alter a tactic for more effective and efficient study to occur. This entire study process is based on an information-processing model, well explained by Gettinger and Seibert (2002).

As Hubbard and Simpson (2003) suggest, we also recommend that assessments of study skills for today's students must find out if the strategies students create and use are task-appropriate and deep level. Just asking students to complete a checklist won't discover students' personal theories and applications about learning. Further, assessments have to consider both the paper and the electronic contexts for study, and what tactics a student would self-select to study in either environment.

To rely only on demonstrations and lectures about study skills, to assume that students can put them into practice independently, or that students will see their importance, is a fallacy. Purdue and Hattie (1999), after analyzing 52 studies about outcomes of and relations between study skills, concluded that when students learn effective study behaviors and incorporate them into a meaningful approach to learning, they experience academic and affective results. Self-directed learning, as Sobrol (1997) noted, benefits most students.

Gee (2000) cautioned that working class teens see uses of literacy differently than do upper middle-class teens immersed in a more academic world. If we are to help all students study in the age of multiple literacy experiences, we must enable all students to find the value of study skills and their own way of accessing study in the electronic age. Students today are learning increasingly complex literacy practices and navigating increasingly complex technologies (Moje, 2002). Are we ready to help them with study tactics that work in today's world?

To remain competitive in a global economy, students must know how to study in a different environment than they have in the past century. Web-based reading and study is different than paper-based study, and sometimes produces less efficient study and resultant learning (Eveland & Dunwoody, 2002). It is not the study skills that are different, though; it is the tactics that a learner must use to study in a computer-based environment. Studies conducted by Eveland and Dunwoody (2002) and Anderson-Inman, Knox-Quinn and Szymanski (1999) show that learners can adapt to computer-based study tactics.

We suggest some possible topics for future research on study skills:

(a) What is the impact of self-regulating behaviors on study skills in electronic environments?

(b) What are students' attitudes and feelings about study in electronic versus paper-based text?

(c) Do younger students employ study skills that are similar to those of older students?

When we consider the students of this millennium, and the themes identified within an historical perspective, the possibilities for study that is refreshing, challenging, exciting, and learner-controlled all contribute to the makings of a "hot" topic in the field of reading.


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Young, D. B., & Ley, K. (2000). Developmental students don't know what they don't know part I: Self-regulation. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 31(1), 54-62.

Yukel, S. (2006). Undergraduate students' resistance to study skills course. College Student Journal, 40(1), 158-166.




Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond, VA
Table 1
1970s to the New Millenia: Trends over Time

Trend               1970-1979            1989-1989

Motivation      * Learner should     * Japanese
and Affect        practice             students'
                  autonomy and         motivation and
                  inquiry              creativity were
                  (Knowles,            improved when
                  1975)                they were
                                       encouraged to
                * Self-                use study skills
                  monitoring           Sakamoto,
                  changes as a         1985)
                  result of study
                  behaviors          * Processing and
                  Richards,            using good
                  1975)                study skills
                                       reduced anxiety
                * Attitude was         and enhanced
                  linked to            test
                  academic             performance
                  aptitude &           (Tobias, 1985)
                  study skills
                  & Stewart,

                * Short and long
                  term retention
                  are related to
                  study processes
                  used (Briggs,

                * Relationship
                  between test
                  anxiety and
                  study skills
                  predicted GPA
                  (Kirkland &

Activities      * REAP (read,        * SQ3R was
                  encode,              found to be
                  annotate,            neither more
                  ponder) was          nor less
                  proposed             effective than a
                  (Eanet &             student's own
                  Manzo, 1976)         techniques
                                       (Graham, 1982)
                * Note-taking &
                  rereading were     * Semantic
                  found to be          mapping
                  effective (Dyer      enhanced study
                  & Riley, 1979)       skills (Schewel,

Metacognition   * Pupils did not     * Focusing on the
                  use study skills     organization of
                  when necessary       text helped with
                  (Gardner,            recall (Meyer,
                  1979)                Brandt, &

                                     * Study
                                       techniques can
                                       help students
                                       (Armbruster &

                                     * Summarization
                                       skills improved
                                       when students
                                       were instructed
                                       with both
                                       inductive and
                                       (Hare &

                                     * Different study
                                       tasks caused
                                       pattern and
                                       (Langer, 1986)

Programs                             * Study skills
                                       initiatives work
                                       best when
                                       taught by
                                       subject bymatter

                                     * Compuser-
                                       assisted study
                                       skills program
                                       increase dstudy
                                       habits and

                                     * A behaviorally
                                       oriented study
                                       souls program
                                       improve grades
                                       of college
                                       (Prather, 1983)

Assessments                          * Informal
                                       checklist to
                                       assess study
                                       skills was
                                       (Rogers, 1984)

                                     * International
                                       Study Skills

                                     * Learning and
                                       Study Strategies
                                       Zimmerman, &
                                       Palmer, 1988)


Trend               1990-1999              2000-2007

Motivation                           * Students adhered
and Affect                             to specific
                                       strategies when
                                       motivated to
                                       study but they, did
                                       not practice high
                                       level decision
                                       making to match
                                       (Barnett, 2000)

                                     * Students who
                                       cram and
                                       seem to lack
                                       motivation and
                                       (Brinthaupt &
                                       Shin, 2001)

Activities      * Semantic webs      * Seventh graders
                  (Hoover &            were much less
                  Rabideau,            proficient in their
                  1995)                note-taking
                                       practice than what
                * Portfolio            they self-reported
                  writing              (Brown, 2005)
                  (Sweidel, 1996)
                                     * Modifications to
                                       techniques for
                                       special needs
                                       populations were
                                       (Boyle, 2001)

                                     * Providing partial
                                       notes, such as a
                                       graphic organizer
                                       or outline, was
                                       better than
                                       providing a full
                                       set of notes, but a
                                       graphic organizer
                                       was preferable to
                                       partial notes
                                       (Katayama $
                                       Robinson, 2000)

                                     * A summarizing
                                       activity that used
                                       repeated reading
                                       and generalizing
                                       was explained
                                       (Friend, 2000)

                                     * A set of activities
                                       for previewing
                                       were proposed

Metacognition   * Viewing            * Strategic learning
                  reading as a         requires mature
                  transaction          and complex
                  rather than          knowledge
                  transmission         (Simpson & Nist,
                  encouraged           2000)
                  active, not
                  passive, study     * The more one
                                       feels in control of
                * The underlying       his or her
                  (Smith, 1992)        comprehension,
                  competence for       the more self-
                  study is             regulated about
                  thinkmg              study he or she
                  critically           should be
                  (Waters &            (Barnett, 2000)
                  Waters, 1992)
                                     * Students who
                * Key study            performed best on
                  strategies were      tests regulated
                  identified as        their study
                  important for        effectively
                  metacognnton:        (Kitsantas, 2002)
                  attending,         * To be successful
                  relating,            in school, a
                  activating and       student must
                  changing             possess beliefs
                  strategies as        about learning
                  appropriate          and knowledge
                  (Pressley &          that are
                  Afflerbach,          appropriate (Cole
                  1995)                & Goetz, 2000)

                * Extending          * Students must
                  interaction          behave actively in
                  with text            their own learning
                  requires the         through self-
                  use of prior         regulation
                  knowledge and        (Young & Ley,
                  reader               2000)
                  Wray & Lewis,      * The "deep" and
                  1999)                "surface"
                                       strategies that
                * "Situated            biology students
                  cognition" in        used was
                  which study          investigated
                  skills training      (Holschuch,
                  needs to be          200)
                  conducted in
                  the same           * When students
                  context that the     used task-
                  skill will be        appropriate
                  used to promote      strategies in self-
                  active               regulated
                  involvement          learning, deep
                  (Bol,                and reflective
                  Warkentin,           strategies
                  Nunnery &            developed over
                  O'Connel,            time displaced
                  1999; Hattie,        surface-level
                  Biggs, &             strategies
                  Purdue, 1996)        (Hubbard &
                                       Simpson, 2003)
                * Teachers
                  learned to use
                  think alouds to
                  "tune in" to
                  their own study
                  habits (Maria &

Programs        * Students at a      * Students
                  vocational           benefited the
                  technical school     most from
                  reported many        participating in
                  study strengths      the College Skills
                  (Slate, Jones, &     Decelopment
                  Harlan, 1998)        Program plus
                                       tutoring, and
                * Preventative         faculty seemed to
                  intervention         see the difference
                  programs were        in student study
                  found to be          behaviors
                  effective (Carns     (Bender, 2001)
                  & Carns, 1991;
                  Dykeman,           * Peer mentoring
                  1993; Lipsky &       and discipline-
                  Ender, 1990)         based workshop
                                       programs were
                * Training             highly valued by
                  programs work:       students and
                  Good                 increased their
                  Information          study skills
                  Approach             knowledge and
                  (Pressley & El-      practice (Durkin
                  Dinary, 1993)        & Main, 2002)
                  and Strategies
                  Intervention       * A successful
                  Model (Deshler       biology course
                  & Schumaker,         was designed that
                  1998)                integrated study
                                       skills with content
                                       (Belzer, Miller, &
                                       Hoemake, 2003)

Assessments     * High school        * Approaches and
                  version of the       Study Skills
                  Learning and         Inventory for
                  Study Strategies     Students
                  Inventory            (Entwistle, Tait,
                  (LASSI-HS)           & MacCune, 2000)
                  1990)              * Metacognitive
                                       Awareness of
                * Study Activity       Reading
                  Questionnaire        Strategies
                  (Bol et al.,         Inventory
                  1999; Thomas,        (Mokhtari &
                  Bol, Warkentin,      Reinchard , 2002)
                  Wilson, Strage,
                  & Rohwer,          * Time Use
                  1993)                Efficiency Scale
                                       (Kelly &
                * Beliefs about        Johnson, 2005)
                  Questionnaire      * Revised study
                  (Jehng,              skills checklist
                  Johnson, &           based on Rogers
                  Anderson,            (1984) to include
                  1993)                both paper-based
                                       and electronic
                * A computer-          environments
                  based                (Rhodes, Robnolt,
                  assessment           & Richardson,
                  called               2005)
                  Approaches to
                  Inventory (Tait
                  & Entwistle,

                * Study Habits
                  (Jones & Slate,
                  1992; Slate,
                  Jones, &
                  Harlan, 1998)

Electronic      * Use of             * The skills
Environments      computers            students need to
                  changed the          handle electronic
                  way students         information
                  studied              became an
                  (Anderson-           important topic
                  Inman, 1999a,        (Macdonald,
                  1999b)               Heap, & Mason,
                                       2001; Slaouti,
                * Students need        2002)
                  instruction in     * Students must
                  the use of           evaluate the
                  multiple             quality of on-line
                  technology-          material, realize
                  based resources      the difference
                  to broaden their     between citing
                  perspectives         and plagiarizing a
                  when studying        source, and apply
                  from multiple        complex
                  sources in           copyright laws in
                  history (Stahl,      the web-based
                  Hynd, Britton.       world (Goett &
                  McNish, &            Foote, 2000)
                  Bosquet, 1996)
                                     * Students can use
                * The needs of         chat rooms to
                  students even        discuss their
                  English Second       learning
                  students, who        (Albright,
                  are studying in      Purohit, & Walsh,
                  a distance           2002)
                  environment        * Students can
                  were researched      create a semantic
                  (Bruce, 1992;        map on-line
                  Sherry, 1996)        (Love, 2002)

                * Students           * Students can use
                  changed their        on-line
                  learning             discussions to
                  strategies while     discuss content
                  within a text        (Thomas &
                  based                Hofmeister, 2003)
                  environment        * Students can learn
                  (Burge, 1994)        and study more
                                       efficiently when
                                       taking notes on a
                                       laptop (Anderson-
                                       Inman, 2001)

                                     * Parallel note
                                       taking was
                                       suggested to help
                                       students take
                                       effective on-line
                                       notes (Pardini,
                                       Domizi, Forbes,
                                       & Pettis, 2005)

                                     * The use of web-
                                       based bookmarks
                                       in elementary
                                       settings was
                                       (Forbes, 2004)

                                     * Ways for
                                       teachers to help
                                       their students
                                       information on
                                       the Internet were
                                       proposed (Henry
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Author:Richardson, Judy S.; Robnolt, Valerie J.; Rhodes, Joan A.
Publication:Reading Improvement
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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