Five Tips for Teaching College Level Study Skills

Teenage boy lying on his bed while concentrating on homework for his exams.

Colleges and universities increasingly recognize the importance of implementing support programs beyond financial assistance to ensure the retention and academic success of underrepresented students.

These individuals — such as first-generation students, those with learning disabilities, and learners who come from low-income backgrounds — may need additional help navigating the complex higher education environment as well as developing study skills that match the rigor of college level coursework.

Upper school teachers can give these students a head start by introducing these kinds of study skills in addition to regular course content. This approach requires building time into lesson plans for explicit study skills instruction, as these methods.— as with any content area.— take time and repetition to master. They can, however, be of immeasurable value for disadvantaged students. 

Kristina Scully

Kristina Scully, a veteran special education teacher, curriculum designer, and author of the education blog Pathway 2 Success, offers the following suggestions for integrating college level study skills to the upper school classroom. 

1. Start by giving students a study skills checklist that allows them to self-assess how familiar or proficient they are with these methods. This assessment provides helpful data to you as a teacher and also builds students’ self-awareness. (You can find templates for these checklists online.)

2. Explicitly teach students how to prioritize assignments, projects, and tasks. Work together to generate a list of questions they can ask themselves when faced with multiple assignments and competing priorities. A sample question could be, “What assignments do I have due that I will need help with?”

3. Guide students in breaking big projects down into smaller, more manageable steps. Use the “I do, We do, You do” model. Start by assigning a multi-step project and provide students with a written outline of each task and appropriate deadlines (“I do”). For the next big project, present students with the end goal and, as a class, discuss smaller steps that everyone will complete together (“We do”). For a final project, provide students only with an end goal; allow class time for each student to outline their own process and deadlines (“You do”).

4. As a class, discuss scenarios related to study skills and ask students to problem solve. A sample question could be, “You have a big project due tomorrow and a three-hour rehearsal for the school musical tonight. What can you do?”

5. Discuss specific executive functioning skills such as planning, time management, and perseverance. Remind students when they are drawing upon their executive functioning capacity during classroom tasks. 

By incorporating these simple strategies alongside regular course content, upper school teachers can play a crucial role in preparing students.— who are generally unfamiliar with the rigors of higher education — for success and persistence in the college environment.