Skip to Main Content

Study Skills: Top Learning Strategies Snapshot

This guide offers learning strategies, study skills, and resources to support student academic success.

Maximize Your Learning Potential

ACTIVE LEARNING

Active learners engage with their education on a deeper level than those who passively learn. Students who take an active approach are typically hands-on and take charge of their learning. These students will have a greater ability to understand, apply, and retain information. Research has demonstrated that students who employ active learning strategies score much higher on assessments than those who are passive learners. 

Becoming an active learner takes time and effort.  We suggest you start by trying a few of the strategies outlined below.  Once you have begun to master some strategies consider adding another until you notice a positive difference in your ability to understand, apply, and retain information.  In this LibGuide are some of the top tips for academic success.

Time Management

Previewing

Summarizing

Dual Coding

Spaced Reviews

Questioning

Self-assessing

Self-care

Take Control of Your Learning

TIME MANAGEMENT

According to several studies, students who employ solid time management strategies tend to achieve higher grades. Good time management is about making your day purposeful. This starts with recognizing that you can control how you use your time. When we control how we use our time we are able to balance our responsibilities, optimize our focus, increase our productivity, and do a better job on our tasks.  Effective time management, however, is not achieved randomly.  You need to use strategies that work for you, and it is critical to make these into habits. Below are some tips on how to form (good) habits. 

Professional mindset.  To help turn good time management skills into habits we recommend you consider adopting a professional mindset.  For example, if you are taking BCIT's Accounting Diploma you should approach your learning as if you were a professional-in-training (in this case, an accountant-in-training). With this perspective you can start to hold yourself accountable for your learning responsibilities.

Use immediate reinforcement.  To create good new habits, we must introduce our own immediate reinforcers into our behavior, such as rewards. To persist with a new habit, we need to continuously resist the temptation to give up.  One proven strategy to fight the urge to quit is to build in rewards during our tasks (as breaks) and after a study session (as a motivational target/reset). 

Positive self-talk. People who can project themselves into the future and think about how great it would feel to finish a task are more likely to ward off procrastination. Try to also imagine how you would feel if you succumbed to “I’ll do it later” syndrome.  Consider these steps: 

  • Lay out the pros and cons of action and inaction. “If I wait until the day before the due date to get this done, I risk losing time with my family or a restful night’s sleep.”
  • Think of yourself in two forms: present-you and future-you. How does the latter feel about the former?
  • “Do I want to do this now?” is the wrong question because the answer is always the same. (“No, I don’t want to do this.”) That’s why it’s better to consider how future-you will feel based on the decisions of present-you.

Prioritize tasks weekly. A weekly priority lists keeps students organized and productive. At a set time at the start of each week be sure to brainstorm activities (readings, assignments, etc.) based off urgency and rank them (consider due date, assignment weight, difficulty).  It is important to look ahead at future assignments that may require more time/effort and prioritize these tasks well in advance. Write down a priority list that includes the course name, activity and estimated duration (overestimate the activity duration to ensure you have adequate time to complete it).

Daily task plan. Setting a plan for the day will help you stay on track and support you in getting your weekly priorities completed with less distraction. Each morning (or prior evening) at the same time, look at your day and identify blocks of free time that you can commit to studying.  We learn best when we are alert and engaged, so it is generally best to set a 45-minute limit for one study block.  Assign a task to each block and write down your goal for that time period.   Then, write exactly how you want to start the study block. For example, "read the chapter overview to start."  

Take breaks. Always reward yourself after a study block with a break.  Breaks serve as a natural reset for our brains and allow us time to reflect and recharge before starting a new study session.  It is also easier to get back to work after a short but refreshing and rewarding break. Having something ‘positive’ to work towards will drive you forward with your studies. Be sure to set the next ‘goal’ before you take a break (write it down), so you have a plan to jump right back to work.

Set up reminders: It is recommended you set a recurring reminder to do your planning.  This way you won't forget and will have greater success creating a sustainable habit.

Improve Retention, Note-taking, and Critical Thinking

PREVIEW

It is important to preview course materials before each lecture or lab.  According to research, previewing materials helps increase retention and comprehension. Students who have previewed content before a lecture are more stimulated and interested in what they learn. Previewing materials helps the student brain prepare to learn as it is a powerful method of bridging previously learned information with new concepts and ideas.

Schedule previewing. Humans are far more predisposed to doing a task when it is scheduled. Be sure to set aside the same time each week to preview and build in a reminder. For example, if your class is Tuesday AM, block of Mondays from 8-930pm to preview. 

Prioritize courses. You will likely not have enough time to preview for all courses.  Prioritize previewing for courses that are most difficult or content/lecture intensive. Not all instructors will post materials in advance, so prioritize based off what is available.

Knowledge check. Recalling what you already know about the topic and content can help stimulate your interest and increase comprehension. Before you start previewing, try to: 

  • Make a list of what you already know about the topic.
  • Make some predictions about what you think the author will say in the chapter.
  • Write down some questions about what you want to know about the content/topic.

Power Points. The PPT slide deck forms the spine of lecture information. Skim the slide content, then read topic by topic (e.g. topic A is slides 1-5) and write down your learning into three buckets.  A: What I (already) Know. B: What I am Interested in Learning More About. C: What is New/Difficult.  Next, summarize your learning from that set of slides (try to recall what you learned and write a succinct summary). Then, repeat this process for the next topic (set of slides). 

Written materials. An efficient and effective strategy is to read as follows: A. leaning objectives. B. guiding questions. C. summary/conclusion. D: chapter overview/introduction (or abstract if an article). E. headings and subheadings. Next, read section by section (from heading to heading).  If you have time, follow the process above (see prioritize materials) where you write your learning into buckets.  Then, summarize your learning from that section, take a short break (10 minutes) and move on to the next heading/topic. 

SUMMARIZE

After you have previewed, take a 15–20-minute break (do something active, like exercise).  Return to your study station and write/type out a summary of your learning. Think of this as a brainstorm of everything you recall from your previewing.  Try to form questions as you go, which will help you begin to critically think.  When you are done, go back to your notes (buckets) and accuracy check and add to your summary, as needed. Spending some time previewing materials in advance and taking notes/summarizing is an effective method of improving your notetaking process during lectures and labs. 

DUAL CODE

Be sure to use other senses to help encode information and improve your recall.  Consider reading aloud your notes/summaries while you walk around.  If you can, explain your learning to a classmate. 

Optimize Your Recall

SPACED REVIEWS

According to research, spaced repetition is an effective approach for retaining information and being able to retrieve what is stored in your memory.  The basic principle of spaced repetition is that your brain learns best when information is reviewed at gradually increasing intervals over many weeks. After you first learn a new piece of information, you should review it shortly after to strengthen your ability to remember that information. 

Review all lecture/reading summaries weekly on a scheduled day and time.  It is crucial to set aside a time weekly in your calendar to make sure you do this. For example, if you have a lecture every Monday morning and summarize your notes after class, schedule a review session for every Thursday at a time that works for your schedule. It is also important to review previous learning on a continuous basis.  If you are reviewing the lecture summaries from week two of a course, spend some time reviewing the week one summary first, to help bring that knowledge forward with you.

Repeatedly reviewing information will help firmly lodge concepts, data, facts, definitions, and processes in your memory. Spacing out the repetition over several weeks will help you lock the information in place. 

Critically Think and Find Assessment Success

MAKE QUESTIONS

Try to create questions out of your learning.   Ask how ideas relate and connect and consider problems to solve. As you go through your notes and summarize, make questions that use words such as:

  • Explain (explain how X influences Y). 
  • Compare/contrast (compare and contrast these two ideas).
  • Predict (predict what may happen if the variables are changed).
  • Similarities/differences (list the similarities/differences between X and Y)
  • Analyze (analyze the effects of X on Y)
  • What/when/where/why/how (what will happen if... when would this scenario apply...where does this happen...why doesn't X work if...how does the result differ if...)

If you are able to create questions out of the information you learn then you are more critically thinking about that information and will form a much deeper understanding of the material.

SELF-ASSESS

Periodically review the questions you have created.  Repeatedly try to answer the questions you have created until you can consistently answer each question. Learning is strengthened when you produce answers compared to only recognizing answers.

Build a review schedule and try to review questions from previous learning at least once per week.  Even if you set aside 30 minutes a week to consider the questions you have created you will greatly improve your understanding of the material and be in a stronger position to anticipate assessment questions which you can consistently answer.  If your course has adaptive learning quizzes or mock tests, be sure to complete these until you can consistently answer each question. 

Take Care of Yourself and Improve Academic Performance

PHYSIOLOGICAL FACTORS AND ACADEMIC SUCCESS

Research demonstrates that stronger memory encoding (the initial learning of information), retention, and recall occur when we eat healthy, sleep well, and exercise.  So, when a student is busy it is imperative to not only have solid retention and recall learning strategies, but also apply good self-care habits and routines. 

Sleep. The amount of sleep that a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success.  When a student is tired (perhaps from cramming for a test all night) their memory is affected.  Getting at least eight solid hours of sleep will help avoid mental lapses (caused by being tired) impacting perception, memory and performance.  Sleep plays a key role in helping fix and consolidate memories, plus prevents the decay of memories.  

Diet. Our bodies need the right nutrients to function at its best (mentally and physically).  Energy foods, such as nuts and berries, help keep us going.  Processed foods and sodium make us tired and undermine our ability to focus and stay on task.  Refined sugars and caffeine make learners feel tired as these can cause dehydration and also fuel anxiety. 

Exercise.  Moderate to vigorous exercise (a brisk walk, a jog, jumping jacks, a spin on your bike) releases dopamine (brain chemical) which sharpers your ability to learn and think quickly.  If done before an assessment, exercise can increase mental processing and boost academic performance.  Exercising outside can also give you a boost as fresh air and nature have been proven to increase energy levels.