13 Reasons College Students Don’t Know How to Study
A recent report from the Washington Post highlighted the disturbing find that many students, even at the collegiate level, don’t know how to study.
As the Post‘s Valerie Strauss points out in the piece, the reason many students drop out of college is “easily and inexpensively fixable before the students walk onto campus” because it relates directly to their inability to study.
The ease and lack of expense Strauss references depends on first, knowing the problem, and then developing a suitable plan of action for addressing it. We’ve attempted to provide just that below. Let’s get started!
Reasons Students Don’t Know How to Study No. 1: Financial stressors
College students have a lot more to worry about than what is on their plate as far as class load goes.
While many of us are concerned with how we’re going to make enough money to save for our retirement, students are facing a future where they are told there will be no jobs, no Social Security, and less benefit to continuing their education through a four-year college or university.
Worse, unlike previous generations, they don’t have a small number of news agencies and a 24-hour news cycle repeatedly beating this negative data into them.
The truth of the matter is far from what most college students are being sold, but it can become discouraging to hear that narrative over and over again on a loop and stay focused on studies.
No. 2: Minimal accountability at the lower level
Unfortunately, college students are often ill-prepared for consequences because they’re not really taught them in junior high and high school.
With more teachers backed into a corner over how they teach, grade, and deal with students who are simply not putting forth the effort, there are many more cases where students are merely passed along instead of being taught to a level of competency before continuing on.
That gravy train typically goes off the rails in one’s freshman year of college, unless the same unfair pressures are placed on a university’s instructors in which case the boom gets lowered afterward with a student’s first real job or professional challenge.
Delaying accountability does not convince a student they need to study at a crucial time when they are receptive and open to the challenge. The longer we go, the harder it becomes to reprogram.
No. 3: Poor social management skills
Too much screen time, not enough face time. That is often cited as a problem for today’s generation of students, and it’s not far from the truth.
When people become accustomed to communicating through emojis and an increasingly murdered English language, they are far less likely to develop the study skills they need to make an impact in college.
Of course, that’s a statement born of sweeping generalities, so it doesn’t give credit to the students, who are figuring things out, but it’s nevertheless a problem today’s student must be mindful of.
The solution, of course, is to spend less time on social media and texting and to refocus on human interaction and utilizing the kind of face-to-face resources that are so readily available throughout elementary, middle, junior high and high school.
No. 4: Poor organizational skills
Most of the battle when it comes to effective study skills is won in how good of an organizer you are. You can never get going if you don’t have the materials you need in place to succeed. And ultimately that’s what organization is all about — getting what you need in the location where you need it in order to maximize your chances of success.
If you’re struggling with the ability to hone your organizational skills, here are some questions you should ask: 1) What do I not know? 2) What are documents or media that I need in order to understand what I don’t know and what I don’t know about what I don’t know? 3) What is the best platform to bring all of these things together under one umbrella where I can stay focused and not allow my mind to wander? A tool that I’ve taken to in my journalism endeavors is Scrivener.
Not only is it a word processor, but it allows you to split screen any piece of documentation with the screen I am working on. If it’s available in any format electronically, then I can essentially write my story while looking at all the documentation without ever switching to another program.
It’s an enormous time saver and lends itself remarkably well to schoolwork, especially with more and more electronic communication being incorporated into the classroom.
No. 5: Not challenged enough
When much is expected of someone, much is usually delivered. Teachers have understood this principle for a very long time, hence why there is so much frustration inside the classroom these days.
More teachers are being told — either outright or indirectly — to lower their standards for students, and as a result, the students do not see the need to push themselves beyond those expectations.
If there were real consequences, if there were expectations that were backed with the force of an administration, then students and their parents would have little choice but to comply.
As is, a school that does place those demands on their students often will have its work negated by school choice and more and more institutions opting for the easy way out, allowing students and parents to find an easier path around true expectations.
If there was a more concerted effort in the world of higher learning to stick to its guns, students would see more clearly at a younger age that their success or failure greatly depends on them, and they would adapt to that factor within their learning environments.
No. 6: They never developed a love of reading.
Like it or not, moving your eyes across horizontal rows of text on a page is a necessary part of improving your study skills. While there are some ways to now circumvent reading through podcasts, audio/video files and speeches, there is still vital information you won’t find anywhere else but through the written word, and without at least a healthy tolerance of this, it isn’t easy to find success.
A love of reading can usually be cultivated through things like comic books, graphic novels, reading materials that are spun off or connected to favorite television shows and movies, and then expanding organically from there.
Still, there will be times when you have to read things that bore you to tears, and that is where mental fortitude comes into play. Resolve to the fact that not everything you NEED to learn will be something you necessarily WANT to learn.
Then, try to borrow skills and habits that you picked up from reading that you did enjoy. And when you do hit a brick wall, look for other forms of media to complement your understanding of the text.
No. 7: They rely too much on cramming.
Cramming may help you get through a short pop quiz, but it will never take you all the way. That’s because the human brain is not designed to retain information acquired from intense, short-term focus.
It may help you select the right answer on a multiple choice exam, but it’s not going to lead to anything remotely resembling clear understanding. And if you ever expect to reach a marketable level of success in your career, you’re going to, at some point, be called upon to prove that you are as good as you say you are. Let’s be clear about one thing.
Cramming is not studying. Studying is understanding why things are the way they are. Cramming is the mental equivalent to stuffing all your trash and dirty clothes into the closet of your dorm room. Everything is still dirty. The problem is temporarily gone, but if something stinks going into the closet, it will stink if it stays there. Period.
You haven’t cleaned anything. We have to stop promoting this idea that cramming and studying are the same. Too many students are being fooled by it, and it leads to long-term failure.
No. 8: They fail to self-quiz.
Self-quizzing is a great method for determining what you truly know and where you need to do the most work. The reason self-quizzing is vital to studying is that it provides an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and it shows at least some insight into how you came to know what you know.
This is vital when it comes to approaching new challenges. Self quizzes are extremely effective in the sense that no one is imposing that you do them. They are a pure form of self-assessment and developing a clear plan of action for where you need to focus your study efforts.
No. 9: They become too dependent on the highlighter.
Most people who attend college become dependent on the highlighter at some point. Believe us, we understand why.
It gives you something to do and it turns your textbook or handout into a colorful display of language rather than the hefty 200-pound tome of information that tends to boggle the mind. But it also does something counterproductive. It turns every little bit of data into important information.
People get highlighter-happy, in other words. The reason: they don’t really understand what is important and what isn’t when they set out to use it. As a result, too many things get highlighted, and it becomes difficult to distinguish the important information from the filler stuff. When it reaches that point, you might as well not highlight at all.
No. 10: They become too dependent on technology.
We live in a world where reams of information are available and, more importantly, searchable through a few taps on the keyboard. While there are still more words available through all the libraries of the world, it is far more laborious to go through a library than it is to seek something out on the Internet.
The problem behind that: technology will not always be rapidly at one’s disposal to solve each problem that may occur. Also, technology doesn’t always allow one access to vetted information as easily as a library may.
There is a value in being able to work a long division problem or solve a quadratic equation without the aid of a calculator. While you may not always have to face that situation, it allows you to walk through the necessary processes with or without technological assistance.
It also teaches you the principles of problem solving so you can deal with systemic failure instead of placing the focus on getting an answer at all costs. This speaks to the very foundation of what it means to be a great studier because we study to understand the “why” of something.
No. 11: Schools don’t teach it.
Teachers often work in independent silos because their objective is to teach English, math, science, etc., to certain standards as mandated by the state where they work and the federal government. They have so much riding on their shoulders that they have to assume a student comes to the table with a foundation of study skills in place.
Unfortunately, that foundation is often not in place because of the assumption and because parents fail to teach their children how to study, possibly because they don’t have it themselves. Study skills, like financial literacy, are essential to building functional adults, but they’re not taught with any consistency or organization.
Students, parents, and political bodies have to understand this, and they need to make a more concerted effort to lay those foundations for themselves whether it’s happening in the classroom or not.
Teachers could also do themselves favors by talking about how to study more in relation to their subject expertise. They should, in other words, model how to study for Huck Finn or how to study for geometry, the scientific method, etc.
No. 12: The student feels like they don’t belong.
This is true at both high school and collegiate levels. If a student feels “out of place” at their school, then it can greatly affect their performance. A poor performance is born out of deficiencies in some of the other factors we have talked about above.
That’s why it is so important, especially as a student gets ready for college, to look at things like what types of educational programs a school is known for as well as factors such as student-to-teacher ratio (i.e. How much individualized help can a student expect from their teachers) and geographical area (i.e. Does the student feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment?). Belonging allows one to find the proper support units to foster study skills and performance.
No. 13: Students have unrealistic ideas about college.
Before selecting a college, you need to have understanding over a several different areas: 1) What subject area do you want to focus on? 2) What jobs are available? 3) Where do you see your career path in 10 years? 4) Will you need an advanced degree, and if so, what are some of the most prestigious schools for that particular area of study? 5) What are your strengths, where are you lacking, and how do you bridge the gap? 6) What skills will be necessary for you to achieve your objectives? 7) If you don’t have those skills, how will you go about getting them?
Bottom line: college is not there for you to find a purpose. It is there for you to achieve the objectives you already have in mind. If you’re undecided heading into college, then don’t go. Figure out what you need to be doing first because it could be that you’re better served going to a technical school and entering the workforce. Otherwise you’re just spending a lot of money waiting for inspiration to strike with no guarantees that it ever will. This type of analysis will shed light on what you need to be doing to succeed, and that feeds into the very foundation of great study skills.
So there you have it, readers. If you can grasp these 13 factors, then you can avoid the fate of many. What are some factors that we’ve left off? Sound off in the comments section below!