26 March 2008

Effective study skills for foundation students

By Dr Yong Fung Lan and Thuzar Winn

(Published in ‘Campus & Beyond’, a weekly column written by Swinburne academics in the Borneo Post newspaper)

To succeed at college or university, foundation students need appropriate study and information literacy skills prior to taking major courses.

Since secondary school greatly differs from college or university in terms of curriculum and instruction, there is a need for foundation students to pass a study and information literacy skills course before enrolling in their major courses.

A study and information literacy skills course teaches students how to learn and study effectively. Note taking, study methods, test taking, and organizational skills are four important study skills that foundation students should acquire.

Note-taking: Foundation students can use at least five effective methods of note taking, including the Cornell method, outline, mapping, chart, and sentence.

Cornell method: First, students draw a line from top to bottom of the paper, with a 2.5-inch margin on the left and a 6-inch area on the right.

Lecture information is recorded on the right, skipping a few lines with each new point so that phrases and sentences can be completed later.

A cue is written on the left side next to every important point. To only the cues. After saying the cue aloud, they try to say all the covered material. Finally, they remove the cover to see how much information they could recall.

Outline: Students use numbers, letters, Roman numerals, dashes, or indents to organize main points. Listening carefully, they list the main points according to space indentation.

Major points are placed farthest to the left while each more specific point is indented to the right.

Mapping: Students use creative concentration skills to relate each concept to every other concept to get a graphic representation of the lecture. Similar content items are grouped around the paper and connected by lines, arrows, or circles.

Students rewrite the notes, regrouping various topics and organizing the materials in a more meaningful manner.

Chart: Students first determine the categories to be taught based on the lecture format and content. They then draw columns on paper to categorize the information, which enables them to see and remember relationships among various facts more vividly.

Sentence: Writing sentences enables students to put most of the lecture on paper, especially content that is delivered quickly and with few cues.

During class, students write new ideas, facts, or topics on separate lines and, after that, construct sentences and paragraphs based on the information.

Study methods: Two study methods that foundation students can use to get the most from textbooks are SQ3R and SQ4R. SQ3R is the acronym for surveying, questioning, reading, reciting, and reviewing, while SQ4R stands for surveying, questioning, reading, reflecting, reciting, and reviewing.

Surveying involves reading chapter outlines, chapter headings, recapitulations, and objectives.
Questioning is done by formulating questions that will be addressed in reading.

Reading is practiced by going through the material carefully to answer questions.

Reciting includes answering questions aloud and re-reading to ensure that all the responses are accurate.

Reviewing is attained by summarizing the main points and answering questions posed while reading.

Finally, reflecting is achieved by writing journal entries or notes.

Test taking skills: Test taking skills are one of the key ingredients of academic achievement, comprising four components: preparing for the test, reducing test anxiety, sitting the test, and reviewing the completed test.

To prepare for a test, foundation students should know what to expect, including its format, date, time, and venue. They should arrive at the venue a few minutes early but avoid extreme nervousness and anxiety-stricken classmates.

To reduce text anxiety, students should exhibit a positive attitude concentrating on the information they know. They should focus on each test question rather than worrying about their ability, memory lapses, or classmates’ behavior.
To sit a test confidently, students should carefully read all the instructions and raise questions if they feel uncertain.
After ensuring that their copy is complete, they should allocate sufficient time for each section. The easiest questions should be answered first, returning to the more difficult ones later.

After completing the test, students should review the questions and answers, but should not alter any answers unless they feel very certain.

They should also review their test performance by considering whether they had adequately used the time, what questions were unexpected, how they could better predict the next test, and which section was most difficult and why.

In addition, they should also determine whether the questions were based more from readings or from lectures and what they should do differently for the next test.

Organizational skills: Having good organizational skills enables foundation students to allocate sufficient time for academic work, extracurricular activities, and recreation.

To promptly accomplish routine work, they should have a schedule, designated study place, master calendar, checklist, and ring file.

A schedule enables students to reserve a certain time every day for various activities, such as studying, doing homework, cleaning, and eating. It helps determine the best time for revision, meals, socialization, exercise, or rest. For instance, students should do their homework and projects when they are most alert, but write personal e-mails after completing all their assignments.

Creating a sense of control, regularity, and rhythm, a well-established schedule not only fosters academic excellence but also personal growth and fulfillment.

Besides a schedule, a designated study place provides a sense of order, allowing students to concentrate at the same place with all required learning materials readily available. The setting should be serene and well-ventilated with preferred lighting, furniture, and location.

Like a schedule, a master calendar puts everything in proper perspective, enabling students to keep track of all their commitments, deadlines, red-letter days, and other significant events.

Providing visual timelines, it not only prevents timetabling conflicts but also facilitates communication and decision making.

While a master calendar provides an overall picture, a checklist encourages students to prioritize, plan, and complete activities every day. Listing all the assignments, appointments, and chores of the day reminds them what needs to be done urgently and what can be delayed, postponed, or even cancelled.

Eliminating completed items off the list brings not only a sense of relief but also accomplishment.

A ring file should be used to organize the notes, handouts, and guidelines for each day’s classes and to revise for quizzes and tests.

To facilitate referencing, dividers or colour labels can be used to separate lecture notes, assignments, and other items.

Conclusion: To succeed in their courses, foundation students need to acquire at least four important study skills: note taking, study methods, test taking, and organizational skills.

Before taking any undergraduate courses, students need to learn how to learn; therefore, it is crucial that they receive some study skills training before enrolling in more advanced courses.

Dr Yong Fung Lan and Thuzar Winn are lecturers with the School of language and Foundation, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. Dr Yong can be contacted atfyong@swinburne.edu.my and Ms Thuzar at twinn@swinburne.edu.my .