Counseling
Strengthen Study Skills

The way in which students learn, manage time, and deal with stress all contribute to their ability to succeed academically.

Current and former North Seattle College Counseling faculty members have created resources to help students develop a variety of study skills. To view, click on the tabs below.

Study Skills Marilyn Sandall, PhD

"How can I study effectively to achieve academic success?" is an important question that confronts all students. To study well, you need knowledge, attitudes and skills to back you up. Then you work hard to put everything together for yourself. Achievers don't achieve accidentally. They practice the following rules:

Be realistic. Set study goals you can plan and schedule to achieve, step by step.

Motivate yourself and accept personal responsibility for your academic success. You are the most important and dependable person who can help you.

Get to know the campus and all services that can facilitate your studies, such as registration procedures, counseling, financial aid, student activities, library and tutorial assistance.

Make a reasonable weekly schedule of classes, work, sleep, meals, leisure activities, family responsibilities and study. Stick to it. Select and arrange your physical environment to maximize your study efficiency. Study at a place that is quiet and comfortable and that has no distractions.

Survey your assignment to get the total picture of what you are required to do. First, skim, reading the headings and summary. Second, ask questions about the headings and identify major points on the page. Third, read. Fourth, take notes about the chapter.

When you study, take short rests periodically to refresh yourself, then work again to your maximum capacity. Study with concentration only when you are physically and mentally alert. When memorizing, study only 15-30 minutes, then take a break. Don't study back-to-back subjects with similar content.

In the classroom, listen attentively and participate actively. Allow your mind to expand and to react to the presentations. Take notes effectively by summarizing the essential points of the lectures in a clear, well-organized and readable fashion. Write on only one side of your paper, using the other side for reading notes, discussions with the teacher, etc.

Prepare for exams in advance, not the night before. Relate your notes to the textbook. Ask the instructor how you will be tested (short answer, essay, etc.) and on what subject matter.

When taking a test, be prepared and well-rested. Read over all questions quickly before answering. Note which questions are worth more points and plan time accordingly. Outline the answers to essay questions before you begin to write. Budget your time by answering first the questions you know readily. Allow enough time for the rest. Proofread your answers.

Study Tips for the First & Second Week of Classes Lydia Minatoya, PhD

Tips for Campus Classes

  • • Eat frequent, light, healthy meals and snacks (vegetables, fruits, low fat protein) and get enough sleep. You cannot learn when you are hungry or tired. A cup of coffee or “nutrition bar” is not an adequate meal. Sleep at least 7hrs per night to best concentrate and to move learning from short-term to long-term memory.
  • • Read the syllabus for each class you are taking. In the syllabus, the instructor tells you what assignments you must do, by when. The syllabus provides information such as: how the instructor will arrive at your grade, how to contact your instructor if you have any questions about assignments, and guidelines for behaviors your instructor expects. Let your instructor know immediately, if you are unclear about any item on the syllabus or if you have special needs or situations (such as a disability, job, family situation, or bus commute that occasionally may make you late).
  • • Buy your books and supplies by the third day of the quarter.
  • • Do not miss class! If an emergency arises, call the instructor before the class and explain why you will miss and when you will return.
  • • Smile and make friends with your classmates so you can share notes and ask each other questions about assignments. Consider forming a study group.
  • • Try to study on campus where there are fewer distractions. This way you finish your homework first and, when you go home, you can relax and pay attention to other things and people in your life.
  • • Study every day. Plan a schedule with specific and sufficient times to studyand stick to it. Take notes on what you are reading so you will have a summary (and less to review) when the test comes around. Use your syllabus and mark on a calendar the dates for quizzes, tests, papers. Then, plan extra study time preceding these dates.
  • • Break big assignments into smaller tasks. This makes it easier to start. Study for thirty minutes, take a five-minute break, and go back for thirty minutes more. When memorizing (vocabulary lists, concepts, formulas, etc.) break lists into “chunks” of two to four concepts/vocabulary words. Write them down, leaving space between the chunks. Put no more than three chunks on a page. This makes it easier for you to picture material in your head, later, on a test. Learn one chunk, take a break, then, study another chunk. Without “chunking” using hyphens and pauses, we’d have difficulty remembering our phone numbers. If you try to learn a long list all at once—without breaking it into smaller chunks--you may remember the first three or four items and the last three, but everything in between will likely be a blur.
  • • Plan some leisure time every day (aim for an hour of wind-down, at the end of each day) and every weekend (aim for a three to four hour block) to do something you enjoy! It is easier to study when you know you have a break scheduled and it is easier to relax and enjoy yourself when you know you have completed some of your homework.

Study Tips for Online Students

Instructors Gwyn Jones, Dennis Schaffer and Earl Sedlik offer additional strategies for online students.

Gwyn Jones suggests that online students:

  • 1. Check in to your course sites every day and log in at specified times for required or optional events such as “office hours”.
  • 2. Interact with classmates via the discussion forums and other communication options.
  • 3. Students find their classmates to be influential and well-timed sources of study strategies. When presenting information about assignments or tests, instructors often ask students to share their own tips. Here’s the suggestion from a student in Dennis Schaffer’s class.
  • If I have to hop back and forth between screens or windows and concentrate on closely spaced lines of directions, when I am also trying to learn a new task on the computer, I can get bogged down. This is something that helps me a lot:
  • • I print out my directions or questions in larger font with more spacing between lines and put that printed sheet of directions next to my computer as I work. • I cross out or put check marks next to the steps as I go, so I remember that I finished a step.
  • • Somehow having the paper and ink, next to the computer screen, helps me to focus better on the different steps."
  • 4. Earl Sedlik has developed a power point that he uses to teach students the SQ3R textbook reading and note-taking system. Earl also provides his students with links such as:
  •   • Mind Maps
  •   • SQ3R
  •   • Concentration (or other study guides from Virginia Tech)

North Seattle College Counseling helps students identify careers, strengthen study skills, manage time and stress, and learn other student success skills.

Stop by Student Success Services, north end of the second floor of the

College Center M-F 8-4:30.

Call us at (206) 527-3676.

How to Prepare for Exams Lydia Minatoya, PhD

Concentration and Memory As you read, say the words aloud. Talk quietly to yourself, saying things like, "What is the main idea? Let me write that down." The secret to this technique is that when you are calmly "talking yourself through" an assignment, you are preventing panicky thoughts like "I'll never get through all of this!"

Break big chunks of material into smaller parts. When memorizing, don't try to learn more than three or four new pieces of information at a time. Take breaks in your memorizing; otherwise, you'll remember the first two things, the last two things, and forget the material in the middle.

Outline complex ideas in your own words, outlining no more than three complex ideas per page. Leave plenty of blank space on the page between these three ideas. Practice closing your eyes and visualizing the material. This process will help you "locate and read" material in your memory during the test.

Before an Exam

Ask the instructor what the format of the test will be: how many multiple choice, how many essays, etc. Review course outline, notes and textbook. Summarize key information on several sheets of paper, arranging material in small groups or lists. Make these summary sheets easy to read and recall by the use of spacing and/or colored highlights. Get enough sleep and eat light, healthy meals on the day of the exam. If you skip sleep or food, your thinking will be confused and your concentration impaired.

During an Exam

Take a deep breath. Tell yourself, "What's most important now is that I stay calm and read each question carefully." Quickly jot down formulas, lists and things that you've memorized to use during the test but are afraid you might forget. Read directions and questions aloud under your breath (as described in the concentration and memory section). Don't select the first multiple-choice item that sounds right. Often, there are several choices that are partially correct and another (the correct answer) that provides a more complete answer. Watch out for items that seem to come from the text or lectures but have been changed to be negative. For example... "three factors found to be unimportant in the development of the American West were...." Underline key words like: never, not, always, usually. If you get stuck, eliminate the answers you know are wrong, select one of the remaining answers, make a mark next to the item and move on. Don't leave any items blank. Narrow things down and guess if you must. It's better to go through a test once, carefully, than to rush through making errors in reading, just so you can "go over it again" making the same reading errors.

Essay Exams

Be sure you do what is asked: define, list, compare and contrast. Answer as directly and concisely as possible. Outline quickly the important facts and ideas you want to include in your answer. Write. First sentences explain what your main points are. Following sentences provide specific examples or details to support your main points. Conclusion shows how your body text supported your opening statements. If you run out of time, provide an outline rather than writing in full sentences. Be sure your handwriting is legible.

  • Remember:
  • • Praise and encourage yourself.
  • • Pay attention to deadlines.
  • • Try to study in the library before going home.
  • • This reduces distractions and when you do go home you truly can relax.
  • • Start studying early, study for short periods (50 minutes) and give yourself 3-5 minute breaks.
  • • Try not to study for more than 2-3 hours at a stretch.
  • • Ask for help if you need it.
  • • Eat healthy foods.
  • • Get enough sleep.

Strategies for Oral Participation for Students Who Feel Uncomfortable Speaking in Class Lydia Minatoya, PhD

American instructors often expect students to exhibit active speaking behaviors such as questioning, discussing, explaining, providing personal viewpoints, etc. Sometimes a significant proportion of a student's grade is determined by his/her skill in this kind of oral participation. In other instances, students may be expected to gather in small groups that are not directly led by instructors and to participate in oral discussion.

In both larger classroom discussions and within small groups, often two or three students may dominate discussion. These students may be skillful at voicing their thoughts, moving with changing conversational topics and displaying wit. The speed with which the conversation moves may make it difficult for other students to enter the discussion. This dynamic and the fact that their own oral participation will be evaluated and graded can be discouraging to students who view their strengths as "quiet" and for students from cultures in which oral participation has not been stressed as a learning method. Students who experience social phobia or other medical conditions may find themselves unable to function in classes where seating is always in small group clusters or in situations where they must frequently speak and interact.

Ideas for students that may help with classroom discussions

As you read in preparation for class, write down one or two questions that you have. Also write down two or three things you see as main ideas. These notes can provide you with a "script" of topics you can speak about in class.

Communicate with your instructor alone, before or after class or during office hours. You may also communicate by note, e-mail or voice mail. Explain how you have difficulty entering discussions, particularly once they have started rapidly moving. Describe to your instructor several strategies you think might help you. Ask for his or her assistance. If you are uncomfortable about how to approach the discussion with your instructor, you might consider bringing this handout as something to share with him/her.

One strategy is this: if the instructor is willing to provide time for questions and comments and to ask for raised hands rather than responding to called-out questions, then you might ask the instructor if he/she could deliberately call first on the more quiet members of class (such as you). In this way, you would have an opportunity to summarize your understanding of one or two key points, and ask if you have left out anything significant. Thus, you could demonstrate your involvement with the material and the class, prior to the discussion becoming too fast-paced.

Another strategy is to ask the instructor if he/she would be willing to suggest that small discussion groups start by asking quiet members if they have any comments or questions. The instructor may also advise the small groups to give quiet members adequate time to verbally frame their responses and suggest that the discussion periodically pause to allow more quiet members to enter the conversation.

If you have always found it very difficult to speak in groups and the idea of speaking makes you feel very worried and/or physically uncomfortable, you may have social anxiety. If described to and diagnosed by a doctor, this condition may entitle you to classroom accommodation. In this case, visit Disability Services to arrange accommodation. Also contact Disability Services to receive accommodation for physical, emotional, learning disabilities. Counseling faculty can help you develop strategies for reducing your anxiety about speaking in class.

Increase Effectiveness and Reduce Stress Lydia Minatoya, PhD

Organize. As the quarter progresses, stress mounts. To make your days easier to navigate, break assignments into smaller, daily “chunks” and mix these short study sessions in with daily classes, work, sleep, meals, relationships, and exercise.

Eat well. Eat multiple small healthy meals with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and water. Slow down as you eat. For the first two bites, make a point of savoring your food’s taste, smell, and texture (e.g. the crunch of an apple, the smoothness of yogurt).

Sleep. During sleep, recently learned information is consolidated into long-term memory. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Try to go to bed around the same time every night. Avoid caffeinated beverages after 3 in the afternoon. Sleep in a dark, quiet, slightly cool room. Unwind a little before sleep: take slow deep breaths through your nose, tell yourself you are managing well and that sleep will give your brain and body the rest it needs.

Exercise. Walk, jog, dance, bike, play team sports and other activities that you enjoy. If you don’t have time for a full workout, 5 or 10 minute breaks for stretching, walking around campus, etc. will help you relax.

Breathe, relax, and re-new. A break of even 1-2 minutes can help you feel relaxed and refreshed. Take 3 or 4 deep breaths slowly through the nose. Recall, in detail, a favorite calm place or a happy experience. Deliberately relax the muscles in your shoulders and neck. Take a moment to experience gratitude for the good things in yourself and your life.

Encourage yourself. Focus on positives, reassure yourself ("I am doing the best I can.”, "This will get done."). Give yourself permission to stop thinking about school or other responsibilities at bedtime, meal times, and other given times each day. Soothing music has been shown to lower tension, so consider music breaks. Smile and be kind.

Smiling lowers anxiety and prompts people to smile in return. Acts of thoughtfulness make you feel good and create positive actions going forward. Good-humored laughter is refreshing and improves problem-solving. Consider comedy when you are selecting entertainment.

Talk with a counselor

North Seattle College counselors are located: 2nd floor, north end of the College Center, in Student Success Service (206) 934-3676, M-F 8am-4:30pm

Locate self-help and referral information

  • • Phone Washington State Information Network 2-1-1, or TTY (206) 461-3610for health and human services referral resources. Access 24-hour crisis intervention through: King County Crisis Clinic 206-461-3222, TTY 206 461-3219