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Strengthen Study Skills

If you want to improve your test-taking, concentration, memory and other study skills, call (206) 934-3676 to make an appointment with a counseling faculty member. Enroll in a Human Development course on student success skills or explore resources available through these pages.

How students study, manage time, and deal with stress all contribute to their academic success.  NSC Counseling offers individual counseling, Human Development courses, workshops and online resources to help students develop skills.

  • A number of online surveys have been developed to help students understand their learning styles. One example is The VARK Questionnaire: A guide to Learning Styles.
  • Samford University has developed a series of videos on “How to Get the Most Out of Studying
  • Video 5 “I blew the exam, now what?” provides particularly helpful steps for success.
  • Dartmouth College has developed academic success videos on time management, note-taking, and other topics.
  • North counseling faculty teach HDC 101 — Orientation to College Success and HDC 153 —  Learning Strategies for Math Success and HDC100 Career Planning
  • For individualized assistance, North students can call (206) 934-3676 to schedule an appointment to meet with a counseling faculty member.

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:

  • Check in to your course sites every day and log in at specified times for required or optional events such as “office hours”.
  • Interact with classmates via the discussion forums and other communication options.
  • 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."
  • 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 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Call us at (206) 527-3676.


Study Tips to Ace Final Exams Lydia Minatoya, PhD. Edited and revised by Jenny Mao, Ph.D. 

Recognize your Efforts and Accomplishments

  • Praise your efforts and hard work for successfully completing the academic quarter.
  • Be proud of your accomplishments big and small.
  • Recognize each quarter completed gets you closer to your final goal of graduating.

Get Organized NOW

  • Do not wait until finals week to plan your studying. Start studying early, for short periods (30-45 minutes) and give yourself (3-5 minute) breaks. Avoid studying for more than 2 hours at a time.
  • Organize your notes, make flash cards, create quizlet, catch up with your reading, or complete late assignments. Pay attention to deadlines.
  • Check with instructor on final exam format: timed test, closed-book or open-book; number of questions, type of questions (multiple choice, essays, short answers, multi-part questions.)
  • Ask for help early and use tutoring services through the Student Learning Center.
  • Visit instructor office hours for extra support.

Pre-Test Study Strategies

  • Get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and exercise regularly to manage stress.
  • Create a 3-day or 5-day study plan

✓ Break large chunks of information into smaller parts to increase memory and retention.
✓ Create a study-schedule to review previously learned information while studying recently learned materials.
✓ Take frequent breaks in your memorizing, otherwise, you will remember the first two things, the last two things, and forget the material in the middle.
✓ Study difficult materials several times to ensure memory retention and recall.
✓ Review homework, old tests, or re-work complex problems (for STEM courses – Practice…Practice…Practice makes progress)
✓ Use instructor provided study guide if available.

  • Reduce Test-Anxiety by:

✓ Engage in positive self-talk and affirmations: “I enjoy learning and I am a good student.”
✓ Give yourself plenty of time to study and retain materials
✓ Practice relaxation strategies such as – deep breathing; meditation; mindfulness exercises
✓ Simulate test situations by practicing possible test questions or essays

During an Exam

  • Take a deep breath. Tell yourself, “I am prepared for this exam, I am calm, I am excited to show what I know.”
  • Quickly jot down formulas, lists, things that you have memorized to use during the test but are afraid you might forget.
  • Read directions and questions slowly and carefully. Scan the exams and start with questions that provides immediate recall.

Multiple Choice Exams

  • Do not select the first multiple-choice item that sounds right. Read through all your choices and select answers that provides you with the fuller more detailed 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, skip difficult questions or questions that take more time.
  • Using elimination strategies, eliminate choices that are wrong or distract you from the answer. Choose from the two best option or make a mark next to the item and move on.
  • Do not leave any items blank. Narrow things down and guess if you must.
  • Do not change your first answer unless you know for sure your initial answer was the wrong one.
  • Review the test before submitting.

Essay Exams

  • Be sure you do what is asked: define, list, compare and contrast.
  • Answer as directly and concisely as possible.
  • Quickly outline 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 support your opening statements.
  • If you run out of time, provide an outline rather than writing in full sentences.
  • Be sure to run the spell check and read through your essay for comprehension.

NSC faculty counselors help students identify careers, select programs of study, strengthen study skills, manage time and stress, deal with depression and anxiety, confront prejudice and learn other success skills. Counseling | North Seattle College

To make an appointment, fill out a counseling request form:
Students may also call: 206-934-3676 or email: to schedule an appointment.
© Revised and edited by Jenny Mao, Ph.D. 2020 | Lydia Minatoya, Ph.D. 1997, 2004
North Seattle College| Counseling Services | Distribution for educational purposed permitted with inclusion of this © statement

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 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

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

Falling Behind in Classes Lydia Minatoya, Ph.D.

  • Take a deep breath and tell yourself not to panic, freeze or ignore the situation through use of distractions. In a kind, calm voice, tell yourself that you can get help and follow a plan.
  • Communicate with your instructors.  Explain any obstacles you’ve faced and tell them that you are interested in the course content and respect their instruction. Ask their advice on which major topics to focus, so you can catch up.  Ask at what level of detail and understanding they will test: solving problems, understanding case examples, recognizing facts and information in multiple-choice tests?
  • Pay attention to deadlines and test dates.  Don’t try to catch-up the night or weekend before. To fuel your attention, understanding and confidence: sleep at least 7 hours each night, eat frequent small, healthy meals and exercise moderately.
  • Study using “chunking” to break large stretches of information (e.g. the multiple chapters you have not begun to study) into smaller chunks/pieces that you can understand and recall.  Space your study of these chunks over days.  It takes sleep and repeated exposure to information to move material from short-term memory to long-term memory.
  • Study in the NSC Math Learning Center and Page One Writing and Language Center where tutors are available to help you.  Both are located in the same building as the Grove cafeteria, on the east side.
  • Talk to a NSC counseling faculty member about how to: develop a study plan, break material into understandable sections and increase your concentration and recall. You may also talk with a counselor about managing stress, time, and anxiety about taking tests, writing, math or speaking in class.
  • To make an appointment with a counselor call 206 934-3676 or visit the front desk of Student Success Services, 2nd floor, north end of the College Center Building M-F 8:00am-4:30pm.
  • If you are a financial aid student and think you need to drop one class in order to succeed, first, go to the financial aid office and discuss the consequences of dropping.
  • Encourage yourself: you are bright, motivated and NSC offers resources to help you!

Meaningful Dreams, Mindful Actions Lydia Minatoya, Ph.D.

Many of our daily actions occur unconsciously.  For efficiency’s sake, we often act on auto-pilot, without a second thought.  At other times, we seem governed by our smart technology--pursuing random trails of information. The efficiency of unconscious, mindless activity takes us “far and fast” but the destinations we reach may feel meaningless.   
In contrast, we can pause to recognize our guiding dreams and most noble values.  We can set small, daily intentions that align with these values.   Identifying “do-able,” positive intentions helps us be present and can make our smallest moments rewarding and meaningful.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Every January, at Seattle Colleges and across the nation, we pause to honor the moral courage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We collectively re-commit to the transformative power of his dream.  

In winter, there are fewer hours of daylight and more inches of rain.  As mammals, humans instinctively conserve energy, reduce consciousness (hibernation in many species) and retreat into apathy, social disengagement and narrow self-protection.  

This winter quarter, please consider the example of Dr. King. Compassionately, consciously and conscientiously choose to disobey apathy’s pull.  

Meaningful Dreams, Mindful Actions  
To help revitalize your dreams, enrich your spirit and serve the common good, try spending a minute or two, several times a day, doing the following:

  • Put your guiding dreams and values into simple, underlying intentions such as “to demonstrate kindness”, “to recognize beauty/goodness in small moments”, “to express gratitude.”
  • Identify an achievable, daily, intention stated in the positive such as, “As I do my daily tasks (study, work, child and self-care), I will pause to praise, rather than criticize, myself.” or “I will smile at and say hello to someone I don’t know, like a student in line at the Grove or the cashier at the grocery store.” Some people write their intention and put it in their pocket.
  • During the day, also be on the lookout for some positive experience.  It may be a demonstration of kindness, humor, natural beauty, or one of your guiding values. Observe the situation in detail so it becomes a rich “experience” rather than a simple “fact”.
  • For example--if you want to be more encouraging to yourself-- rather than saying, “I got a B on my test.”(fact), observe, “I was afraid to see how I’d done. Then, I noticed the instructor smiling when handing the test to me.  When I saw the B, I felt warm inside.  I couldn’t help grinning.  I felt like my hard work paid off.” (experience).
  • Throughout the day, deliberately recall the details of your positive experience (your observation of gratitude, kindness, humor, beauty, etc.).   The reason for doing this is, when we recall an experience in detail, the same neurotransmitters fire in our brains as did during the original situation.  Thus, you can re-experience positive events multiple times during the day.  Over time, this builds reflexive optimism and appreciation.
  • If you describe your positive experience to people who care about you, their brains fire in similar positive patterns and they benefit.   They are likely to describe positive experiences of their own. You benefit from the telling, the supportive responses of others and from listening to their experiences. This maintains and extends warm, supportive, mutual relationships.
  • This also helps us counter an evolutionary-based --but in modern life often unhelpful-- tendency to notice negative or potentially negative situations, to dwell on them and to complain about them to others. Over time, this builds reflexive pessimism and dissatisfaction.