[Fresh] Learning how to study

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Tue, 04 Jan 2000 14:16:30 -0500

This is a posting from Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail news service for
parents and friends of the class of 2003. New subscribers to the service
can see the previous postings at: http://news.villanova.edu/fresh/

Interview with Dr. Edward Reilly, Study Skills Counselor.

Fresh@News: By now the members of the class of 2003 have gotten their
grades for the fall semester. Is it time for some New Year's
resolutions?

Dr. Reilly: Most of our first year students did very well in high school
or they wouldn't be here in the first place, and most do well at
Villanova as well. But moving from high school to college is a big
adjustment, and some students make the transition more easily than
others. For some, the first semester can be a rude awakening. The
spring semester, however, starts off on a clean slate, with new courses
and often completely different teachers. This is a good time for
students to look at what worked or didn't work in the first semester.
It is also a good time to make some concrete changes, and that is what
the Study Skills Office is all about.

Fresh@News: What problems do first year college students typically have
with study skills?

Dr. Reilly: One of the most obvious problems is that college is
different from high school, and sometimes they learn that the hard way.
It can take students a semester or two to see that they can't continue
to use the routines that worked in high school. In high school they
might have found that they could wait to the last minute to write a
paper or study for the test and still get a good grade. If they try
that strategy in college, often they will not get the grade they were
hoping for. Instead they should have started writing that paper well
before it was due, perhaps taking a draft to the Writing Center and then
revising it.

Fresh@News: What about the greater independence of college life, does
that play a role?

Dr. Reilly: That is the other big piece of it. In college, students are
the captains of their own ship, and they don't have parents to see if
they are completing their work. They have enormous freedom. If they
want they can cut classes, not study, hang out with their friends, or
become caught up in the many activities that are available to them. Not
surprisingly, not all first year students adjust to this greater freedom
right away.

Fresh@News: What are some of the skills you help students acquire?

Dr. Reilly: There are several skills that are important including: time
management; assertiveness; self-awareness; and test taking skills.
Let's start with time management. One big problem is to know how much
time to spend on various subjects. Some courses are more demanding than
others, and some first year students have trouble figuring this out.
Some instructors are very directive, and tell students exactly what they
need to know, but other instructors give much more general directives,
and students have to translate those into a concrete plan of action.
All of this takes some practice and skill, especially in the beginning.
A first step we usually take is to have the students do an assessment of
how they are spending their time right now. We have them ask themselves
whether they are making a good apportionment of their time to the things
they need to get done. Often enough even this simple exercise leads to
positive changes.

Fresh@News: You mentioned assertiveness. How does that relate to
studying well?

Dr. Reilly: We want students to learn to take charge of their lives.
First, they need to be assertive enough to say no to distractions that
will keep them from studying. They have to learn to say no to their
friends about a social activity, for example, if it will prevent them
from finishing a paper or studying for a test. They also need to have
the confidence to establish relationships with their professors, so that
they can ask professors for help or for more direction about the
course. Sometimes they are just unaware of academic culture, so they
don't realize that it is better to make an appointment with a professor
to meet in the office rather than to try to ask the professor something
in the hallway.

Fresh@News: What about self-awareness? How does that contribute?

Dr. Reilly: One of the things we know is that different students learn
in different ways. Some students, for example, are very good at getting
the details, but have more trouble applying them. Students need to come
to understand how they learn, so that they can adapt their learning
styles to different contexts. We like to have students take the
Myers-Briggs test, which really helps them understand how they think and
learn, and from there to strategize about the best ways to use their
skills. Motivation is also a big factor. Sometimes students have
trouble studying because they just don't see the connection between
their long-term goals and the tasks that have to be accomplished.
Sometimes what they really need to do is to think more about what they
are expecting to get out of their education anyway. Once that is clear,
we can help them connect those goals to more short-term behaviors. If
there are emotional problems involved, we may suggest that students take
advantage of our psychological counseling services as well.

Fresh@News: You also mentioned test-taking skills.

Dr. Reilly: Just because a student knows the material doesn't
necessarily mean that the student will do well on the test. Test-taking
itself is a skill, and some students need help with it. We work with
students, for example, to practice for an essay exam by trying to make
up possible essay questions. Some courses use multiple choice exams,
and we can help students use the world-wide web to find practice tests
that will help them sharpen those skills.

Fresh@News: What kind of support does your office offer students who
need help with study skills?

Dr. Reilly. We regularly offer workshops on time management, on
test-taking, and on learning styles. During the semester we usually
offer all three workshops at least once a week. Students can see our
advertisement in the Villanovan or just stop by our office in Corr Hall
to find the schedule. Much of our work is done in individual
appointments. Often students who have done a workshop then continue
with some individual sessions. It gets pretty busy toward the end of the
semester, but usually a student can get an appointment within a day or
two of making contact with our office.

Fresh@News: What about students with learning disabilities? What does
Villanova offer for them?

Dr. Reilly: Some of our students have been diagnosed with learning
disabilities during their K-12 schooling. Sometimes the student will
hope that those disabilities will just disappear in college, but often
enough a student with a learning disability will need extra support in
college. Our office of Learning Support Services is specifically
dedicated to helping these students, and most of the students who have
shared their diagnosis with us have already been in contact with the
office (http://learningsupportservices.villanova.edu/). We also
sometimes discover students with undiagnosed learning disabilities. Ms.
Nancy Mott, our Learning Disabilities Coordinator, can help these
students seek appropriate evaluation, and then she can work with them
and to identify the accommodations that are appropriate to help them
have a successful career at Villanova.

Fresh@News: What advice do you have for parents?

Dr. Reilly: Let me start by giving some advice about younger siblings
who are still in high school. I think it is very important to let these
students develop independence and responsibility while they are still in
high school. Unless they have got some sense of independence and
self-direction before they reach college, they may have some
difficulties. Once students are already in college, the parent can
gently monitor how the student is doing as far as self-direction. If
the student does badly in one or more courses, the primary focus should
be on getting beyond recriminations to asking what concrete changes the
student will be making in the future. It is all well and good to talk
about will-power, but usually students need to make some concrete
changes in their behavior as well. Parents might, of course, want to
suggest that the student take one of our workshops or stop by for an
individual session. One book that I recommend is HOW TO STUDY IN
COLLEGE, by Walter Pauk (Hougton Mifflin). The other important thing is
not to be discouraged, especially during freshman year. We have good
students who have the qualifications to do the work that is asked of
them, but it is important to help them take advantage of the support
services that are available to them.

--
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