[Fresh] Study Skills interview

Kelly Donio (kelly.donio@villanova.edu)
Thu, 10 Feb 2005 16:43:17 -0500

Interview with Dr. Edward Reilly, Study Skills Counselor.

Fresh@News: By now all of the members of the class of 2005
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 face 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 same methods 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
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

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

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 study skills support does your
office offer students who need help?

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, 206 Health Services
Building to find the workshop schedule .or go to our online
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. We
also loan out CDs on 25 self- help topics, such as
Overcoming Procrastination, Effective Test-Taking Skills,
Managing Stress, Self-Motivation, Taking Charge of Your Time
and Your Life, Commitment and Persistence, Memory
Improvement, and alike.

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

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 (Houghton 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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