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Succeeding In College: The Student Lifestyle

The Meaning of Study

There are two things you are trying to do when you study (Kornhauser, 9):

      1. To acquire certain bodies of knowledge;
      2. To acquire certain abilities to do things.

For instance, we study history to (1) acquire a knowledge of what has happened in the past, and (2) to acquire the ability to think from an historical perspective.

We study mathematics to (1) acquire the ability to do math, and (2) to acquire knowledge about the field of math.

Note the difference in emphasis.

There is not a sharp line between the two goals of studying.

The emphasis in college is on acquiring abilities (Kornhauser, 10).

Developing the ability to study is the most valuable ability you can learn in college (Kornhauser, 10).

"Knowing how to study is tantamount to knowing how to think, observe, concentrate, organize, and analyze information. It is the application of intelligence to the task of understanding and controlling the world about us" (Kornhauser, 10).

"When students do not learn how to study, the biggest job of their education is left undone" (Kornhauser, 10).

How do Students Learn?

The importance of anchoring learning in the learner's pre-existing knowledge is basic and essential (Brown & Atkins, 150; also, Ausubel, 127).

The effects of personality and motivation on learning... (Wittrock, 297-314). Research has shown "that the way students perceive themselves, and the way they account for their academic successes and failures, have a strong bearing on their motivation and their performance. Students are likely to initiate learning, sustain it, direct it, and actively involve themselves in it when they believe that success or failure is caused by their own effort or lack of it..." (Brown & Atkins, 151).

The key here is that the student must have a sense of control.

Extensive studies "by Entwistle and his research team at the University of Lancaster, and more recently at the University of Edinburgh" (Brown & Atkins, 154) and by Biggs in Australia show that students are apt to take one of two major approaches to the study of material (see Entwistle, Hanley, and Hounsell, 1979; Entwistle, Hanley and Ratcliffe, 1979; Ramsden and Entwistle, 1981; Marton, Housell, and Entwistle 1984; Richardson, 1986; Biggs, 1978a; Biggs, 1978b):

      1. a deep-level approach, or
      2. a surface-level approach

The deep approach is "an active search for meaning. Users of this approach start with the intention of understanding the article, they question the author's arguments and conclusions, and they try to relate them to previous knowledge and to personal experience" (Brown & Atkins, 152).

The surface approach is quite distinct. The student tries "to memorize those parts of the article which they think they might be questioned on. They tend to focus on specific facts which may not be connected..." (Brown & Atkins, 152).

The deep approach results in a more thorough understanding of the material as well as a better recall of detail even after a long period of time (five weeks and more). "Comprehension learning (holism) is closely related to deep processing" (Brown & Atkins, 154).

On the other hand, recent research shows that "there is no universal way of learning. Different students will use different strategies on different tasks" (Brown & Atkins, 155). Problems may arise if a student has only a limited range of strategies available or if they select inappropriately.

All the better study strategies have been found to fall into one of two dominant orientations:

      1. knowledge seeking
      2. understanding seeking

They are characterized in the following ways (Brown & Atkins, 156):


The knowledge seeker adds to their store of facts, concepts, and so on. They collects skills, procedures. They break down problems and tasks into separate sub-units. They make links within units of knowledge. They use memorization skills. They work methodically through logical order of task or problem. They analyze. They use systematic trial and error. They evaluate data.


The understanding seeker tries to relate information or task to their own experience. They make links to other bodies of knowledge. They restructure for personal meaning. They synthesize. They like to work from the "whole" picture. They search for underlying structure, purpose, and meaning. They have an intuitive use of evidence. They use analogies and metaphors.

Problems with Traditional study skills courses:

They are too broad or generalized to be meaningful (Gibbs, 1981). They are based on a simplistic or invalid model of how learning occurs (Wells, 1986). They do not encourage students to solve problems themselves, and they "tend to avoid difficult areas such as motivation, values, and attitudes" (Brown & Atkins, 157). They assume that all students are similar (Wells, 1986).

NEXT: Super-Learning


Ausubel, D.P. Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968.

Biggs, J.B. "Individual Differences in Study Processes." Higher Education 8 (1978a): 381-394.

Biggs, J.B. "Individual and Group Differences in Study Processes." British Journal of Educational Psychology 48 (1978b): 266-279.

Brown, George, and Madeleine Atkins. Effective Teaching in Higher Education. NY: Methuen, 1988. ISBN 0-416-09082-6.

Entwistle, N.J., M. Hanley, and D. Hounsell. "Identifying Distinctive Approaches to Studying." Higher Education 8 (1979): 365-80.

Entwistle, N.J., M. Hanley, and G. Ratcliffe. "Approaches to Learning and Levels of Understanding." British Educational Research Journal 5 (1979): 99-114.

Gibbs, G. Teaching Students to Learn. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1981.

Hartley, J. "Improving Study Skills." British Educational Research Journal 12(2), 1984: 111-124.

Kornhauser, Arthur W. How to Study: Suggestions for High School and College Students. 3rd ed. Revised by Diane M. Enerson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 0-226-45118-6.

Marton, F., D. Hounsell, and N.J. Entwistle (eds.). The Experience of Learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1984.

Ramsden, P. , and N.J. Entwistle. "Effects of Academic Departments on Students' Approaches to Studying." British Journal of Educational Psychology 51 (1981): 368-383.

Richardson, J.T.D. (ed.). Cognitive Processes in Student Learning. London: NFER-Nelson, 1986.

Tabberer, R. Study and Information Skills in Schools. Windsor: NFER-Nelson, 1987.

Weinstein, C.F., and R.F. Mayer. "The Teaching of Learning Strategies." In M.C. Wittrock (ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching, NY: Macmillan, 315-328.

Wells, J.C. "The Initiation of a Study Skills Programme in a Lower 6th Form." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Exeter, 1986.

Wittrock, M.C. "Students' Thought Processes." In M.C. Wittrock (ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching, NY: Macmillan, 297-314.

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