Academic Skills: Tips and Techniques

If you are new or returning to the academic environment, it is not unusual to be concerned about your academic skills. Below are some tips and tricks to help you become a better learner.

Communication Tips

Student Email Guide

Emails are not like text messages or instant messages, as they are more formal and require more thoughtful consideration of what is to be said. A proper email should always contain an appropriately titled subject, a greeting, and introductory statement, the actual content of the email, a respectful close, and a salutation. Signatures which come after the salutation are optional, your name is not. This link contains examples of how to properly write an email. 

Speaking With Your Professor

Successful students will tell you that it is important to get to know your professor. Professors will decide your grade and have the potential to be a valuable reference later on in your college and professional career. This link contains advice on how to talk with your professor. 

Study Tips

There Is No Multi-tasking
You can’t divide your attention without your performance suffering; more-accurately you are task-switching (rapidly alternating tasks); Task-switching makes you less effective (even if you don’t think so)different tasks require different resources and have a different history of events related to each task, so your brain must re-adjust each time you switch back.
Go to Class

Class attendance is highly correlated with success in class.

Obtain Slides Before Class

Research shows that providing slides to students before class does not decrease attendance; student learning is increased likely because you are able to focus on what the professor is saying and write down important questions, rather than trying to copy slides.

Leave the Laptop at Home

Using a laptop in class makes you easily prone to distractions such as Facebook or funny cat videos; not only is it distracting for you, but also for those around you; as use of social technology in class goes up, GPA goes down.

Ask Questions, Answer Questions, Ask More Questions

Questions force you to think about the material and remember answers from memory rather than simply recognizing them; remembering strengthens the connections in your brain making the information easier to recall in the future; like creating a path through a field, the more you walk it, the easier it is to find and walk down again.

Catch Some Z's

Sleep allows your brain to combine new knowledge and incorporate new information into existing memory networks; studies have shown a direct relationship between lack of sleep and a decrease in alertness and mental performance even though you don’t feel like it.

Write Notes Rather Than Typing Them

Typing is faster than writing which allows you to take down more notes; however, the quality of the notes is worse because of the speed-comprehension trade-off; writing out notes (or better yet questions) forces you to spend more time thinking about what you want to write and to be more selective about what exactly you write.

Put Your Cell Phone in Another Room

Studies show the closer your phone is to you, the worse you perform on thinking tasks, even if your phone is on airplane mode or completely turned off.

Use Flashcards Better

Flash cards are a great way to study many types of information because they can combine the generation effect, distributed practice, and free-recall. 

  • Create don't copy:
    • Making your own flashcards with definitions in your own words will help you remember the information better than if you simply copy definitions out of the book or use someone else’s flash cards, this is called the generation effect.
  • Bigger is better:
    • Using a larger rather than smaller deck of cards puts increased time between when you see each card, this is a great way to get the benefits of distributed practice within a single study session, increasing long-term learning.
  • No peaking:
    • Studies show that recalling information from memory, rather than simply re-looking at the answer, is an important part of long-term learning.
Study at Least One More Time

Even when you feel that you aren’t learning any new information. Students often quit studying too soon due to poor judgement on how much they have learned. Don’t fall victim to these biases: 

  • Hindsight Bias (the "I knew that" bias)
    • Can't remember the answer when tested, but think you know it because you recognize it after it has been revealed.
  • Foresight Bias (the "I'll know it when I see it" bias)
    • Believing that because you know an answer while you’re studying, you’ll remember it on the test. However, on the test there will be other answers to distract you.
  • Stability Bias (the "forgot that I forgot" bias)
    • Not accounting for how much information you forget over time; also, the assumption that further studying will not provide any benefits for you.
Match Studying to Testing

Conditions during studying should match those during testing as close as possible; meaning, if you drink caffeine while studying, drink a little caffeine before the test – or – listen to a particular song before and after each study session while thinking about the material, then listen to that song before you take the test – or – eat a particular flavor of mint while studying, and eat that same flavor of mint while taking the test.


Choose the study skill you wish to explore below.


Ward, Duke, Gneezy, & Bos, 2017

Jacoby, 1978

Cepeda, Pashler, Bul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006; Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, & Willingham, 2013

Roediger & Butler, 2011

Bjork, Dunlosky, & Kornell, 2011

Fischhoff, 1975

Koriat & Bjork, 2005

Kornell & Bjork, 2009

Tulving & Osler, 1968

Anderson & Fuller, 2010; Craik, Govoni, Naveh-Benjamin, & Anderson, 1996

Willingham, 2010

Credé, Roch, & Kieszczynska, 2010

Carpenter & Pashler, 2007; Marsh, Roediger, Bjork, 2007; McDaniel, Roediger, & McDermott, 2007; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006

Diekelmann & Born, 2010

Belenky et al., 2003; Van Dongen, Maislin, Mullington, & Dinges, 2003

Worthington & Levasseaur, 2015

Marsh & Sink, 2009

Rayner, Schotter, Masson, Potter, & Treiman, 2016

Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014

Junco, 2012