(Compiled by Pascal Smyth, 1997) 

The aim of this booklet on Study Skills is to help you become a more successful student. It contains important advice on how to get the most benefit from study, whether you are doing important exams this year or in years to come. It covers motivation, success in school, time management, dealing with homework, study methods, effective revision and success in exams.

Most students appreciate that study involves hard work. However, a large number, even if they have the motivation, lack the knowledge about how best to approach study. Success in study and exams requires ability, motivation, hard work and ‘know how’. Many students with great ability, unfortunately do not achieve exam results which reflect their true potential. This is because they do not match their ability with the required level of motivation and effort. Even great ability will not compensate for the absence of motivation, method and hard work. Often students of average ability perform better because they make better use of the talents they possess. Moderate ability methodically employed is more productive than greater ability employed in an unmethodical way. Wouldn’t it be really satisfying if you could achieve assessment and exam results that reflect your true potential?

Remember, and be forewarned, that becoming a good student is a long-term process of changing habits of working and ways of thinking about what you are trying to achieve. There are no ‘quick fixes. Do not attempt to change all of your poor study habits overnight. You should build gradually working on one aspect at a time. With dedication and perseverance, you will develop more efficient habits and, in time, become a very successful student.The aim of this booklet on Study Skills is to help you become a more successful student. It contains important advice on how to get the most benefit from study, whether you are doing important exams this year or in years to come. It covers motivation, success in school, time management, dealing with homework, study methods, effective revision and success in exams.

‘You can bring a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink’!

Self-motivation is much better than cajoling and manipulation by your parents or teachers! It is much preferable if you want to do well in your studies for your own sake. This is the crucial difference between intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivation.

Start by accepting that school and education is necessary and, if used correctly, makes learning much easier. Remember that learning is your responsibility so try to take control of your own learning – do not rely on your parents or teachers to control it for you. Work on adopting a positive mental attitude – a ‘growth mindset’, as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’.

Accepting that study is not easy, you can motivate yourself by thinking about what it can help you achieve – good results, the points, self-satisfaction, entry to your chosen career, etc. The sheer volume of work in the various subjects can be off-putting and have a negative motivating effect. But a good method of self-motivation is to set yourself challenging yet attainable short-term goals. These relate to daily, weekly and subject goals which will be dealt with later. If you take care of realistic short-term goals the long-term goals will take care of themselves. In this way you can make school and learning a success and achieve your full potential. 

Central to this process is the idea of ‘delayed gratification’. This is when you sacrifice immediate short-term satisfaction for the feeling of greater satisfaction and contentment that you will experience later on, after you have achieved something that required real effort but which has greater meaning and purpose.

Why not adopt the following two mottoes now:

‘Today I will do the best I can for one more day’.

‘If it is to be, it is all up to me’

Time is a precious resource – do not waste it’.

It is in your direct interest to make your learning easier. So make the most of school by approaching each class with an attitude of positive self-discipline. See your teachers as a valuable resource which you can use. Get the most from them by giving them your fullest co-operation – let the teacher teach.

The following are some practical steps which will help you to make the best use of your time in school:

ü  BE POSITIVE

The more you learn during class the less work you have to do at home. Teachers will respond positively to your positive participation. It is your loss if you lose interest in the subject. Work with teachers, not against them.

ü  BE PREPARED

Be in class on time. Have your journal, books, written homework and other materials immediately to hand. Make sure you have revised and mastered the previous lesson in the subject.

ü  LISTEN

Pay close attention to what the teacher says especially the weight of importance he or she puts on particular aspects of the topic being covered.

ü  OUESTION

If you do not understand something, ask the teacher to run through it again. You, and other students, will benefit from the clarification. Questioning is a very positive sign – it shows that you are interested.

ü  JOT NOTES

If you are allowed, jot brief notes (key words or phrases) during class. This will help to maintain your concentration. More advice about making notes will be given later. (Listen – Think – Jot)

ü  DON’T TOLERATE A ‘MESSER’

A ‘messer’ is a cheat who wastes valuable time and reduces your chance of doing well. Never encourage a ‘messer’ in any way eg. being tempted to laugh or getting involved. Messing is destructive.

ü  EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Great and actually essential – provided you get the balance right.

Just like your time in school, your home study arrangements must be properly planned. You will need to reach agreement with your parents and other family members about where you will work. A good study environment and personal organisation will allow you to work efficiently.

ü  Try to keep a TIDY table or desk.

ü  Ensure GOOD LIGHTING – well positioned and without shadows.

ü  Ensure correct ROOM TEMPERATURE – not too hot, not too cold.

ü  GOOD VENTILATION – diminishing freshness causes drowsiness.

ü   SCREENTIME/TELEVISION etc- a definite non-starter! Leave it for your leisure time.

ü   MUSIC – wean yourself off it. It may not prevent understanding, but it does reduce your ability to recall information.

ü  SMARTPHONE – turn it off, except if you’re using it for study purposes. Don’t cheat on yourself!

ü  INTERRUPTIONS – Make sure the people around you understand your study plans and know when to leave you alone.

ü  GOOD STORAGE – So that you can lay your hands on books, equipment etc, when you need them.

ü   STATIONERY– pens, pencils, rulers, colouring pencils, highlighters, post-its, calculator, protractor, notebooks, refill pads, ring binders etc

ü  WATERBOTTLE – to stay hydrated

ü  LAPTOP/NOTEBOOK/IPAD – with internet access, email etc. This may be a problem depending on service provision. 

Think of your brain as the most complex computer in the world. Research has shown that in any given situation we use less than l0% of our brain’s capacity. If we could increase this, even by a small percentage, it would have a significant positive effect, not just in terms of study and exams, but throughout our lives. If you apply the advice given here and, like any good athlete, aim to perfect your skills with continuous practice, you will begin to see the results. You will never gain perfection but by striving towards it, you will acquire excellence. Remember, the skills of studying are not something you can read about once and instantly understand and apply for all time. You learn them gradually through trial and error, through repeated practice, and through stopping to think about your experience. Learning to study effectively is one of the most challenging and satisfying undertakings open to us. Many students say that studying not only gives them a greater knowledge and understanding of the subjects they study but also more confidence, broader interests, and more purpose in life. If you develop a wide range of study techniques and strategies, you will not only help yourself succeed as a student, but you will strengthen your capacities all round.

‘Carpe Diem’ – seize the day!

Dineen, M. and McLeavey, B. (1992), ‘The Student – A Guide to Success in Second and Third Level Education’.

Kirwan, 5. (1994), ‘Learning for Life’.

Mace, C.A. (1975), ‘The Psychology of Study’.

North Eastern Health Board (1989), ‘Healthy Times’.

Northedge, A. (1993), ‘The Good Study Guide’.

Reville, J. (1997), ‘Yes You Can’ – A Students Guide to Study, Revision and Exam Success’.

Note: This guide was compiled by Mr. Pascal Smyth. Much of it has been influenced by the last listed reference. Students may wish to consult this work for more information on a broad range of study methods.

The guide was compiled in 1997. Readers should be aware that new research on how we think and learn is continually adding to our level of understanding in this fascinating area.  

Appendix 1: One-Week Study and Leisure Timetable (downloadable & printable)

1. one week study timetable

Appendix 2a: Eight-Week Subject Revision Planner: weeks 1-4. (downloadable & printable) 

2a Revision Planner WKS 1-4

2b Revision Planner WKS 5-8