About Study Skills

Students striving for and experiencing academic success often share a number of characteristics and habits that everyone can practice. Below you’ll find strategies to support yourself during your studies here and beyond. Many of these are also helpful life skills! Your personal recipe for success will be unique, so we encourage you to reflect upon these suggestions and decide which ones you’d like to develop and strengthen as you continue to grow and challenge yourself as a student.

Behaviors that Lead to Academic Success

Tip 1: Attend and Participate

Attend every class and log in to online classes daily. Attending each class meeting and making sure you miss no more than 3 class days per class per quarter is good general practice. If you have health concerns that may require you to miss class regularly, make sure you work with WCC's Access and Disability Services to arrange appropriate accommodations to help ensure success in your courses. WCC's Personal Counseling Services might also be helpful if you're struggling to build a strong foundation for learning.

Participating in courses can take a variety of forms including turning in completed homework and projects, asking your instructors thoughtful questions, talking to other students, reading assigned reading, and reviewing course material to prepare for exams.

Tip 2: Communicate and Look Ahead

Anticipate days you might miss, and assignments you might miss because of these absences, and communicate with your instructor ahead of time to turn work in early, request an extension, or work out a plan together for you to continue to be successful in that course.

In addition to planning around absences, it's also important to look ahead on the syllabus or assignment calendar so that you can start assignments well before the day they are due. This time frame will look different for smaller and larger assignments, but starting far enough in advance allows you to do your best work and fully complete assignments by their deadlines.

Tip 3: Approach Learning from a Growth Mindset


Tip 4: Make Choices and Cultivate Attitudes and Beliefs that Support Your Long-Term Goals

Successful students usually do the following:

  • accept personal responsibility, seeing themselves as the primary cause of their outcomes and experiences.
  • discover self-motivation, finding purpose in their lives by discovering personally meaningful goals and dreams.
  • master self-management, consistently planning and taking purposeful actions in pursuit of their goals and dreams.
  • employ interdependence, building mutually supportive relationships that help them achieve their goals and dreams (while helping others do the same).
  • gain self-awareness, consciously employing behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that keep them on course.
  • adopt lifelong learning, finding valuable lessons and wisdom in nearly every experience they have.
  • develop emotional intelligence, effectively managing their emotions in support of their goals and dreams.
  • believe in themselves, seeing themselves as capable, lovable, and unconditionally worthy human beings.

Students who consistently struggle usually do the following:

  • see themselves as victims, believing that what happens to them is determined primarily by external forces such as fate, luck, and powerful others.
  • have difficulty sustaining motivation, often feeling depressed, frustrated, and/or resentful about a lack of direction in their lives.
  • seldom identify specific actions needed to accomplish a desired outcome. When they do, they tend to procrastinate.
  • are solitary, seldom requesting, even rejecting, offers of assistance from those who could help.
  • make important choices unconsciously, using direction by self-sabotaging habits and outdated life scripts.
  • resist learning new ideas, skills, viewing others as fearful or boring rather than as mental play.
  • live at the mercy of strong emotions such as anger, depression, anxiety, or a need for instant gratification.
  • doubt their competence and personal value, feel inadequate to create their desired outcomes and experiences

Source: Downing, S (2008). On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, Wadsworth

Homework and Study Habits

Studying encompasses more than just completing the homework for a given class. In classes that have exams of any sort, “studying” means regularly reviewing notes, course handouts, and readings in addition to completing the assigned homework to make sure you know the material by the day of the test. In addition to the ideas below, your WCC Student Handbook has some great suggestions for memorizing and study tips.

Best Practice 1: Prepare in the same way you’re going to be tested.

Example 1: If you’re going to be tested using an exam that includes definitions, multiple choice, matching, and short answer, quiz yourself using your notes, a friend, flashcards, or creating a practice test and taking it without looking at your notes.

Example 2: If you’re going to be tested using an essay exam, write essay outlines or complete essay responses to all the possible questions or topics your instructor has informed you might be on the exam.

Example 3: If you’re working on math or chemistry, make sure you complete several different types of practice problems so that you know the material and don’t feel like you’re guessing or any question type is unfamiliar.

Best Practice 2: Engage as many of your senses as possible in higher levels of thinking.

Example 1: Study regularly with friends or classmates who will help keep you focused. When you get stuck, try to teach one of your friends what you're studying and what you're stuck on. Thinking out loud and answering your friend's clarifying questions can allow you to make progress or even completely figure things out.

Example 2: When memorizing terms, explain them aloud to people or yourself in your own words.

Example 3: When memorizing terms, create a fun rhyme or acrostic and anchor the words and terms you’re trying to remember to the acrostic. Say it aloud or associate it to body parts (fingers, toes, certain motions, etc.).

Combining Best Practices 1 and 2 for learning and test preparation:


Use Cornell Notes:

  • Divide your paper.

To use the Cornell note-taking system, divide your paper or document into two columns, one on the left (1/3 of your paper) and one on the right (2/3 of your paper). 

  • Use the "cue" section effectively.

The smaller, left side of your paper is called the "cue" section. It is where you formulate sample test questions or vocab words that you can use to quiz yourself later. These cue words and questions are meant to help you clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish connections between previous chapters/topics and current ones, and strengthen your memory. It is called the "cue" section because you're creating cues to test your memory later when you're reviewing for your exam.

  • Take notes.

The larger, right side of your paper is for your lecture or textbook notes. This is the "Record" section.

  • Summarize what you learned.

After class, use the bottom of each page of notes to summarize the key points covered on that page. This will help you quickly find what you're looking for later and remember it.

  • Consistently review your notes by self-testing using the Cue section.

One way to do this is to cover the Record/Note-Taking section by folding it over on itself or covering it with another sheet of paper. Review the questions and cue-words you've created in the "Cue" column and test yourself or have a friend or study partner test you by asking questions about the topics, questions, and cue words aloud. Make sure that you attempt to formulate your answers aloud without looking at the answers.

People and Places to Visit Regularly

It’s important to be proactive and consistent when looking for people and places that might help you succeed. For example, trying out the Math Center to prepare for your final exam only may not be as helpful as using the Math Center every week from the very start of the quarter.

Your Instructors: The faculty who teach your classes are the experts of their course material and excited by their discipline. We encourage you to get to know them outside of class by visiting them during their office hours. If you don't know how to contact your faculty, look them up in our Faculty and Staff Directory.

Academic Planning, Advising, and Career or Major Preparation: Knowing where you’re headed and why is important to making progress toward your academic goals. Running StartAdvising and Career Services, Transitional Learning, International Programs, Upward Bound, AIM, and BFET all have full-time staff dedicated to supporting you in your academic success.

The Learning Center: The Learning Center offers support for math, writing, sciences, social sciences, and more.

The Library: The library is a great place to do homework and learn more about how to perform research from dedicated staff. We encourage you to spend time in the library and other study areas around campus.

Programs that Offer Academic Coaching: AIM and BFET both offer academic coaching style support and more consistent outreach to support you and learn about your personal and academic goals.