Study Skills Reduce High School Dropout Rates

I was a freshman in college when study skills radically changed my life. I went from struggling in K-12 to “straight As” in college.

About six weeks after my first semester of college success, however, I was suddenly overcome with a deep, visceral ANGER. “Why didn’t someone teach me how to learn before!?” I was mentally preparing for an upcoming project, but a strong sense of overwhelm was creeping over me.

study skills reduce high school dropout rates

I had drifted into a tailspin of anxiety and was trying to fight it. “Wait a minute! Things are different now,” I coached myself. “Now, you know how to do this!”

But that thought only reminded me of all of the years of frustration. And that’s when the rage set in.

The Frustration

The FRUSTRATION. Even now, 24 years later, it is impossible to gather enough words to properly express how painful the FRUSTRATION of school was.

If I had put my head in a vice and cranked really hard… that would have been less painful than the pain of watching my classmates appear to catch on to everything faster than me; than knowing I was missing something, but not being able to figure out what it was. The psychological term for that experience is “cognitive dissonance;” that’s when the experience of something is different than the appearance of how it should be.

Chronic cognitive dissonance causes pain. There’s the literal pain of neurons trying to make meaningful connections in the brain… and struggling because of the inconsistencies.

And then, there’s the Emotional Pain. The pain of feeling stupid. The pain of feeling like something is wrong with you. The pain of trying, but failing… again.

Two Factors Linked to High School Dropout Rates

I will never forget the pain of that FRUSTRATION. Nor will I ever forget the extreme sense of freedom and relief I gained from learning how to manage the learning process… thanks to study skills.

So, it does not surprise me to learn that a recent study, cited in Science Daily, has confirmed two behaviors are linked to high school dropout rates:

  • Aggression (No wonder… aggression is one result of FRUSTRATION…)
  • Weak study skills

The longitudinal study tracked 620 randomly selected sixth-graders. Teachers completed behavior profiles of these students over the following six years, tracking students’ levels of aggression and competence with study skills.

The Results

There was an extremely high correlation between “high levels of aggression” and “low study skills.” Conversely, there was also an extremely high correlation between “low levels of aggression” and “high levels of study skills.” According to the study, “Most students in the High Aggression group were in the Low Study Skills group, and all students in the High Study Skills group were in the Low Aggression group. “1

Students ranked in the High Aggression/Low Study Skills group had a dropout rate of 50%.

Students in the Low Aggression/High Study Skills group had a dropout rate of less than 2%!

This should not be a surprise… as human beings, it is in our nature to strive for success. Students don’t drop out because they simply decided to NOT be successful; they did so because they were F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-E-D.

(Aggression is only one visible indicator of frustration. “Withdrawal” is also another coping mechanism for frustration, but that behavior was not observed in this study.)

Nobody has ever taught these students how to learn and manage themselves in school effectively. However, when students have the tools to be successful, they are much more likely to… well, to use them to be successful.

Back to “The Rage”…

I remember that day in college so vividly… that tailspin of anxiety and rage. I don’t know if I sat there for two minutes or two hours, but every frame of my thoughts and emotions is still as clear today as it was back then.

Fortunately, I soon came to my senses, realizing that I couldn’t change the past for me, but I could change the future for other students. It was in that moment that I resolved to dedicate my life to developing awareness of and teaching study skills.

Study skills transform lives! They changed mine. And, scientific studies continue to confirm their dramatic impact on students. But, they are not just for “aggressive” students. They are for all students… because all students benefit from learning how to: most efficiently learn, manage their time, organize their assignments, and communicate with others. These are tools of self-management, and they serve students for life.

To bring study skills to your students, click here. If you are a parent, click here.

To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger Signature

Susan Kruger, M.Ed.
Founder & Author of SOAR

Original Study

1 Pamela Orpinas, Katherine Raczynski, Hsien-Lin Hsieh, Lusine Nahapetyan, Arthur M. Horne. Longitudinal Examination of Aggression and Study Skills From Middle to High School: Implications for Dropout PreventionJournal of School Health, 2018; 88 (3): 246 DOI: 10.1111/josh.12602

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