When Study Skills Cause Misery

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! For me, the holiday lived up to its name and was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all of the blessings in my life. We hosted 30 people for the holiday, but I didn’t cook a thing! My husband’s parents graciously took control of the turkey and mashed potatoes. Everyone else brought a dish to pass. (THAT’S the way to host Thanksgiving!) I truly enjoyed catching up with lots of cousins, having a heart-to-heart chat with my last surviving uncle, and squishing my adorable niece who was celebrating her 1st birthday. I am so grateful!

As we all head back into the grind of school and work, I thought I would keep today’s newsletter somewhat simple. I am petitioning you to keep it simple, too.

A few weeks ago, a subscriber sent a screen image of a “study tip” posted by another study skills company on Facebook. He wanted to know what I thought about it:

studying problems

Honestly? I find it appalling! In the interest of students everywhere and defending the reputation of “study skills,” I have to call this out…on many levels:

First, this should never be a “study skill!” Study skills are about learning efficiently. Study skills should drastically reduce the misery associated with learning and provide students with a sense of interest, control, and confidence. A labor-intensive “strategy” (term used loosely) like this is simply demoralizing! This post sets study skills backwards by 100 years. (This is probably an insult to our ancestors.)

Secondly, it is not effective! Rehearsing the same thing over-and-over again keeps students running in place on the bottom rung of the Learning Pyramid (Bloom’s Taxonomy). There is NO room in this process for higher-level thinking! Shame. on. them.

Finally, this is torture! Despite my shock and disgust, I calmly shared this with my mom to see what she thought. She immediately replied, “That was our punishment when I was in school! If we talked back to the teacher, we would have to write ‘I will not talk back to the teacher…’ 40 times. It was effective punishment because it was a miserable task that we wanted to avoid at all costs!”

Mom has an excellent point. So, why on Earth would anyone think that students would embrace this or similar study skills?

What Are Study Skills?

The most effective “study skills” should accomplish three specific goals. They should be:

  1. Time-efficient. Students are human and humans (including you and me) prefer the path of least resistance. If we respect this natural preference of our students, they will be much more receptive to learning.
  2. Effective. It goes without saying, but if you are going to take the time to learn and DO a study skill, then it should work. Ideally, most strategies should thrust students up a few levels on the Learning Pyramid to take the best advantage of their brain’s potential.
  3. Apply across content areas. When strategies only work for specific types of content, students are not able to identify when to use them. Students are just learning the content; they don’t know the best way to organize it…yet! To minimize confusion, study skills should generally apply across most content areas. (To be fair, this particular strategy is not limited to a specific subject-area, but many “study skills” are.)


If you have been a subscriber for any length of time, you know that I typically do not engage in negative comments regarding other study skills resources. For this reason, I have completely disguised their identity…and even changed their logo.

“Study skills” get a bad rap because they are misunderstood. They are often perceived as being time and labor-intensive strategies that provide very little benefit.

It’s no wonder!

As an evangelist for study skills and an advocate for students, I had to speak up on this one! If you choose to embrace study skills for your students or children, be clear on your objective. Students will be infinitely more receptive…and successful!

-Susan Kruger


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