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When Study Skills Cause Misery

A client of mine found a study tip posted on an educational website. In fact, it was featured as the “study skill of the day.” He wanted to know what I thought about it. It read:

“Write the thing to study repeatedly on a sheet of paper 25-40 times.”

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Honestly? I find this appalling!

It is appalling that anyone would consider this a “study skill,” let alone a resource that claims to be an authority on education. However, this “strategy” (to use this term loosely) is similar to many other tips that are commonly grouped together with study skills.

In the interest of students everywhere and defending the reputation of “study skills,” it is important to understand why these types of “tips” should never be considered real study skills:

They are 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.

Secondly, they will take a LOT of time! Study skills are about learning efficiently. They should drastically reduce the misery associated with learning and provide students with a sense of interest, control, and confidence. A labor-intensive “strategy” like this is simply demoralizing! It sets study skills backwards by 100 years.

Finally, they are torture! Despite my shock and disgust, I calmly shared this tip 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 study skills like this?


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 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.)


“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!

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