January 1997 -- Volume 2, Number 3

Study Skills for Academic Success

Cheryl Wecksler (1995)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers
Pp. xv + 182
ISBN 0-8384-3958-6 (paper)
US $22.95

Study Skills for Academic Success is another volume in the expanding Tapestry series. It is a high intermediate to low advanced-level book for students planning to enter American colleges and universities. Throughout this integrated skills text, the development of students' sense of responsibility for their own learning is emphasized.

The stated purpose of this student book "is to introduce students to the type of work they will have to do in a typical university program and to provide them with the skills and strategies necessary to succeed in the system" (p. xi). The three skills concentrated on in Study Skills for Academic Success are reading texts and other types of academic writing, listening to lectures and taking notes, and taking tests. The question arises as to whether these are the most important skills for language learners to focus on as they prepare to enroll in regular college courses. For guidance in this I will compare aspects ofStudy Skills for Academic Successto studies conducted on this issue over the past sixteen years.

The first chapter, "Beginning the Academic Year," opens with exercises for getting oriented to a U.S. college; students can do these exercises on their own as they explore their campus. Students are also directed to possible sources of help available to them on campus. To launch their campus exploration, students will find in Appendix B, for quick and easy reference, a handy glossary of university terminology from audit to workshop. It's not surprising to find a questionnaire about study habits in the first chapter, since an important part of this book, and the entire Tapestry series, is to help students take responsibility for their own learning and become aware of learning strategies. In addition, the emphasis on taking responsibility for their own learning is graphically illustrated in the charts at the end of every chapter. Each chapter summary is prepared as a chart that shows work students will need to do on their own and work that is done in class involving use of the skills practiced in that chapter.

"Using the Library," chapter 2, contains a number of very practical exercises to introduce foreign students to a college library. All of the basic terminology is first introduced, along with alphabetizing. For a more thorough listing of library terminology students may consult part 2 of Appendix B at the back of the book. Exercises on using the terms are followed by the Library [-1-] of Congress cataloguing system. The clear directions on how to find materials using a computerized catalogue appear user-friendly for students. However, recent research indicates that time spent introducing the library system to enrolling students would be better invested developing other skills. It seems that very few college professors actually require any kind of library research from their first-year students (Kehe & Kehe, 1996).

The next two chapters lead students through practice with authentic academic readings (found at the back of the book in Appendix A), preparing study notes from readings, taking notes from taped lectures, getting involved in class discussions, paraphrasing, summarizing, and preparing for and taking objective tests and essay tests. According to a survey by Ostler (1980), international students in U.S. colleges believe that the ability to read textbooks and the ability to take notes in class are the most important skills for them to develop. San Diego State University faculty ranked reading as the English skill most important to students in their courses, with listening close behind (Johns, 1981). These perceived needs of students and faculty are addressed in chapters 3 and 4, beginning with a nice list of signal words in chapter 3. This is followed by an explanation of the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) reading strategy and a practice exercise. There are then several useful activities for paraphrasing, leading into a major section on summarizing in chapter 4. This is an important part of this book, as the ability to react to and summarize a reading from a book or journal is required in authentic college assignments (Horowitz, 1986). Ostler also concludes from her survey that "Both undergraduates and graduates...need work in learning summary skills" (1980, p. 498). The summarizing work in this text also involves listening to taped lectures and taking notes.

Chapter 4 contains one page on synthesizing materials from multiple sources. Horowitz (1986) found fifteen samples of this type of writing task in his survey of actual writing assignments given to students. The three synthesizing exercises in this text could be strengthened a great deal in the classroom by adding teacher-generated supplementary materials; they can easily serve as springboards for instructors planning to teach this complex skill.

Chapters 3 and 4 both conclude with sections on test-taking preparation. Both of these sections contain many good strategies for approaching both objective and essay exams. The group of thirty U.S. professors in the Kehe and Kehe study recommend that foreign students practice taking multiple-choice tests (1996), and undergraduates see a definite need for greater skill in taking multiple-choice exams (Ostler, 1980). This type of test is standard fare in the large lecture courses in which most first-year students find themselves, so the exercises for taking objective tests found in chapter 3 are welcome. Also worth mentioning here are the exercises in time management skills that should be employed when [-2-] writing tests. My students have found these to be quite useful for test preparation.

The most important skill needed by foreign students entering U.S. colleges, according to nearly one-half of the professors interviewed by Kehe and Kehe (1996), is to be able to talk to them and ask for clarification. Many faculty expressed frustration "that foreign students often say they understand when, in fact, they do not. Also, too often, foreign students wait to talk to professors until it is too late for them to catch up" (1996, p. 113). These skills are only referred to twice in Study Skills for Academic Success very briefly in the chapter 1 section "Getting Help on Campus," and later in chapter 4. There are three exercises in chapter 4 which directly prepare students for class participation, but I would like to have seen more exercises to help students formulate questions. The foreign college students in Ostler's (1980) study ranked the ability to ask questions in class as their third most important need.

The final chapter of the text is "Working on a Group Project." Here the author follows up on her advice in earlier chapters about the benefits of group study, with tasks to prepare students for participating in a group project. The exercises in this chapter include meeting deadlines, brainstorming ideas, library research, writing a thesis statement, and giving an oral presentation. Obviously, these activities are relevant for most assignments whether they are done in groups or individually. The tasks set in this chapter lead students to an oral report rather than the essay that is found in many other study skills texts. This is appropriate since in general, first-year courses require one to two pages of writing per semester (Kehe & Kehe, 1996). Also, it is refreshing to find an academic study skills book that does not work through comparison and contrast and other rhetorical modes. Understanding different modes of writing or having the ability to write a research paper was seen as being unnecessary by all of the professors in the Kehe and Kehe study (1996). Many of these professors said that American students entering college today do not have these skills. Ten of the thirty professors recommended foreign students to practice writing under time pressure. It seems that because plagiarism is on the rise, more and more shorter in-class writing is being required.

Cheryl Wecksler has made a fine contribution to the Tapestry series. Study Skills for Academic Success takes enrolling students through the basics of the college study experience with clear explanations, good models and excellent activities. Highly motivated learners could use this as a self-study text, but most would need some guidance from an instructor. Although parts of this book may not actually address the type of work first-year students typically do, I have found sections of Study Skills for Academic Success to be very helpful in my courses. Instructors of upper-level EAP [-3-] students will find certain chapters or individual exercises in this book, together with the teacher's manual and cassette tape, to be quite useful for practice in any of the skills.

References

Horowitz, D.M. (1986). What professors actually require: Academic tasks for the ESL classroom, TESOL Quarterly, 20, 445-462.

Johns, A.M. (1981). Necessary English: A faculty survey. TESOL Quarterly, 15, 51-57.

Kehe, D. & Kehe, P. (1996). Professors' expectations of foreign students in freshman-level courses. JALT Journal, 18, 108- 115.

Ostler, S.E. (1980). A survey of academic needs for advanced ESL. TESOL Quarterly, 14, 489-520.

Timothy Stewart
Miyazaki International College
tstewart@miyazaki-mic.ac.jp


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