What Are Some Examples of Academic Skills?

By Amy Freeman and Anjannette ConnerLast Updated Jul 26, 2020 7:39:20 PM ET
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Whether you’re headed off to college or you’re a parent of a grade school student, you may have wondered what it takes to excel in school and whether you (or your student) have the tools you need to succeed. Understanding math, science and other core subjects is essential, but those subjects aren’t the only things you need to master to thrive as a student. Case in point: Albert Einstein was possibly the most important scientist of the 20th century, but his track record as a student wasn't particularly impressive. 

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Of course, part of the reason Einstein sometimes struggled was that he didn’t usually like school and the teaching methods applied, but that doesn’t mean he couldn't have made some improvements by applying the critical skills needed to do well academically. You may or may not be the next person to make a world-changing scientific discovery, but you can always focus on building up your academic skills to help improve your grades and your overall learning experience as a student.


Learn to Take Excellent Notes

Quality note-taking doesn’t involve simply writing down everything an instructor says during a lecture — word for word. It also doesn’t mean recording lectures on a smartphone and listening to them later. The goal of taking notes is to capture the main ideas and main points from a lecture so you can review them later when you have more time to really absorb the information. That means your notes need to make sense to you. Even better, if your note-taking abilities are really on-point, someone else could read your notes and understand the main points the instructor talked about in the lecture.

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Unfortunately, taking notes isn't a one-size-fits-all type of skill set. Most people develop their own individualized system that works for them, and a system that works for one person might not work for another. For example, some people like to take notes in an outline form that features main idea headings with bullet points underneath them that provide more details. Others write their notes in paragraph form using a narrative style, although they typically leave out all the small words to save time. 

A mind map serves as a useful note-taking tool for people who are visual learners. Tony Buzan developed the two-dimensional concept of mind mapping, which uses a visual layout of information that the human mind easily recognizes and remembers. Mind maps start with a large circle that represents the main idea or goal. Smaller circles labeled with main facts or ideas related to the topic are attached to the main circle, followed by additional circles containing information that expand on those facts and ideas. This process repeats for any points with additional information. In addition to using it for notes, the process works well for brainstorming new ideas and working through problems.

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Practice Critical Thinking

The ability to think critically will help you succeed in your classes and in the world after you graduate. What does this mean exactly? When you practice critical thinking, you analyze an issue based on the information and facts given to you or information you determine for yourself. Critical thinkers are able to separate the facts of a situation from how they might feel about an issue or how they initially react to a situation. A very simple example of critical thinking would be making medical decisions based on analyzing the information and advice provided by physicians — and possibly even researching additional information on your own — instead of making these decisions based on fear and other emotions.   

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A key component of critical thinking is a willingness to dig deeper and to refuse to accept situations at face value without questioning them. If someone had told you as a child that the sky is green, for example, you could have just accepted it, or you could have used your critical thinking skills to question the statement by asking for evidence to prove the sky is green. 

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As you develop your critical thinking skills, it will become easier to formulate and organize arguments for assignments and easier to interpret the information presented to you in lectures and assignments. These skills will then move with you into the future as you work through problems and challenges in the workplace.

Master Time Management

As a student, you typically have a lot to juggle. You could have a paper due tomorrow in one class, a reading assignment to finish for another class by Wednesday and an exam scheduled for yet another class on Friday. While you might not consider time management an academic skill, it’s a vital skill to master if you want to achieve academic success by completing your work on time and preparing for projects and tests.

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Learning how to manage your time wisely reduces the likelihood of waking up on a Sunday morning with far too many assignments to complete before the next day. Prioritization is a key component of time management, which means you have to determine up front which assignments are most important and what you need to work on first. 

The University of Leeds recommends using a system that focuses on the elements of urgency and importance for prioritizing tasks. If a task is both urgent and important, do it right away. This task is your top priority. An example would be studying for a major test in two days that counts as a large percentage of your grade. Next, focus your attention on tasks that are urgent but less important. This might be an assignment that is due the next day but only counts as a small percentage of your grade. 

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Assignments that are important but not urgent can wait until later to do them but should still be completed. An example would be a major paper that is worth a lot of points but isn’t due for a few weeks. If a task is not urgent or important, then it would be your last priority. If you run out of time, these tasks could be skipped entirely with little or no penalty. This could be assignments that aren’t due until the end of the semester that either serve as extra credit or only count as a very small percentage of your grade.

Capitalize on Reading and Writing Skills

Reading is an important academic skill, no matter what subject you're studying. You need to be able to read and comprehend text in pretty much every class you take, including math. When you're learning to read, you practice decoding words, especially words you haven't seen written down before. Reading and writing usually go hand-in-hand as skills. To write well, you use those decoding skills to develop an understanding of how words work together to form proper sentence structures. These skills will help you as you read and break down the text on the page. 

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As you continue in school, you will need to develop what is known as close reading skills. According to Harvard College Writing Center, when you perform a close reading of a text, you examine the words and sentences carefully, looking for details that stand out. You might also pause to ask or write down questions about what you're reading. The next step is to interpret what you read using your critical thinking skills. Depending on the assignment, you may also have to write a response to the text you read.