With the value of a good education being arguably the one thing about which there is a global consensus and new universities popping up everywhere from Istanbul to Incheon, one would think that the quality of study skills advice - i.e. guidance on how students can study more effectively and efficiently - might be enjoying a similar trajectory; even more so guidance available in English, the present global lingua franca and increasingly the worldwide medium of instruction.
Yet from our offices in London - surely a candidate for the title of unofficial capital of the planet - our company's perspective is that this posited trend is by no means a reality. A review of some of the most interesting and popular (and to our minds, in many ways quite inspirational) texts in this area yields a different picture: works that are sometimes scantily-referenced and, at times, seem to be more compendia of anecdotes than anything more structured or even profound.
We began our review by looking at the The Study Skills Handbook
by Stella Cottrell (Palgrave 2008, Third Edition). This book - which is thought-provoking and contains some very valuable advice - is particularly useful as a general reference guide to use within the educational process, not least the title's presumed main market of the United Kingdom. Yet on specific advice, some of its suggestions are perhaps of slightly less utility.
For example, Cottrell recommends that the week before the exam, the candidate should 'visit the exam room and get the feel of it', while the night before an examination should be characterised by 'a snack and a hot, relaxing bath before bed'; on the day of an exam, eating well prior to the exam - slow-releasing carbohydrates richly in evidence - is, it is strongly inferred, best practice. Yet to many students, these doubtless well-intentioned suggestions will read like punishing - if not frightening - injunctions. A reconnaissance mission to the exam room a week before the exam is due to take place could mean a week of nightmares; a relaxing time the night before an examination, while a nice idea in theory, could translate into the dropping of at least one grade; and a hearty meal before an exam is for many a guarantor of indigestion and possibly violent sickness.
Our review found a similar state of affairs online. The immensely popular Study Skills and Strategies
- accessible at http://www.studygs.net/
- is a vast repository of study tips, but while there are plenty of concrete, actionable suggestions, many of them do not venture too far beyond the obvious. The wonderfully-titled Ten Tips for Terrific Test Taking
includes such hints as 'Be comfortable but alert' and 'Read directions carefully!' Another article, this time on the topic of critical reading
, is restricted to a summarisation form and some accompanying bullet points about the importance of independent thought.
Stepping back in time, the classic Robert Barrass tome Students Must Write: Guide to Better Writing in Coursework and Examinations
(Routledge 1995, Second Edition) - a paperback studded with not a few dry allusions to the ironies of academia - is notwithstanding its tremendous value a limited work in many of its insights: Barrass' insistence that 'It is not possible to revise everything in the few weeks preceding an examination unless you have understood, learned, and revised throughout the course' will have caused a wry smile to break out across the face of more than one of his loyal readers.
With the quality, relevance and applicability of even some of the most popular and highly-regarded study skills works in the English language somewhat questionable, we feel that it is time for a new kind of study guide that gives students more than sensible precautions and predictable platitudes. And this company has every confidence that it has produced a study guide which is not only of immense value to students worldwide, but which will, in its own inimitable way, redefine the genre.