Study skills and student attitudes in higher education

  • Linden Mary Salter-Duke

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The aim of the work presented here is to examine student attitudes to and experience of study from a variety of perspectives in order to establish a firm research foundation for a concept of Study Skills that is based on the students' experiences and plans, and which encourages students to develop their own approaches to study. The practical and theoretical bases for Study Skills are examined, and quantitative and qualitative studies of students' attitudes and experience are undertaken.

    The thesis reviews existing approaches to Study Skills, the study process, and issues relating to developing student autonomy. The attitudes of students at the start and end of their first semester at university are examined using the Study Process Questionnaire (Biggs, 1987c). A qualitative study of learning journals kept by students in their first semester is under taken, using as a focus the issues arising from this quantitative study.

    The work leads to the conclusion that the Study Process Questionnaire is generally a useful and coherent instrument for examining Deep and Surface student approaches, but that the third approach incorporated in the instrument, the Achieving Approach, is made up of two separate elements: the Achieving Motive and the Achieving Strategy, which are not closely related. It is also concluded that the instrument must be used with great caution when examining individual cases.

    Students' scores on the instrument at the start and end of the semester are generally similar, except that scores on the Achieving Strategy sub-scale fall markedly; this appears to be a response to the pressure of work. A surprising finding is that student attitudes as assessed using the instrument are only modestly related to their academic success: far more important is age, since older students achieve higher grade point averages than younger ones. This is explicable in terms of the unusually wide age range of the students in this study.

    Other findings indicating differences between students are explained as the result of students' intelligent choices based on their own evaluations of what they wish from their university study.

    The qualitative study provides further findings, including the following: students are different from each other; university life is tough; nevertheless, university life is greatly valued by many students; confidence and maturity increase with experience; a cheerful outlook is very important; students dislike like failing and getting negative criticism; many students gain reassurance from knowing that others have similar problems.

    Implications for university policy include the need for students to take a responsible part in university decision-making, and the desirability of admitting mature students.

    The thesis concludes by outlining an approach to Study Skills based on the experience of the students and the finding that their attitudes are relatively fixed and intelligible. This approach aims to empower students by offering them the information and skills they need to make well-informed and responsible decisions about their own studies.
    Date of Award1994
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJim Cameron (Supervisor)

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