Tutor Training

Study Skills

Often, along with knowing little about their learning style, tutees know little about study strategies. Some students are aware that they lack skills in this area, but they are not sure how to “fix” what is wrong. Following is a compilation of various study skills that you should encourage your tutees to employ. This page is by no means a complete study skills resource. You may find that you need more information on study strategies once tutoring is underway. If this is the case, please ask a TASC staff for alternate study strategy resources.

Note Taking

Your tutees may give several reasons for why they do not take notes. Perhaps their instructor talks too fast or lectures directly from the book. Do not accept these excuses. The advantages of taking notes always outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Requires organization on the part of the student.
  • Requires critical thinking.
  • Develops active listening skills.
  • Requires concentration.
  • Solidifies understanding.
  • Provides a record of what was discussed.
  • Aids student in determining what the instructor thinks is important.
  • Strengthens some learning styles.

Tutees should be encouraged to bring their notes to every tutoring session. These notes provide a written record that both you and the tutee can review. The student can also use these notes to make up example test questions or flash cards for test review. Also, you can then determine if the tutee is taking effective notes. Are the notes legible, organized, and coherent? If not, suggest some of the following:

  • ALWAYS read the chapter to be discussed in class ahead of time.
  • Identify unfamiliar terms or ideas.
  • Review previous lecture notes. This will help you identify items to focus on during the lecture.
  • Always label your notes with the subject, date, and chapter (if possible) at the top of your paper. If you use more than one sheet of paper per day, number and label each page.
  • Sit close to the front of the room and away from any visual or auditory distractions.
  • Eat before coming to class.
  • PAY ATTENTION! Having a general understanding of the content ahead of time (see the first item, above) should help, but staying focused is difficult. You may have to continually assess what you need to do in order to keep on task.
  • Look for verbal and visual clues that indicate important points.
  • Write legibly and use abbreviations or shorthand. This gives you more time to think about the topics being presented. If you have questions, ASK.
  • After the lecture, make sure to review and/or re-write your notes within a few hours of the lecture. This will reinforce what you have heard and help you identify items that need more explanation.

If your tutee is having difficulty with note taking, refer him/her to the links below or ask a TASC staff member for additional note-taking resources. Several links to more information on note taking are listed below:

Listening Skills

The one skill you will use most in college is the skill to listen. Yet how many of us have ever taken a “course” in listening? There are strategies to consider that can improve your ability to “hear” a lecture and interact with communicated instructional material.

“Which activity involves the most amount of listening? Students spend 20 percent of all school related hours just listening. If television watching and one-half of conversations are included, students spend approximately 50 percent of their waking hours just listening. For those hours spent in the classroom, the amount of listening time can be almost 100 percent. Look at your own activities, especially those related to college. Are most of your activities focused around listening, especially in the classroom?”

Source: U of Washington website

Take a few minutes to look at the following tips:

“We were given two ears but only one mouth. This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking.”

Source: Canadian Association of Student Activity Advisors Website

Textbook Marking

Textbook marking is another study technique. You may find that some of your tutees are hesitant to mark up their new textbooks. However, textbook marking greatly increases recall. Here are some suggestions:

  • Highlight to help locate important information.
  • Underline main points to make them more recognizable.
  • Number sub-headings to help your mind organize the thoughts presented.
  • Circle vocabulary words to draw attention to them.
  • Paraphrase in the margins to help organize and condense the information.
  • If the tutee does not wish to write in the textbook (sometimes unmarked books will bring a better prices if re-sold), use small Post-It Notes on the pages.

A word of caution here – your tutee should not be using this technique on everything he/she reads. Highlighting everything in pink only makes everything pink – it does not make it more understandable or make it stand out. If textbook marking is to be used successfully, it should be used with discretion, and then only after an entire section is read. Only main topic areas, vocabulary words, and items of emphasis should be noted.

Memory and Concentration

Along with note taking, successful students learn ways to increase their ability to remember. If your tutees complain of not being able to remember what they have studied, here are a few suggested sites. Please take a quick look at each of them to familiarize yourself with what is available:

Study Environment

What type of study environment does your tutee use? Is he/she studying in the living room with the television on and two children at his/her feet fighting for control of the remote? If this scenario sounds familiar to him/her, or you find that he/she is trying to study (maybe even thinking he/she is studying) while also interacting with friends (in the campus cafeteria, during a child’s soccer game, etc.), make the case for establishing a unique study place free from visual and auditory distractions. Preferably, this place should have all the necessary supplies at hand (dictionary, highlighter etc).


How often and how long is your tutee studying? Some students try to cram everything into a 3-hour study marathon. This does not work. The mind tends to remember the first and the last items covered while forgetting the middle. Had the student studied 30 minutes over a period of 6 days, he/she would have remembered more with less repetition.

If the student studies for longer periods, he should take 10- minute breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. The student will soon learn his frustration level. When the student is studying and feels frustrated, he should take a brief break. When starting back studying, the student’s mind will have cleared away those emotions. (See also Time Management below).


Associate new material with things the student already knows. You can also associate facts to images. This helps to make the information meaningful and aids in the organization and structure of the material. The more organized the information, the more successful the brain will be in locating the information.

Mnemonic Devices

One of the most successful ways to memorize information is to use mnemonics. Mnemonics are devices (usually rhymes or formulas) used to aid memory. For example, to remember the names of the Great Lakes, students use the first letter of each lake to spell HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). If the student visualizes summer homes on a lake, he can make this association even stronger. You modeling the use of mnemonic devices greatly increases the likelihood of your tutee using this technique as well.

Live a Healthy Life

It is also very important to exercise, eat a well balanced diet, and drink plenty of water. Along with this, the student should avoid alcohol, smoking, and caffeine. Also, GETTING PLENTY OF SLEEP is important (did you know lack of sleep and/or lack of quality sleep is as detrimental as being drunk or on drugs?).

Time Management

Surely, you’ve heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder”. Time management allows you to do this. Students with poor time management will have problems turning in assignments on time, always seem to be running late, and are generally disorganized. Students who tend to be perfectionists also suffer from poor time management skills. They tend to be a bit more organized, but find it hard to focus on the big picture. For some perfectionists, if they cannot do it “perfectly”, then it’s no use doing it at all. The following are some suggestions for helping your tutee overcome time management obstacles:

  • Make a list of items that need to be completed, and prioritize this list. Then, decide how long it will take to accomplish each of these tasks.
  • Use an organizer and assign yourself blocks of time to study. How long these “blocks” of study time should be will depend on the first step. If a task is more complicated, it will require more time. Remember, studying in shorter increments over a long period of time is better than cramming everything in over a short period of time.
  • Set goals for yourself and a timeline in which to reach those goals. Remember to be realistic when setting these goals and to reward yourself when these goals are reached.
  • Do not procrastinate. Do the hard stuff first. Instead of dwelling on a section, just do it and move on (the perfectionist will have more problems with this one). If you have kept to your established schedule, it will be easier to recognize when you are spending too much time on one part of the project.

Taking Tests

Test taking is not fun for anyone, but for those with test anxiety or problems with the above mentioned study skills, taking tests may be an even greater obstacle to overcome. Here are some general test taking guidelines you can give to your tutees:

  • Prepare and study in advance. Cramming is not studying. The more you study and prepare ahead of time, the less anxiety you will experience.
  • Ask questions about the test before studying for it. Is it multiple choice, true false, essay or a combination of these? Is there a study guide? Does the instructor have any old tests you could review so that you get a “feel” for the type of test he/she administers? Use this information as a guide for studying more efficiently.
  • Arrive for the test on time (about 5 – 10 minutes early).
  • Come prepared with needed test equipment (pencils, paper, calculator, etc.).
  • Stay relaxed. If you are having trouble doing this, take several, slow, deep breaths to relax. Also, avoid talking to other students before the test, their insecurities and doubts are easily transferred to the person listening to them.
  • Always read directions carefully.

Along with these general guidelines, there are also various ways to approach different types of tests. For more information on test taking strategies based on type of test, see these links: