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What Are Academic Skills?

Margo Upson
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Academic skills are a collection of study habits, learning strategies, and time management tools that help students learn and absorb school lessons. For most students, learning is about much more than access to information. Teachers often include academic skills in their lessons in order for students to really master certain concepts. These skills not only benefit the students when it comes time to take tests, but can also help in the future: solid study skills are essential for college success, for instance, and learning to balance multiple demands at once is valuable to many different career paths.

Core Skill Areas

Education around the world tends to focus on five primary areas: language arts, including reading and writing; mathematics; science; history; and technological literacy. Academic skills go hand in hand with these core subjects, giving students the tools they need to deeply learn the key lessons of each discipline.

Importance to Early Schooling

Students are typically exposed to academic skills from a very early age, often without even realizing it. The practice of daily homework, for instance, helps elementary students learn how to manage their time. Reading and discussing a book chapter by chapter emphasizes the importance of breaking large assignments into smaller, more digestible chunks, and keeping a daily journal of thoughts or a lab notebook during a semester of chemistry reinforces the notion of note taking and self-review.

In most cases, academic skills are organizational in nature. Students must learn to organize their time, their notes, and their study habits in order to effectively progress through a class.

Research is also a major component. Effective research skills do not come naturally to most students, and must be honed and refined over time. Elementary research projects that center on current events or class field trips pave the way for more advanced high school projects, college research papers, and even graduate thesis work.

Computer Literacy as an Educational Cornerstone

Technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in education, which makes learning how to work with computers an essential learning skill. Most major research databases are online, and the Internet also provides a wealth of information on most any topic imaginable. Students who learn how to navigate these sources, as well as how to sort reputable information from illegitimate sites, are the best prepared to succeed in a world that is ever more computer-centric.

Computer skills are often taught at the elementary level through exercises like WebQuests or Internet scavenger hunts. Older students may take research courses that focus on maximizing computer tools for academic purposes. More and more, assignments in all disciplines incorporate word processing, web posting, and Internet research in order to help emphasize these skills.

Impact on Test Scores

While class participation and daily assignments are important parts of academic learning, the bulk of a student’s grade is generally assessed based on test performance. Academic skills are particularly important when it comes to studying for exams. Simply mastering the material is not usually enough: students must also demonstrate that they can synthesize information, draw their own conclusions, and apply lessons learned to new scenarios. All of this requires some sort of academic skill set.

Doing well on exams is also important when it comes to life after school. Standardized tests are used throughout the world as a means of assessing students’ aptitude for college or university admissions. Graduate programs typically make use of entrance exams, too. Students who have learned how to study and concentrate for long periods of time are poised to score the best on these sorts of tests.

Perfecting Study Skills in College

For many students, the academic skills needed to get through high school are slightly different than those needed to conquer the challenges of university life. College offers students a lot of new freedoms, both personally and academically. In order to help students adjust to these changes, many universities sponsor Academic Resource Centers focused specifically on academic skill acquisition. These centers typically employ tutors and counselors who can help students come up with study plans, chart out time management schemes, and balance competing demands.

Real-Life Implications

Mastering good habits in the classroom can also have profound effects on life after graduation. Much of what it takes to succeed in school is also required to succeed on the job. Time management, personal discipline, and the ability to complete multiple tasks simultaneously are all keys to good work ethic, and are the building blocks of most required job skills.

How To Develop Academic Skills

Though there are an extremely broad array of academic skills that can help kids to perform well on tests, essays, and evaluations, all require a few core abilities. Generally, these are:

  • Concentration
  • Recall
  • Persistence

While the "hard skills" that result from these general abilities can be taught directly at any point in life, abilities become harder to change as time goes on. Still, each can be reinforced through exercises and sound practices.


One of the most helpful and efficient ways to increase concentration is to practice it through yoga or meditation. While kids don't naturally understand the value of these ancient arts, children as young as eight can use them to improve concentration.

Both standard yoga and meditation require practitioners to pay complete attention to the breath of the body. When their attention inevitably strays to other things, meditation simply asks them to return to their breath. Over time, kids may find that the attention they developed in a meditative state carries through to studying or doing other things.


Recall is the ability to remember the things you learn under pressure. This is especially important when kids find themselves under stress, as the human mind tends to forget more when highly stressed. To improve your recall, you should do your best to reduce your stress. Ways to do this include:

  • Sleeping well at night
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining good social relationships
  • Practicing under pressure


Persistence is the ability to continue despite experiencing setbacks or disappointments. The academic world is full of difficulties and setbacks. The adult grant application process, for example, almost always yields many rejections before even a single success. In order to train persistence, students must see examples of mentors and role models experiencing the same hardships they do.

What Are Some Good Academic Skills

It isn't possible to learn every single academic skill in a single study session. Good habits are developed over time and honed through practice. It can, however, help to know what specific skills successful students use. Here are some:

  • Managing appointments and classes with a calendar
  • Prioritizing important work over other work
  • Taking detailed notes in class
  • Asking questions without fear of judgment
  • Cooperating well with others on group assignments

Academic Skills Examples

While there are too many useful skills to list here, most successful adults have used these at one time or another to learn difficult material:

Studying Effectively

It may sound obvious, but studying effectively is among the most important of all academic skills. The most efficient study strategies make use of one or more mnemonic devices. Though there are plenty of examples of such devices online, a simple one is to create an abbreviation. To remember the order of the north, east, south, and west cardinal directions, for example, kids are sometimes encouraged to remember the ridiculous abbreviation "never eat soggy waffles."

When studying for material with clear right and wrong answers, flashcards can't be beaten. Since flashcards require students to use recall, rather than deductive abilities, they powerfully strengthen memories of specific items that would otherwise be all too easy to forget.

Reading Actively

Though most students understand how to read, reading to absorb content can be much harder. One way to hack the brain to remember better is to highlight at least one key phrase per paragraph of reading material. This tells the mind that the material is important and that it shouldn't simply be dismissed as filler.

To add extra power to a reading session, many prudent students write notes in the margin regarding any questions or misunderstandings they may have about the material. Others simply write out connections or ideas that come about.

Using Test-Taking Techniques

Taking tests effectively is an invaluable skill for students of any age, and multiple-choice tests are perfect for using special strategies. Crossing off unlikely answers, for example, can statistically improve students' chances of guessing correctly without any additional research. Another technique is to abandon unclear items and search for the answer later in the test. There are innumerable other simple strategies, and each can ease test anxiety and improve grades.

Understanding Sources

The world of today is full of subpar information, and this makes sorting good references from bad ones all the more important. Unfortunately, students are often taught far too late how to find reputable academic articles online. Often, it isn't until late college that young adults learn to scrutinize sample sizes, populations, and study design. The earlier kids learn about these scholarly nuances, the better.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margo Upson
By Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education, Margo Upson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as a Practical Adult Insights writer. Her wide-ranging interests and skill at diving into new topics make her articles informative, engaging, and valuable to readers seeking to expand their knowledge.
Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Dec 16, 2012

@irontoenail - Teaching those kinds of skills is more important than ever now, in my opinion, because kids are exposed to a lot of non-standard writing. A couple of decades ago, they wouldn't see very much, if any, writing that wasn't mostly correct, because they'd mostly be reading published books.

But now a lot of them do all their reading online and the grammar online is terrible. Basic academic skills, like grammar, spelling and sentence structure need to be formally taught. Or the next generation will be writing in text speak.

By irontoenail — On Dec 15, 2012

I read an article recently that was talking about how the US has fallen behind in basic literacy and why this happened. It was really interesting, because it had the example of a school where the kids were doing really badly and the teachers just thought they were lazy.

But, when the kids were tested on basic skills, like even knowing how to use the word "although", they simply didn't understand it. Turns out, like many schools, they had been trying to get the kids to be creative, telling them to write fiction, and expecting the academic English study skills to just form on their own.

For some kids, they do. Many, though, need to be taught the rules before they understand them. When they started doing that in this school, all of a sudden their students went from failing to passing in a single year.

By anon263314 — On Apr 23, 2012

What is a word that's used like academic skills?

By cupcake15 — On Jul 19, 2010

Mutsy- I’ve heard of Kumon. Along with time management they also enforce a mastery of mathematical computation in the earlier levels.

This ensures that the student will be able to tackle algebra and develop a higher order of mathematical reasoning skills for subjects like calculus.

Kumon is a very forward thinking program and most of the students have advanced academic skills in reading and math.

By mutsy — On Jul 19, 2010

I agree that time management along with in depth knowledge for math and reading allows most students to learn new material with relative ease.

I enrolled my daughter in the Kumon Math and Reading Center because she had difficulty with her time management and could not finish her tests in math.

At Kumon, all assignments are timed with a start and end time. This is done so the student is forced to focus on the material and not waste time.

After a while the student becomes accustomed to performing tests and general work assignments within a certain timeframe.

My daughter now finishes her assignments first in her class and gets straight A’s.

Kumon really teaches time management skills to students which helps them excel in other academic subjects.

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education,...
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