Talk with almost any faculty member and they will tell you that many (sometimes it's most) of their students are unprepared for college. They lack basic skills in reading, writing, and computation but also don't have very effective study habits and techniques. Most teachers try to convey their concerns about this lack of preparedness to students, but often it feels as though those messages are falling on deaf ears.
In a survey, nearly 700 students, mostly sophomores, were asked how ready they felt for college. Did they think they were prepared for college-level work? Eighty percent of the sample had come directly from high school to college, and 70 percent said that their high schools had prepared them well for college. However, over 50 percent of these students considered college more challenging than they expected. When given a list and asked what two academic skills they wished that high school had helped them develop further, 48 percent said time management, 39 percent said exam preparation, 37 percent identified general study skills, and 27 percent noted independent thinking. Only 12 percent identified studying to understand and remember.
The survey also inquired about those academic skills and habits of the mind students intended to develop further in college. Their responses corresponded with those skills they wished had been better developed in high school, with the top three being time management, exam preparation, and general study skills. Only 15 percent intended to further develop their ability to think independently, and a modest 8 percent mentioned the skills needed for studying to understand and remember.
A good bit of research has documented the tendency of beginning college students to overestimate their skills and abilities, so the value of these data do not lie in their accuracy so much as in the insights they provide into student thinking about their preparation for and success in college. The researchers point out that data collected from fellow college students might be what it takes to get new students to move in the direction of more accurate self-assessment. If they don't believe what their teachers tell them is necessary for success, maybe they will pay attention to their peers who are reporting issues with time management and exam preparation.
The data reported here are institution-specific data, although the researchers include results from the national Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement showing that their results are comparable. The article does contain the instrument used in the survey, so institution-specific data could be collected, and it could easily be repurposed to solicit student assessments of their preparedness for a given course. If students taking the course reported that it required more study time than they'd expected and they wished their textbook reading skills were better, those assessments could be a useful addition to the syllabus or course website.
Several of the results merit further consideration. These students were very concerned with time management. It is an important skill for success in college, indeed in life. But is it something explicitly taught or considered in most courses? It's implicitly taught with due dates and penalties for missing those deadlines, but procrastination and putting things off until the last minute still seem like the default modes of most students. Are there design features of assignments that might help students with time management? Assignments can be partitioned with sequenced due dates, and that approach does prevent procrastination, but does it teach students how to manage their time when a task isn't partitioned and deadlines aren't provided for them?
It is also troubling that very few of these students saw the need to develop independent thinking capabilities or study skills that resulted in understanding and remembering course content. They did see the need to learn how to better prepare for exams but apparently didn't think that understanding the material was a good way to prepare. Yes, the students are wrong, but what is it about our policies and practices that is making them think that understanding and remembering the content isn't important?
As the researchers note, “The skills and habits underlying self-regulated learning that facilitate college readiness also are those needed for career readiness.” (p. 169) “Students need to be made aware that, even with good grades, underdevelopment of [these] skills may jeopardize their employment prospects.” (p. 169)
Reference: Verrell, P.A. and McCabe, N.R., (2015). In their own words: Using self-assessment of college readiness to develop strategies for self-regulated learning. College Teaching, 63 (4), 162-170.