This week’s blog post is based on the webinar delivered by Dr Dyedra Morrissey. Morrissey applies psychological research, management theory and learning science in order to develop practical strategies to help people of all ages to be more proficient and more productive in achieving their goals. This post will focus on how to prepare students with study skills for university and considers seven key areas that teachers can assist with. You can listen to the full webinar here.
Grit: the power of passion and perseverance
Based on the work of Angela Duckworth, Morrissey argues that to be successful you need a combination of passion and perseverance which is often referred to as grit. At university, a student’s passion for their subject creates energy and enthusiasm and this is needed in order to achieve. Duckworth argues that the most important thing is grit and this involves ‘working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it’. Perseverance can then help students to endure difficult times at university so that they continue to put in the time and effort needed to succeed.
‘Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.’
The why question: goal setting
Teachers should also encourage students to consider the question: why do you want to study this subject? Thinking about this helps the student to determine whether they have a passion for the subject and their answer to this question – their motivation – is what is going to sustain them at university.
Teachers need to emphasise this to students whilst they’re thinking about which subject to study. Answering the why question subsequently helps with goal setting – long, medium and short term – as it helps students to think about what they want to achieve and what to prioritise.
Often students do not know what they’re good at but there are ways in which they can try to determine this. The following model can help assist students in thinking about their strengths.
Strengthsfinder 2.0: Clifton Strengths.
Finding your passion relies on understanding what you’re good at. Once students have determined this then they are often more motivated to persevere with their subject at university.
Dealing with difficulties
It is almost certain that students will encounter difficulties when they start at university. Morrissey suggests that teachers should encourage students to consider what to do when they are faced with things which do not align with their strengths.
One of the coping methods includes encouraging students to ask themselves the following questions:
Can you do it another way?
Can you draw on something you already know?
Can you do something to prepare first?
Can you find more information?
Can you ask someone to help?
Can you do it collaboratively?
Can you use tools to help you?
One of the key differences between school and university is that students will have to manage their time themselves. Unlike school, nobody will dictate to them about how they should spend their time. In order to succeed, they need to manage their time effectively and the following strategies may help with this process.
Goal setting: this should include, short, medium and long-term goal setting and a break-down of tasks for each one.
Being realistic: students need to factor in things such as fatigue and other commitments and build this into their schedule.
Prioritising: assessing what needs to be completed first is an important skill for students to gain and will help them to meet deadlines.
Scheduling and planning: establishing a study timetable early on will help them to manage their time effectively.
Breaking tasks down into smaller chunks: this will make tasks feel more manageable.
More to university than work: encouraging students to remember that university is also a place to develop other important life skills is also important.
Rewards and motivators: building these in will provide students with an extrinsic motivator.
One of the key skills for students at university is structured working.
Bringing structure into their course’s materials and resources is essential. However, it can also inform the way in which they structure their own ideas; for example, how might they answer an essay question? They will also need to consider how to structure an argument and think about how they organise their points.
Morrissey suggests that by encouraging students to practise these skills at school, they can then apply them straight away when they get to university.
Thriving at university
Finally, it is not enough for students to merely survive at university; as teachers, we need to encourage to thrive. In order to do this, Morrissey points out that students need to first ensure they fulfil their basic needs. Things like having a healthy diet, taking enough exercise and getting enough sunlight may sound simple, but these are things which students often neglect, especially when they first arrive at university.
Taking regular breaks and planning in relaxation time helps to ensure that students do not burn out. School timetables schedule in break times but when they arrive at university, there schedule is mostly their own and so they need to learn how to regulate it. This also needs to acknowledge things like sleep and teachers should support students to recognise what their optimal sleep cycle looks like.
When students arrive at university, they need to be reminded that they will need to experiment with new learning strategies and ways of learning in order to find out what works best for them. Instilling a sense of optimism and self-worth in students will help them to stay motivated.
Finally, universities recognise that students may need help and so there are a number of support networks available to them. Teachers should also encourage students to establish their own support networks, whether that’s friends or family, and to maintain these as they progress through their studies.
 Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, (London: Vermilion, 2017), p.129.
 Angela Duckworth, p.124.
 T. Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0, (London: Gallup Press, 2007).
 Kate Williams and Michelle Reid, Time Management: Pocket Study Skills, (London: Bloomsbury, 2011).
 Abraham H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation, (London: General Press, 2019).