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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 90-98

Exploring study skills among university students in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

1 Department of Basic Sciences, Riyadh Elm University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
2 Department of Pharmacy, Riyadh Elm University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Date of Submission16-Sep-2019
Date of Decision15-Feb-2020
Date of Acceptance17-Mar-2020
Date of Web Publication21-May-2020

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Ashraf M. F Kamel
Department of Basic Sciences, Riyadh Elm University, 517, King Fahad Road, Namuthageyah, P.O. Box 84891, Riyadh 11681
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/sjos.SJOralSci_87_19

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Introduction: Study skills are vital for academic performance. This study aims to explore the study skills of the students in Riyadh Elm University (REU), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and to identify possible correlations of students' study skills with gender, academic level, and/or study field.
Materials and Methods: A total of 816 students participated in this study from April 25, 2015 to May 25, 2015. A modified study skills assessment questionnaire of Counseling Centre of Houston University was used in this study. The questionnaire consisted of 32 items distributed in eight domains. The students' responses were recorded on a 4-point Likert scale and the data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, and independent t-test.
Results: The obtained responses were 816. The mean score of REU students' total study skills indicated moderate study skills. Good study skills were scored by 213 students (26.10%); moderate study skills by 574 students (70.34%); and poor study skills by 29 students (3.55%). Little variation in the mean study skills because of gender, study field or academic level was found. The highest scores were in domains II and IV (concentration/memory and test strategies/test anxiety) while the least scores were in domains and VII (reading and writing). Statistically significant differences were observed between male and female students in domain VI (motivation/attitude), between dental and nondental students in domains II and V (concentration/memory and organizing/processing information) and between junior and senior students in domains I, III, II, and VI (time management, concentration/memory, study aids/note taking, and motivation/attitude).
Conclusion: The majority of REU students employed study skills at a moderate level. It is recommended to design and incorporate study skills educational courses for students in academic curricula.

Keywords: Memory, questionnaire, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, study skills, test strategies, time management, university students

How to cite this article:
Kamel AM, Behery FA, Kenawy GM, El Ghamrawy TA, Ali MS, Nasr MM, Shaheen MA, Shatat RS, Baag MM. Exploring study skills among university students in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi J Oral Sci 2020;7:90-8

How to cite this URL:
Kamel AM, Behery FA, Kenawy GM, El Ghamrawy TA, Ali MS, Nasr MM, Shaheen MA, Shatat RS, Baag MM. Exploring study skills among university students in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi J Oral Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Feb 6];7:90-8. Available from: https://www.saudijos.org/text.asp?2020/7/2/90/284697

  Introduction Top

Studying is a skillful activity that requires training and practice with specific techniques that help a learner acquire, organize, retain, and use information.[1],[2] Yet, studying is highly personal and individualized, that encompasses a variety of tactics that are used flexibly and purposefully, albeit some students develop study skills independently.[3]

Academic competence is associated with the knowledge and application of effective study skills.[3] Over the years many different definitions of study skills were presented in the literature. According to Hoover and Patton (1995), study skills include the competencies associated with acquiring, recording, organizing, synthesizing, remembering, and using information.[4] They added that these competencies promote success in both academic and nonacademic (e.g., employment) settings. Study skills refer to effective study strategies and techniques in time management as well as other resources to attain academic success.[5] Garner-O'Neale and Harrison considered that continuous practicing or repetition of study skills by the learner over time would develop good study habits.[6]

There is extensive research into learning styles and learning strategies, which pointed to different types of learning.[7] In broad terms, research suggested that “deep approaches,” which enhanced deeper, long-term, and more meaningful understanding, was desirable.[8],[9],[10] Surface approach focusing on rote learning and memorization was undesirable. The deep approach was therefore the style of learning that needed to be developed. However, it appeared that students also needed to amplify their knowledge, something that occurred when, “students discover how the things they were learning related to other topics, and especially how theory related to practice.”[10]

According to Gersten, many students with academic difficulties are not aware of “tricks of the trade” that are used by academically competent students when they study.[11] Moreover, students with low academic achievement often demonstrate ineffective study skills.[3] They tend to assume a passive role in learning and rely on others (e.g., teachers and parents) to regulate their studying. These students may not be aware of the purpose of studying; and they show little evidence of looking back or employing “fix-up” strategies to remedy comprehension problems.[3]

Unlike good studiers who employ a variety of study tactics in a flexible yet purposeful manner, low-achieving students use a restricted range of study skills; and tend to utilize the same, often ineffective, study approach for all learning tasks, irrespective of task content, structure, or difficulty.[12]

Khurshid et al. described a positive relationship between the application of effective study skills and the academic achievements in the context of university education.[13] That's why as early as the middle of the 1950s, study skill courses were introduced in the universities for the first time. These courses focused on skills of reading, writing, and note-taking.[14]

While study skills are critical for academic success, yet little attention is given to the way the students study in the 21st century, in a world that has more interactive tools and pedagogical approaches.[15] There are many different ways to study but not all methods may enhance learning.[16]

Gurung divided study skills into four main categories: repetition based (e.g., flashcards and mnemonics), cognitive-based (e.g., studying with a friend, group work), procedural (e.g., time management, organization, scheduling study routines), and metacognitive (e.g., taking quizzes to test self-knowledge).[16] In addition, this author believed that there is scarce literature to describe how students actually study.[16]

Accordingly, the present investigation aimed to explore the study skills of students in Riyadh Elm University (REU), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and to and to identify the possible correlations of students' study skills with gender, academic level, and/or study field.

  Materials and Methods Top

Research design

A quantitative cross-sectional and descriptive study was used to examine the study skills and their related factors among a sample of REU students from April 25, 2015 to May 25, 2015.


The data-gathering instrument was an online questionnaire created in a portion of Google Docs called Google Forms. To ensure randomization of the study, the link of the questionnaire was sent to all REU students by E-mail to fill the survey online. All the respondents of the survey were included in the study. Google Forms is a free online surveying tool.[17] Survey data were saved on the Google Docs.[18]

Questionnaire development and validation

The questionnaire comprised two sections where the first section was used to anonymously obtain the demographic characteristics of the participants including: gender, college, and academic level, and the second section, consisted of a modified study skills Assessment Questionnaire of Counseling Centre of Houston University.[19] The later was used to measure the students' study skills. The original questionnaire had 64 items equally distributed over eight domains as follows: (domain I: Time management/procrastination, domain II: Concentration/memory, domain III: Study aids/note taking, domain IV: Test strategies/test anxiety, domain V: Organizing/processing information, domain VI: Motivation/attitude, domain VII: Reading/selecting the main idea and domain VIII: Writing). The study instrument was validated in 2 steps. First, the original 64 items of the questionnaire were evaluated by a panel of academic staff to give their expert opinion with regards to its significance and simplicity and added an Arabic language translation for each question. Some items were omitted or merged according to the experts' opinions, and consequently, the questionnaire was brought down to a total to 32 questions equally distributed over its eight domains where each domain being examined by four items [Table 1]. Second, a pilot study was carried out by randomly selecting a sample of 20 students similar to the main research subjects, to fill the questionnaire and give their opinion on making questionnaire simpler, shorter, and user friendly. Necessary amendments were implemented into the finalized questionnaire. The pilot testing showed a Cronbach's alfa coefficient of 0.85, suggesting an adequate internal consistency and reliability of the questionnaire.
Table 1: The eight domains of the study skills questionnaire used in this study showing the four enquiries used to assess each domain modified from the study skills Assessment Questionnaire of Counseling Centre of Houston University

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For each of the 32 items of the study skills questionnaire, a four-point Likert scale was employed (always, often, sometimes, and never). Participants' responses were scored as: “Always” = 4, “Usually” = 3, “Sometimes” = 2, and “Never” = 1. Thus, each domain had a maximum score of 16 points and a minimum of 4 points. The maximum overall score was 128 while the minimum score was 32. Students' study skills were rated based on the following rubric:[20]

  • Poor study skills: <50% in each domain (i.e., <8) or <64 overall
  • Moderate study skills: 50%–75% in each domain (i.e., 8–12) or 64–96 overall
  • Good study skills: More than 75% in each domain (i.e., >12) or more than 96 overall.

The invitation to participate in the questionnaire was sent out by E-mail with a link to the online instrument to students on April 25, 2015. A second E-mail invitation was sent 15 days later and contained the same message of the first E-mail but included a deadline within 15 days. The third and final invitation was a last chance participation reminder within 24 h of deadline expiration. The questionnaire was closed on May 25, 2015.

Sample size

The required sample size was calculated based on a minimum respondent-to-item ratio of 20:1 (20 × 32 items = 640 respondents)[21],[22] which is considered the strictest subject-to-item ratio recommended.[23] However, a larger sample size tends to produce more accurate results.[24]

Ethical consideration

The online questionnaire included a short introductory message describing the purpose of the study and stressing the voluntary participation, confidentiality, and right not to participate. The consent was obtained by asking participants to confirm that they agree to complete the questionnaire by marking a “yes, I agree to participate” tick box. Ethical approval was obtained from REU Institutional Review Board and the study proposal was registered in the research center of REU under the registration number FRP/2014/99.

Statistical data analysis

All responses were collected and exported into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file by Google Docs tools for processing and analysis of information. Responses were categorized by gender (male and female), by the study field (dental and nondental) as well as by the academic level (junior and senior). The nondental students' subgroup included pharmacy, nursing, and dental hygiene students. According to the academic level, junior students included students in levels 1–4 and senior students included those students in level 5 and above.

The data were analyzed using SPSS for windows version 22 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) by descriptive statistics (frequency tables, percentage, and mean and standard deviation [±SD]). Inferential tests were employed such as independent t-test for comparing means and exploring the correlations of study skills and variables such as gender, study field and academic level. A P ≤ 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

  Results Top

The number of responses received was 816 which was higher than strictest sample size calculated based on a minimum respondent-to-item ratio of 20:1 (640 responses). This would increase the accuracy of statistical analysis of the results of the current study.[24]

The responses showed that 50.5% of the individuals were female (n = 404) and 49.5%, were male (n = 412). The majority (665 students, or 81.5%) were dental students while 151 (18.5%) were nondental students (pharmacy, nursing, and dental hygiene students). Senior students were 482 (59.1%) and junior students were 334 (40.9%) [Table 2].
Table 2: Correlation between the total scores of students' study skills with the gender, study field (college), and academic level of students

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The mean score and ± SD of the students' total study skills were 88.11 ± 14.39, i.e., between 64 and 96 (or 50%–75%) indicating moderate study skills [Table 2]. Of all participants, 213 students (26.10%) had good study skills (as they scored an overall mean (±S.D.) of 106.16 (±7.79), i.e., more than 96 (>75%); 574 students (70.34%) showed moderate study skills as they scored an overall mean (± S.D) of 82.91 (±8.86), i.e., between 64 and 96 (50%–75%); and 29 students (3.55%), showed poor study skills as they scored an overall mean (±SD) of 58.52 (±4.49), i.e., <64 (<50%) [Table 2]. Independent t-test showed little variation in the mean score (±SD) of the students' study skills because of the different gender (males vs. females), college (dental vs. nondental), or academic level (senior vs. junior) [Table 2].

Among the study skills domains, the highest mean score (±SD) of 12.26 (±2.26) was recorded in domain IV (test strategies/test anxiety) ) followed by domain II (concentration/memory) scoring 11.71 (±2.24) while the least mean score (±SD) was noted in domain VIII (writing) and domain VII (reading) which scored 8.95 (±2.76) and 10.13 (±2.98), respectively [Table 3].
Table 3: Frequency, mean, and standard deviation of the score of students' study skills per domain

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Independent t-test for comparing the mean score of students' study skills scores in the different domains [Table 4], showed statistically significant differences between male and female students in the domain VI (motivation/attitude). In addition, statistically significant differences were noticed between dental and nondental students in the domains II and V (concentration/memory and organizing/processing information respectively). Also, statistically significant differences were noticed between junior and senior students in domains I, III, II and VI (time management, concentration/memory, study aids/note taking, and motivation/attitude, respectively). However, no statistically significant difference was observed between the studied groups by gender, college, and academic level in the other study skills' domains.
Table 4: Correlation of the effect of gender, study field (college), and academic level on students' study skills mean score per domain

Click here to view

  Discussion Top

Study skills are the competencies that help the students for acquisition, organizing, synthesizing, recalling, and using ideas and information, and play a significant role in students' academic achievement.[25] This study aimed to assess the study skills of REU students and was conducted between April 25, 2015 and May 25, 2015.

The results of the study revealed that the majority of REU students had only moderate study skills as their mean score was merely moderate (88.11). This finding was consistent with those of previous similar studies in medical and health sciences education. A study in 2009 demonstrated that University students had poor-to-moderate study habits.[26] Hosseini et al. (2009) considered that time management, readiness to take examinations, concentration, reading, and taking notes were the critical study skills that influenced the students' performance.[27]

Our results showed that among the different domains of study skills, REU students presented high study skills' mean scores in domain IV (test strategies/test anxiety) of 12.26 followed by domain II (concentration /memory) which scored a mean of 11.71. Test anxiety may have a deleterious impact on test performance, academic success and overall well-being.[28] McWhorter and Sember regarded concentration as keeping one's mind on what being read or studied, and involved two major abilities, exclusion and focusing.[29] Parks-Stamm et al., viewed the challenge of shielding academic goal pursuit from unwanted distractions as a major obstacle to academic achievement.[30] Colom et al. affirmed that short-term and working memories predict academic performance to a high degree.[31] Other studies reported high scores in study skills domains different from those found in this study. Both Didarloo and Khalkhali [20] and Nourian et al.[32] depicted that time management was the highest study skill observed in their study samples.

In this study, it was noticed that low study skills scores were recorded in domain VIII (writing) and domain VII (reading) with mean scores of 10.13 and 8.95, respectively. According to Meneghetti et al., reading comprehension is a complex cognitive ability requiring the capacity to integrate text information with the knowledge of the reader and resulting in the elaboration of a mental representation.[33] Some strategies such as inferring the information from the text, anticipating what is coming next, searching for the reading purpose are more analytic, and need to have a metacognitive awareness.[34] Furthermore, developing the writing skills helps to advance the students' cognitive skills in acquiring the necessary strategies such as analysis, synthesis, inference in the learning process.[35]

Many authors considered that effective time management skills were essential in medical schools, and in other higher education disciplines.[36],[37],[38],[39],[40] However, in the current study, it was observed that the mean score of time management (domain I) was 11.08 which signified only a moderate level. In this regard, West and Sadoski reported that time management and self-testing were the only two study strategies that appeared to be related to academic performance more than aptitude.[41] They believed that students who did not plan their time effectively would run out of time before they run out of content. They concluded that improving prioritization and organization of study time as well as teaching students to predict compose and answer their own questions when studying would help to advance students' performance regardless of student aptitude. They recommended to provide students with organizational assistance and support to make their study time more efficient and effective, that in turn, would improve their academic performance.

In the present study, no significant difference was observed between male and female students regarding their study skills. This was consistent to Anbuchelvan and Thilagavathy,[42] Rajakumar and Soundararajan [43] and Sekar and Rajendran [44] who described no significant difference in students' study habits based on gender. In contrast, some studies demonstrated statistically significant gender differences in the academic achievement of female students more than male students and such differences were discipline specific.[27],[45],[46],[47]

Junior students in the current study demonstrated slightly higher study skills compared to their senior counterparts, however, this difference was not statistically significant. In contrast, a significant difference in the study skills in favor of undergraduate students compared to post graduate students was identified by Rajakumar and Soundararajan.[43]

Finally, no significant difference in study skills could be demonstrated between dental and nondental students.

Pepe found that students with a low-grade point average (GPA) had demonstrated inadequacies in study skills compared to those students with a high GPA.[48]

Various studies in the literature have hypothesized that employing a wide range of study skills had a positive effect on academic performance of the students.[49],[50],[51],[52],[53],[54],[55],[56] Many researchers pointed out that students without sound study skills were not prepared for success in college.[57] According to a recent report by Harvard University, students drop out of college due to lack of preparation for the rigors of academic work.[58] In Al-Hilawani's (2016) study of students' metacognition and study skills, the results confirmed that students' study skills were related to academic performance and GPA.[59]

As argued by other studies, it is significantly important to provide students with support to ensure the development of effective study skills as they advance through different levels of study to help them improve their learning.[60] Research evidence showed teaching courses of self-regulatory strategies for studying, writing papers, taking examinations, and gleaning information from lectures and texts, had improved total GPAs of students, and resulted in significantly higher retention and graduation rates relative to those not enrolled in such courses.[61] Moreover, considerable evidences suggested that study skills courses for first-time freshmen students could have a lasting impact. Specifically, within the 12-week period, students had significantly increased their cumulative GPA and were better able to maintain a high GPA than students who did not complete the program.[62]

In Germany, Schmied and Hänze analysed the effectiveness of study skills courses to improve general study competences in 1st year students.[63] They found that students who participated in a course to improve their general study competences reported that they feel more competent 2 months after having attended the course.

In Saudi Arabia, Rab et al. studied the general study habits of students in King Khalid University, and their relationships with their GPA, gender, and certain social factors.[64] The results indicated that the majority of students studied in a haphazard, disorganized way, and they just cram before examinations. The authors reported that students who attended their classes' regularly on time and participated in classroom activities were better achievers than their counterparts. The study concluded that University students need guidance on how to master effective study skills.

Previously, Ahmed assumed that the development of the Saudi Arabian medical education would benefit with the incorporation of learning skills training into its courses. He proposed that an introductory course at the start of the college education would give students not only a firm foundation on which to build the course, but also a basis on which to develop learning skills that would promote an attitude orientated to self-directed enduring method of studying.[65]

In Jordan, Moghli and Abdullah investigated the most important factors that lowered the academic achievement of community college students and reported that one of them was related to students' ineffective study habits.[66]

As a remedy, Hosseini et al. (2006) also emphasized the importance of providing organized and continuous educational courses to improve study skills of students.[27] Furthermore, Bailey et al. evaluated the impact of workshops supplementing online instruction in study skills on students' study and writing skills, and level of information literacy and stated that all students who attended at least one workshop improved their academic grade in their next assignment.[67] In addition, Hassanbeigi et al. inferred that teaching study skills to university students can play an important role in the improvement of students' academic performance.[68] In the same track, Zarshenas et al. assessed the existing strengths and weaknesses of the study skills and habits in Dental Students and demonstrated that students who have previously participated in the study skills workshops had better skills compared to students who had not participated in these workshops.[69] In addition, Shackebaei et al. recommended to conduct training workshops and courses to promote the students' study skills.[70] Ogundokun and John recommended that students should be assisted to build good study habits as early as they started school by incorporating study skills acquisition training and other student intervention strategies into school curriculum.[71]

However, some students considered it more appropriate when they are trained on how to study within their own subject area rather than through supplementary study skills courses.[72],[73]

This study had some limitations. First, the results cannot be generalized beyond the study sample and therefore, can apply only in populations with similar features. Second, the data of this study were collected using a self-reported questionnaire that might have led students to under or overestimate their study skills behavior, and thus, the findings might have been affected by a reporting bias. Third, the study skills of students were not correlated with their GPA to explore possible association with the characteristics of high and low achievers.

  Conclusion Top

Despite the limitations of the present study, it was found that the majority of REU students possessed study skills only at a moderate level. There was no significant difference among the students as regards the gender, study program or the academic level.

The identified major areas of weakness in the study skills included writing, reading and time management. This trend could jeopardize students' academic performance. It is deemed mandatory to increase the students' awareness about study skills and their different domains by structured guidance. Therefore, it is recommended to design and deliver study skills educational courses specially directed to newly admitted students in their early academic years.


The authors would like to thank REU students who voluntarily participated in this study. In addition, we acknowledge the support of the research center in REU.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]

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