What are Academic Skills?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

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.

Good study habits build academic skills.
Good study habits build academic skills.

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.

It's important to develop good study habits.
It's important to develop good study habits.

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.

Note taking may help improve academic skills.
Note taking may help improve academic skills.

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.

Preparing for exams is an important academic skill.
Preparing for exams is an important academic skill.

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.

Literacy is an important core academic skill.
Literacy is an important core academic skill.

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.

Teachers often include academic skills in their lessons to assist students with mastering certain concepts.
Teachers often include academic skills in their lessons to assist students with mastering certain concepts.

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.

Academic skills include being successful in the classroom.
Academic skills include being successful in the classroom.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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Discussion Comments


@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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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