Academic skills are the skills people need in order to succeed in an educational setting. People attending college or university are expected to have well-developed academic skills in order to succeed in their degrees.
Academic skills are not merely cognitive (the ability to think at a higher level). A good student also needs a wide range of soft skills such as organizational and communication skills.
When you develop academic skills, they will not only help you to succeed in your studies. They will also be easily transferrable into a workplace environment. For example, the ability to conduct thorough research may become a daily task throughout your career. As a result, strong academic skills will help you to position yourself well for a good career once you graduate.
Academic Skills Examples
1. Communication Skills: You will be required to communicate in writing as well as orally (and possibly many other ways) in nearly every course you take. Your skill in succinctly communicating what you have learned will be a central way your knowledge will be assessed throughout your studies.
2. Research Skills: This includes being able to find and use relevant sources of information, as well as being able to critically evaluate those sources. Whereas in our daily lives a quick internet search is sufficient, for academic research, you will be required to conduct rigorous research from high-quality and reliable sources.
3. Organizational Skills: Being able to organize your time will be central to your success at university. You will need to be able to keep track of deadlines, study regularly, take multiple courses each semester, and fit all of this around your personal life. To be successful at juggling all of this, you need to be highly organized.
4. Study Skills: If you develop good study habits at the start of your degree, you will find it much easier to succeed. Good study skills include the ability to focus, summarize, take notes, and commit information to memory.
5. Critical Thinking Skills: This includes being able to analyze and critique information rather than simply believing it. To be a good critical thinker, you need to always be reflecting on what you’re observing or reading and considering whether it is logical, reliable, and valid. A critical thinker may also be able to find out of the box solutions to difficult problems (see: problem-solving skills).
6. Basic Writing Skills: Being able to write clearly and effectively is a necessity at university. When you can communicate thoughts and ideas in a clear and concise manner, you can demonstrate to your teacher that you have strong knowledge of the information.
7. Academic Writing Skills: Over and above basic writing skills, you also need academic writing skills. These are skills that are specific to writing for academic purposes, such as the ability to write logical and clear arguments based on extensive scholarly research.
8. Problem-Solving Skills: At university, you’ll be constantly presented with problems that you will be asked to solve. To do this successfully, you need to be able to brainstorm, troubleshoot, and find creative solutions to challenges.
9. Self-Discipline: You will need to have the self-discipline to stay focused and motivated. Unlike high school, your teacher won’t be watching and guiding you through everything. So, you need to create and stick to a schedule, meet deadlines, and resist distractions.
10. Social Skills: In the 21st Century, social interaction is vitally important as most people work in teams these days. At university, there is a high likelihood you’ll be assessed on your ability to work well in a group, communicate effectively, and resolve conflict.
12. Time Management Skills: With so many tasks to juggle at university, you can’t waste your time at all. Being able to prioritize tasks, set milestones, and focus while studying are essential. Otherwise, you will find yourself forever asking for extensions!
13. Stress Management Skills: There will be times when you have many exams coming up at once. To manage this, you need to remember to follow good stress management practices like getting sufficient exercise and breaking tasks down into chunks.
14. Flexible Thinking Skills: At university, you will be faced with a range of new challenges and problems that will force you to think differently. This includes being able to adapt to change, think creatively, and consider different perspectives.
15. Cultural Competence: The ability to understand and respect different cultures is an important skill in modern multicultural educational settings. This includes things like being aware of one’s own cultural biases, being open to new experiences, and valuing diversity.
16. Global Citizenship: Global citizenship is a buzzword at unviersities. It refers to the ability to think and act in ways that reflect a commitment to global prosperity. This includes things like being environmentally conscious and promoting international social justice.
17. Digital Literacy: In a digital first world, the ability to use technology in a responsible and efficient way is essential. You need to be able to select the best apps for purpose and navigate them efficiently to help you achieve your goals. But at the same time, you need to constantly be aware of online safety and respecting intellectual property rights.
18. Public Speaking Skills: Most university degrees have public speaking components, such as giving speeches to your classmates or participating in debates in seminars. Being able to confidently present your point of view within group settings without bluster is essential.
19. Persistence: Despite this being right down the end toward ‘soft skills’, persistence is still one of the most essential of skills for students. There will be times when you just want to quit, but getting through those tough times will help you show to yourself that you are a strong person.
20. Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing involves interpreting information and re-presenting it in a unique way. To paraphrase shows genuine understanding rather than simply parroting someone else’s information. It’s essential in all written and oral pieces you submit at university.
21. Leadership: You will sometimes need to show leadership at university, especially when placed in groupwork roles. For example, you might have to take the lead on a project by delegating tasks among the group.
22. Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the ability to come together to share ideas and come up with ideas that were not possible alone. In groupwork, you will need to learn how to discuss, listen, compromise, and share in order to come to collaborative solutions.
23. Attention to Detail: When writing and reading, you need to get even the smallest details correct. if you don’t, you won’t demonstrate a complex and nuanced understanding of topics, and you’ll likely get lower grades.
24. Information Literacy: In the digital age, there is an overwhelming amount of information available at our fingertips. Information literacy refers to the able to select the most relevant, reliable, valid, and useful information for your needs.
25. Goal Setting: Having goals is one thing, but planning how to achieve them is an entirely different skill. At university, you need to be able to set long-term goals and short-term goals and develop action plans to achieve them. This includes things like creating milestones, time management, and even budgeting. Consider the SMART Goals framework for ideas.
26. Prioritization: Along with goal setting comes the ability to prioritize. In order to achieve your goals, you need to be able to figure out what tasks are the most important and tackle those first. This can be a difficult skill to master, but it is essential for students.
27. Note Taking: You will be taking notes in every class – so you need to get good at it! One solution is to use the cornell method of note taking which is designed specifically for college students.
28. Self-Directed Learning: In university, your learning is usually self-directed, meaning you have to do a lot of learning yourself without your teacher around you. They will set reading tasks and give you the basic information, but it’s your job to branch out and go deep on topics to get the top grades.
29. Work Ethic: A person with good work ethic is someone who works hard and commits to their work. They don’t slack off or cut corners. These sorts of people are often very successful students.
30. Multi-Tasking: Multi-tasking is the ability to do two or more tasks at the same time. At university, you will be constantly multi-tasking because you will be juggling multiple classes along with your work life and personal life every week. You need to be able to juggle your competing needs, meet deadlines, and still have a social life.
31. Punctuality: I remember turning up to class 5 minutes late and getting told I’m too late – I missed the seminar! In other words, chances are, if you’re not punctual, you’ll miss important information and you won’t get much sympathy from your professor!
32. Self-Reflection: There will be times when you let yourself down or don’t get the grades you want. In these situations, you need to be able to pause and reflect on what you did to find ways to constantly improve.
33. Logic: Being logical is important in university because you need to form clear and coherent arguments in your submissions. Furthermore, when you’re reading, you need to be able to see the connections between things and even identify logical fallacies or heuristics in the authors’ arguments.
34. Professionalism: One time when you will have to use professionalism is when you send emails to your professor. Don’t send emails as if they’re text messages. Remember to include salutations and write politely and professionally.
35. Adaptability: You’ll need to adapt at university. For example, you might need to adapt your laerning style for different classes. Some classes will require you to listen and take down verbatim notes, while other teachers will be very hands-on. You’ll need to be able to adapt to both teaching styles.
36. Diligence: Diligence means working hard and paying attention to detail. You can’t just do the bare minimum to get by – you need to put in the extra effort if you want to excel at university.
37. Self-Editing: There will be many times when you don’t have a peer or teacher to edit your work. Instead, you’ll have to rely on your own self-editing skills. Fortunately, self-editing can help increase your grades by 13%!
38. Social Networking: A huge part of attending university is developing social capital. You’ll get opportunities to meet industry leaders and potential employers. Make sure you make the most of this as the social contacts you make at university will help you to get a job at the end of it all.
39. Academic Cultural Capital: This refers to the skill of knowing how to navigate the politics of university. You need to understand how to do things that are exclusively part of academic culture, like referencing properly and academic note-taking.
40. Determination: There are not many other times in your life when you’ll need to dig deep and stay determined. When times get tough, rely on your determination to get that degree at the end, and use that determination to keep on going through thick and thin.
41. Self-Assessment: Self-assessment refers to your ability to analyze how you’re going, check-in with yourself, and evaluate your progress. If you can’t self-assess, then you won’t be able to identify your weaknesses and work on them.
42. Self-Belief: You need to believe in yourself in order to put in the effort. If you don’t believe in yourself, you will give up and never make it through the tough parts. To have self-belief, you might need to focus on developing an internal locus of control.
43. Self-Control: When studying, you need to be able to sit down, focus, and ignore all of the distractions around you. One good technique to help with your self-control is to use a pomodoro timer, designed to help you focus as you study.
44. Growth Mindset: A growth mindset is a belief in your ability to grow, improve, and learn. Without a growth mindset, you’ll find yourself giving up. The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset.
45. Realism: While you should aim for the best, make sure you still have one foot on the ground. Realism is a skill because it enables you to know what you can reasonably achieve and what’s a bridge too far.
46. Technical Writing Skills: If you’re doing a practical or science degree, you’ll need some technical writing abilities. This includes the ability to write reports, standard operating procedures, and manuals.
47. Analytical Thinking: This refers to the ability to think critically about data and information. To be analytical, you need to be able to understand complex systems and see the relationships between different variables.
48. Mathematical Thinking: This refers to the ability to solve complex numerical problems. If you’re studying a science or business degree, you’ll need to be good at math.
49. Summarizing: Nearly every day you’ll be summarizing things. You need to summarize information when you take notes, explain concepts in class, and write essays. The key to summarizing is to synthesize the most important data and present it clearly and succinctly.
50. Proofreading: Once you’ve finished writing a piece for class, it’s important to proofread your work. This means reading through it again to check for any spelling, grammar, or factual errors. As you do this, work on making the information clearer.
51. Active Listening: In class, you will need to use active listening skills to truly absorb the information provided as well as to engage in conversation. This involves hearing, understanding, and responding to what the other person is saying. Good active listeners don’t just wait for their turn to speak, they also make eye contact, use body language, and ask questions.
52. Humility: Learning to be humble is an important skill for students. This means being able to accept you’re not perfect. You’ll get tough feedback and you need to be open and willing to learn from your professor to improve slowly over time.
53. Deconstructing Texts: To deconstruct a text, you need to be able to read it closely and analyze the different parts. This process can help you understand the main ideas, identify logical inconsistencies, and commit information to memory effectively.
54. Reading for Meaning: When studying, you often need to be able to read for meaning rather than reading every single word. This is particularly true in reference texts where you can scan sections and set your focus only on sections that are relevant to what you’re looking for.
55. Empirical Thinking: This is the ability to think critically about empirical evidence. Empirical evidence is data that has been collected through observation or experiment. When looking at empirical evidence, you need to be able to understand the data and see what it means.
56. Discourse Analysis: This academic skill involves analyzing the meaning within texts to understand the discourses (in other words: the narratives and ideologies) that the text relies upon to get across its message. This is particularly important in social studies subjects.
57. Focus: Focus is extremely important to a student. You’ll need to focus when studying, in lectures, and in class. Sometimes, academic information is very bland and boring, but sustaining your focus is necessary if you’re hoping to get a good grade.
58. Deductive Thinking: This is the ability to arrive at a conclusion based on evidence and reasoning. In other words, you start with a few facts (or premises) and then use them to logically deduce a conclusion. This is a valuable skill in mathematics and the sciences.
59. Inductive Thinking: This is the ability to come up with a generalization based on specific data or evidence. In other words, you start with data or evidence and then use it to come up with a general idea. It can be seen as the opposite of deductive thinking.
60. Identifying Fallacies: A fallacy is an error in reasoning. There are many different types of fallacies, but they all involve coming to a conclusion that isn’t supported by the evidence. As a student, you need to be able to identify fallacies so that you can avoid them in your own work and call them out when others make them.
61. Hypothesizing: A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In other words, it’s an educated guess. When you do research in an academic setting, you often need to come up with hypotheses that you will then test using rigorous research methods.
62. Experimental Design: This is the process of planning an experiment. It involves coming up with a hypothesis, choosing a method of testing, and designing an experiment that will provide evidence to support or refute the hypothesis.
64. Debate Skills: You may be asked by your teacher to argue your point convincingly and respond to the points made by others. This skill is particularly important in law and politics, but is also used in just about any subject to help students learn the various arguments and approaches to a topic.
65. Objectivity (Bias Minimization): Academics try their hardest to avoid bias. This is hard because many of our biases are unconscious biases. To aim for objectivity, we often follow tried and tested research methods and ensure our research is peer-reviewed.
66. Compare and Contrast: This academic skill involves looking at two or more things and identifying the similarities and differences between them. This is a core thought experiment used regularly in academic settings to help students understand the relationships between different texts or events.
67. Critical Reading: This involves reading a text closely and critically in order to understand its meaning and to identify any flaws in its argument. This is an important skill for students because it allows them to engage with the material on a deeper level.
68. Differentiation: Like compare and contrast above, differentiation involves looking at two or more things and identifying the similarities and differences between them. However, differentiation goes one step further and asks students to not only identify the similarities and differences, but to also evaluate them.
69. Referencing: This is the process of acknowledging the sources that you have used in your work. This is important because it ensures that you give credit where it’s due and avoid plagiarism. There are different conventions for referencing (e.g. APA, MLA, and Chicago styles), so you need to make sure you know which one to use.
70. Academic Writing Style: Generally, academic writing involves writing in third person language, referencing whenever you make a claim that needs to be supported, and formulating a clear and coherent argument throughout your paper. There are different types of academic writing, including expository, argumentative, and report writing.
71. Integrity: You will exercise integrity every time you choose not to cheat, dedicate time and effort to learning the information, and be open and honest about how you conducted your research. When you have integrity, you avoid plagiarism, fabricating data, and other forms of academic dishonesty.
72. Intellectual Curiosity: Many academics are driven by a desire to understand the world and how it works. This curiosity leads them to ask questions, read voraciously, and conduct research. Being intellectually curious means that you are constantly learning and growing as a person.
73. Cooperation: In many academic disciplines, students are expected to work together in order to complete assignments and projects. This cooperative spirit is also important in the workplace, where team projects are the norm.
74. Initiative: At university, you don’t have anyone leaning over your shoulder and telling you how to do things. You are expected to be proactive and take initiative in your learning. This means that you need to be organized, set your own deadlines, and keep on top of your workload.
74. Creativity: Many people think that creativity is only important for arts and humanities students. However, creativity is also important in disciplines such as science, where it can be used to come up with new hypotheses and solve problems in innovative ways.
75. Specialization: At university, you’re expected to start specializing in the subjects that will be relevant to your career goals. For example, if you want to be a doctor, you will need to take courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.
76. Conscientiousness: This means reliable, hardworking, and organized. People who are conscientious tend to do well in academic settings because they are able to keep on top of their work and meet deadlines.
77. Interpersonal Skills: These are the skills that you use to interact with other people. They include communication, empathy, and teamwork. Interpersonal skills are important in academic settings because they help you to work effectively in group presentations and tasks.
78. Ethical Thinking: This is the ability to think about the moral implications of your actions. It is important in academic settings because it helps you to make sure that your research is conducted in an ethical manner. Hence, we have the concept in academia of ‘research ethics’.
79. Divergent Thinking: Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with new ideas and solutions. It is useful in academic settings because it allows you to be creative in your thinking and come up with innovative solutions that can help you get top grades.
80. Convergent Thinking: Convergent thinking is the ability to focus on one particular solution. It too can be useful in academic settings because it allows you to focus your thoughts and come up with a clear and concise argument (this is especially important when writing a thesis!).
81. Perseverance: This is the ability to keep going even when things are tough. You’re going to need this as a student! It will help you to continue with your studies even when things get difficult.
82. Persuasiveness: This is the ability to convince other people of your point of view. It can come in handy when you’re trying to get a good grade on an essay or presentation.
83. Project Management: This is the ability to plan, organize, and execute a project such as a thesis or group project. It is useful in academic settings because it allows you to efficiently manage your time and resources. Furthermore, it will be very useful as a workplace skill after you graduate.
84. Reliability: At university, you need to be a reliable partner in your group tasks. Furthermore, you’ll need to reliably hand in your essays and assignments on time or you won’t be able to pass your courses.
85. Insightfulness: This is the ability to understand and see things in a deep and meaningful way. In academic settings, this can help you to critically analyze arguments and come up with your own insightful interpretations of texts. Consider it a great compliment if your teacher gives you feedback: “very insightful!”.
86. Ambition: Ideally, you would be ambitious in your studies. For example, you should aim to be the best you can and get A+ Grades in your classes. If you lack ambition, then you’re more likely to give up when things get tough.
87. Proactiveness: You need to be proactive in order to survive at university. No one will tell you to start studying – you have to dig deep and find the strength from within to get started on your work in order to ensure you get everything completed in time.
88. Dedication: This is similar to ambition and perseverance. You need to be dedicated to your studies in order to be successful. This means putting in the extra time even when your life is already busy and full.
89. Efficiency: Efficiency is all about getting things done in the most effective way possible. This means finding ways to save time to spend on your studies while also having time for family, friends, and work.
90. Patience: Learning takes time. You often get frustrated that you haven’t mastered the information immediately. By studying regularly and chipping away at your work, you can succeed. Without patience, you may give up too soon.
91. Strategic Thinking: Strategic thinking is the ability to see the big picture and plan accordingly. This is useful in academic settings because you’ll often be asked to complete long-term and complex projects that require a strategic plan in order to succeed.
92. Resourcefulness: Resourcefulness is the ability to find and use the best resources available to you. This can be useful in academic settings because you are not given all of the information you need by your teacher. You will be expected to use the library and your home computer to find more information to complete your studies.
93. Presentation Skills: Presentation skills are important academic strengths because you will often have to present your work to the class. This means being able to effectively communicate your ideas in a way that is clear and concise.
94. Dependability: When doing group work, it is important to be a dependable partner. This means completing your tasks on time and being willing to help out other members of your group when needed. You’ll also need to be dependable for your teacher by submitting your work on time.
95. Intellectual Curiosity: Intellectual curiosity refers to the desire to learn and explore new ideas. It is an expectation at university that you are curious about the topics and study them deeply both in class and while completing your assignments.
96. Tenacity: Tenacity is the ability to keep going even when things are tough. When you’re studying, there will be times when you feel like giving up. If you have tenacity, you’ll be able to push through these tough times and come out successful on the other side.
97. Responsiveness: Academic settings are professional. If you’re contacted by your teacher, there’s an expectation that you respond in a reasonable timeframe. Similarly, when working in groups, you will need to be responsive to your team members.
98. Triangulation: This refers to the ability to use multiple sources of information to support your ideas. When writing essays, you’ll need to use evidence from your readings as well as multiple other sources in order to support your thesis.
99. Media Literacy: Media literacy is the ability to critically consume and analyze media. In an era where there is low media literacy in the general population, this is even more important than ever. You will need to know when media is biased, invalid, or unreliable.
100. Conflict Resolution: When working in groups, there will be times when conflict arises. We assign students these groupwork tasks in order to help them learn to cooperate, resolve conflict, and work effectively together. After all, this is also a skill you will need in the workforce.
101. Library Skills: The library is a crucial resource for university students. In order to succeed, you will need to know how to use the library effectively. This means being able to find the resources you need, using the library catalogue, and citing your sources correctly.
102. Online Etiquette: I often get frustrated with my students who email me with colloquial language. Instead, aim to be professional online as if you were talking to a boss or client.
103. Open-Mindedness: At university, you will be exposed to new and different ideas. It’s important to keep an open mind in order to learn and grow from these experiences. Many students leave university with completely different worldviews than when they started because they were open-minded to new information.
104. Commitment: Undertaking a university degree is a huge commitment. It takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. You need to be sure that you are committed to the process in order to succeed. When you graduate, that certificate shows a future employer that you can commit to something and see it through.
105. Independent Thought: One of the main reasons why university is so valuable is because it teaches you to think independently. This means forming your own opinions, evaluating evidence, and thinking critically about the world around you. It’s a skill that will be useful in every aspect of your life.
106. Personal Responsibility: At university, you are in charge of your own learning. This means that you need to take responsibility for your own success. If you don’t hand in an assignment, it’s not the professor’s fault – it’s yours. If you don’t study for an exam, that’s on you.
These are just a few examples of the types of academic skills that students need in order to be successful. Of course, the specific skills that are most important will vary depending on the individual and the particular field of study. However, all of these skills are valuable for success in an academic setting.
One of the best ways to develop and improve academic skills is to work closely with your teacher. You can also approach your university library which may offer regular academic skills seminars. By participating in these types of seminars, students have the opportunity to practice and hone their skills.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]