How strong study skills can help math success bloom for students

What role do study skills play in the ability of students to succeed in mathematics courses?

In 1956, psychologist Benjamin Bloom first published his “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives,” which has since become a widely referenced document in the field of developmental education. One of Bloom’s many achievements within this text is the establishment of a hierarchy for the various factors involved in the learning process, accomplished by deconstructing the importance of learning variables and assigning them value-based percentages. According to Bloom, the three major variables that contribute to academic success are: IQ and cognitive entry skills (50%), quality of instruction (25%), and student affective characteristics (25%).

Variables contributing to academic achievement (Bloom, 1976) 


More recent research suggests, however, that Bloom may have vastly underestimated the role of one of these variables as it pertains to developmental math courses. In a study conducted in 2013, Zientek, Ozel, Fong, and Griffin (2013) found that affective variables contribute to 41% of grade variance in developmental math courses.

This study illustrates what many developmental mathematics instructors already know through first-hand experiences with students: study skills, self-efficacy, and persistence are what ultimately tip the scales for students teetering on the edge of success. This is especially true for students in online courses or non-traditional course structures such as modular or accelerated formats, which require students to become better independent learners with more efficient time management and study habits in order to succeed. 

So, how are the skills needed to succeed in math unique as compared to other disciplines? Math, chemistry, physics, and other linear subjects are unique from a learning standpoint in that the curriculum tends to progress very quickly,  with concepts building on each other in a sequential manner. Students must demonstrate understanding of these concepts, not just simply memorize dates and facts. Because of the sequential nature of the course content, it is much harder to “pull up” one’s grade in a math course after falling behind. Math requires a great deal of independent learning and practice outside of class – and in order for this to happen, students need to be motivated and persistent. Teaching students how to become more independent learners is one of the main goals of integrating study skills into mathematics education.


A central focus of the current national math redesign movement is on reducing the amount of time spent in the developmental sequence. This has led to an increased emphasis on streamlining student access to credit-bearing math courses. Math redesign strategies such as modular, emporium, and accelerated learning courses are being used to help students complete two or more math courses in one semester. During the 2003 AMATYC and 2004 national conferences, panel presenters agreed that students must become better independent learners to succeed in redesigned courses. Now, more than ever, researchers are putting emphasis on how students’ affective characteristics affect learning and grades so that we can better understand how to increase student success. 

Hawkes is thrilled about our partnership with industry expert Dr. Paul Nolting and his text Winning at Math, which we now proudly offer as part of our array of course solution options. Winning at Math is the only math-specific study skills book to offer statistical evidence demonstrating an improvement in students’ ability to learn math and make better grades. Learn More about Winning at Math and how it can help your students succeed!

Are you interested in learning more about how you can incorporate study skills into your course? We recently hosted a live Q&A Webinar with Dr. Paul Nolting – check it out here and watch the recording On-Demand!

How do you address study skills in your curriculum? Do you find that study skills are affecting your students’ success in math? Let us know in the comments!

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