INTRODUCTION: Prior to the start of the fall semester, my college holds a Kick-Off Weekend to acclimate incoming first-year students to the college environment.  We offer recreational activities and present workshops on topics including study skills, time management, and social issues.  I used this activity as the introductory exercise for a workshop on studying effectively.  I wanted students to identify different ways they could study effectively as well as learn the study methods that faculty and staff advocate.

This activity, which is a variation of the television program “Family Feud,” could be used in any workshop or course that teaches effective study methods; however, the list of “tips” could easily be modified to use in any academic course. (e.g. “Top Ten Tips for the Successful Math Student” or “Top Ten Tips for the Successful Writing Student.”)  Approximate Time:  30 minutes.


  • To help students identify effective study techniques
  • To expose students to the study techniques that faculty and staff members advocate


  • Paper and pen for each student
  • Chalkboard, whiteboard, or overhead with appropriate writing tool
  • Clock or other timing device
  • Optional: prizes for the winning group (e.g. college paraphernalia, candy)
  • Top Ten Lists (one list for each topic you will address).  Five sample lists are given in the Support Materials section. To create the lists, I e-mailed all faculty and staff at my college, gave them a brief explanation of what I was doing, and asked each person to suggest up to three items per list.  Once I received their answers, I ranked suggestions according to popularity.
  • Signs labeled with the topic for each Top Ten List – one sign per list topic.


  • Create one group of students for each Top Ten List you have created.
  • Give one Top Ten List sign to each group and a piece of paper and pen to each student.


1. Tell students, “We are going to play [our college’s] Top Ten Tips for the Successful Student!  Each group has been given a different topic related to studying.  I have polled the faculty and staff of our college and asked them what strategies their most successful students use for each topic. From their answers I came up with [our college’s] Top Ten Lists.  To begin this challenge, each team will have four minutes to create its own Top Ten List for the topic assigned.  Remember, lists are limited to ten items.  When the time is up, we will compare each list to the faculty and staff’s Top Ten List for the same topic.  For each item that is on both lists, the team earns one point, without concern for their order.  The team with the most points at the end will win prizes.  [DEMO the activity by giving one example for each list. Choose examples that are not on the Faculty/Staff lists.] Any questions?  Please begin.”  [1-2 minutes]

2. While the groups are creating their lists, write the topics on the whiteboard with room underneath or to the side for keeping score.  Leave room to write additional study strategies the students may have for each topic. [4 minutes]

3. When time is up, pass out copies of all the faculty/staff lists to each group. Say, “Now that you are finished creating your lists, choose one person from your group to be your spokesperson.  As we go through each item on your lists, we’ll compare it to the corresponding faculty/staff list for a match.  Group 1, what was your topic, and what are your top ten?” For each group, mark a point on the whiteboard for each item that matches one from the faculty/staff list.  The wording does not need to be exactly the same; give a point for the concept rather than the phrasing.  On the board, record study ideas that do not appear on the faculty/staff list for later review.  Present prizes to the group that has the most points.  [15 minutes]

4. [Journal Writing and/or Class Discussion] What additional suggestions do you have for each of these topics?  Do you agree or disagree with any of the faculty/staff suggestions, and why?  Which study practices have you used before, and what were your experiences with them?   On your sheet of paper, write at least two strategies for each of the topics that we discussed today that you will use this semester. What strategies did you choose and why? How will you remind yourself to use these strategies as the semester progresses?  [10 minutes]


The five topics we explored were “Best Study Practices,” “ Best Ways to Study for a Test,” “Best Things to Do in Class to Succeed,” “Best Resources to Help You Succeed,” and “Common Mistakes Students Make.”  The students seemed excited to have a competition; they asked what the prizes were before we started. 

As the students began working on their lists, they gained energy.  I walked around, listening to their comments and ideas.  The groups working with “Best Study Practices” and “ Best Ways to Study for a Test” seemed to think of ideas more easily than the other groups.  The group with “Best Resources” had the most difficult time coming up with ten ideas.  Several of the teams became stuck on their eighth or ninth idea; however, when the allotted time was completed, all teams had lists of ten ideas.

The students followed along closely as we compared their lists with the faculty/staff lists.  Because the phrasing in the two lists was different, it was helpful to have additional eyes on the lists to find similar concepts, regardless of wording.  All of the ideas that the students listed were useful, even if they were not also included on the faculty/staff lists; for example, one student recommended utilizing a tutor for “Best Study Practices.”  I emphasized that though the ideas might not be listed on the faculty/staff top ten, they could still be beneficial.  Occasionally the students listed one idea in two different ways and counted it as two ideas. For instance, for “Common Mistakes Students Make,” the group listed “not paying attention” and “falling asleep in class.”  Though technically these are different items, the basic concept was so similar that we counted them as one idea.  On occasion, we had difficulty identifying whether an idea matched a faculty/staff idea.  For example, one of the faculty/staff ideas for “Best Things to Do in Class to Succeed” was to “pay attention.”  A number of student ideas were similar, such as “sit in the front of the class” and “do not visit with neighbors.”  In these cases, I was very lenient with the point; if they touched on a matching concept, I generally awarded a point.

All the groups finished with four to six points.  I gave each person in the group with the most points a pen that the college admissions office had donated and a Northwest College sticker that the college foundation office had donated.

As a final activity, students filled out a personal study plan which provided both a review of the session and an action plan for the upcoming semester.  Then we discussed the students’ study plans.


The purposes of the activity were accomplished as students both identified successful study techniques and learned which techniques faculty and staff advocate. By making an action plan at the end of the session, students addressed specific issues, including:

  • When and where they will study
  • What materials they will need to study
  • What rewards they will build into a study routine
  • How they plan to prepare for tests
  • What they will do about test anxiety
  • What qualities they will look for in a study partner
  • What they will do when they miss a class.

By addressing these and other study-related issues, the students identified techniques they committed to using during the semester.  Several students determined to study in a quiet location, such as the library or their residence hall room.  That led to a discussion of ways to eliminate distractions in a residence hall room, such as turning off cell phones, closing the door, and turning off instant message reminders.  For rewards they will build into a study routine, students mentioned exercising, eating a special snack, watching television, or participating in an enjoyed activity following a study session.  The most common quality mentioned when looking for a study partner was “someone who knows the material better than I do.”  We discussed that this quality could be helpful but that explaining concepts to a person who has less understanding of the material can also be beneficial to learning.  After further discussion, several students decided to look for a study partner who was committed to learning and seemed to have the capability to learn.

None of the students was surprised by the strategies that the faculty and staff advocated.  Frequently they said, “I thought of that but thought it was too basic to write down.”  This was a common comment for items such as “do homework assignments” and “attend class.”

The only negative comment I heard about this activity was from a student who wanted to go into more detail about various study strategies before having to come up with them on his own.  He was a non-traditional student who had been out of high school for almost twenty years, and he was very nervous about attending college.  I have since met with him individually, and we have worked one-on-one to incorporate more of these successful techniques into his study routine. 


I enjoyed preparing for this activity.  It was interesting to hear from the faculty and staff regarding their ideas on the chosen topics. 

There were a few difficulties with this activity however.  The lists compiled from faculty and staff ideas were fairly incomplete.  Though I requested information from approximately 240 employees, only 20 responded.  There were also many excellent ideas that the students identified in their lists that were not included on the faculty/staff lists.  To utilize these ideas in the future, I may include them in faculty/staff/student Top Ten Lists.  I foresee these lists being dynamic, as I plan to incorporate new ideas from faculty, staff, and, most likely, students as I receive them.

The awarding of points was also a challenge with this activity, and I was concerned that the students might be discouraged because of the subjectivity when comparing the lists and assigning points. Matching concepts rather than specific wording was a help in this regard, but I might eliminate the point-earning aspect and focus more on the fun of comparing the two lists.

Another difficulty was that the faculty/staff lists occasionally incorporated two concepts into one list item, such as “Review and reorganize notes.” For that topic, if the student separated “review” and “reorganize notes” into two list items, I had to decide whether to count one point or two.  In the future, I will adjust the faculty/staff lists to contain only one concept per list item.

I will present this activity again because it was a fun way to encourage students to think about successful student behaviors. 


I adapted this activity from “On Time Top Ten Trivia” from pages 354-356 of the book “90 World-Class Activities by 90 World-Class Trainers,” edited by Elaine Biech and published in 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Sample Top Ten Lists for a Successful Student (lists created from faculty/staff surveys)

Best Study Practices

  1. Read assigned texts/handouts
  2. Don’t procrastinate
  3. Pay attention to the organization of the text
  4. Highlight key points/terms in text as you read
  5. Review often!
  6. Study with a study group
  7. Get help before it’s too late
  8. Do homework assignments
  9. Make an outline or take notes of your reading
  10. Set aside a quiet place to study with few distractions

Best Ways to Study for a Test

  1. Review and reorganize notes
  2. Review text summaries and highlighted points
  3. Get together with study partners (choose ones who are serious about succeeding)
  4. Complete study guides
  5. Ask questions you are unclear on before the exam/understand what is being tested
  6. Make practice tests
  7. Don’t procrastinate
  8. Read assigned texts/handouts
  9. Make note cards
  10. Eat well and get enough sleep

Best Things to Do in Class to Succeed

  1. Ask questions and participate
  2. Take notes that you can understand
  3. Attend class
  4. Pay attention (turn off cell phone)
  5. Come prepared
  6. Sit where you can see and hear the instructor
  7. Tell instructor if you are having trouble with the way he/she is teaching
  8. Get to know the instructor (go to office hours)
  9. Read applicable text before class so you know what to expect
  10. Eat well and get enough sleep

Best Resources to Help You Succeed

  1. Instructor
  2. Study partner for each subject (choose successful students)
  3. Tutor
  4. Library
  5. Student Success Center
  6. Teaching Assistants
  7. Study Group
  8. You – be proactive
  9. Professionals in the subject
  10. Select internet resources

Common Mistakes Students Make

  1. Not attending class
  2. Not taking responsibility for themselves
  3. Procrastinating
  4. Not asking questions when something is unclear
  5. Not spending enough time studying (for every 1 hr in class, should study 2-3 hours outside of class)
  6. Not getting help soon enough
  7. Not taking notes
  8. Not answering questions fully on homework and tests
  9. Not completing assignments and being up-to-date on material
  10. Being passive

–Lisa Smith, Academic Success Coordinator, TRIO Student Support Services, Northwest College, WY

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