Smith, Mike & Glenda (1988) A study skills handbook for students
studying in English. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
"A study skills handbook for students studying in English" is a unique English
for academic purposes (EAP) text book. Usually, EAP texts concentrate on
reading and writing skills with a focus on one or the other. This handbook is
far more comprehensive as it covers
timetabling for study purposes,
quoting skills, and
As such it caters to all EAP study needs.
Mike and Glenda Smith wrote this book for foundation level students at the
University of Papua New Guinea, who, like University of the South Pacific
foundation students, need to improve their English language proficiency in
preparation for further studies. The content on which the skills are based is
multinational and of multi-interest, but focuses on Pacific issues. Using
regional content is a plus for Pacific students struggling to improve their
language skills; they will not have the double burden of dealing with unknown
content in order to improve their langugage skills, as routinely happens in
language texts based on foreign content (e.g., British or American concerns).
The introduction for the student states that the text is designed to be used in a
"taught course in an educational institution", but that parts of the text are
amenable to self-study. The format of the text, which provides explanations
interspersed with hands-on exercises and "golden rules" to follow, is very
adaptable to self-study groups with minimum supervision as well as high-ratio
student-teacher tutorial situations.
The tone of the explanations in the text is somewhat paternalistic, but in all
fairness, this is sometimes comforting to students accustomed to conservative
teacher-centred classrooms. The exercises, however, are less characteristic of a
teacher-centred attitude. They incorporate pair work and self-analysis
questionnaires as well as more traditional exercises. Unfortunately, there is no
answer key, although some answers are provided in the text itself.
The material covered in the units is to be taught in the order presented.
However, the units are discrete entities, and could be used alone, or possibly in
combinations tailored to particular class needs. The dictionary, and quoting
skills units are thorough and particularly useful sections, as they are not always
adequately covered, if covered at all, in most EAP text books. On the other
hand, to supplement and select from the reading and examination skills units
seems necessary as both appear to be too narrow and superficial in scope.
The dictionary unit is very comprehensive, owing to the authors' heavy
emphasis on dictionary use. But it is of concern that the authors encourage
ESL (English as a Second Language) learners to be overdependent on the
dictionary, and, in so doing, underemphasize other word-attack skills. The
dictionary unit is, nonetheless, very complete, and could be put to good use in
most intermediate-level ESL classrooms.
The reading skills unit, while encouraging students to identify their reading
needs and to select reading materials appropriate to their academic purposes, falls
a little short on predictive reading and word-attack skills. However, there are
many texts on the market which concentrate solely on developing good reading
skills, although their content, admittedly, may not be oriented to Pacific
students. Supplementary material is recommended to the preliminary reading
The treatment of writing skills is more complete; notetaking, descriptive and
argumentative writing, and illustrative graphs and charts are all provided.
Furthermore, the unit on quoting skills, dealing with plagiarism, and proper
documentation of source materials, covers material seldom found in EAP texts,
and much needed in the classroom.
The test-taking strategies outlined in Unit 8 are also welcome additions.
However, the emphasis on quantitative aspects of test taking (e.g., budgeting
time for answering questions, determining the number of discrete points required
in an answer on the basis of marks awarded, etc.) should be supplemented with
instructive information about qualitative test-writing skills (such as how to
focus an essay answer, how to plan an essay under time pressure, etc.).
"A Study skills handbook for students studying in English" takes a rather
conservative and, in the words of one author: "prescriptive" approach to study
skills. This is inappropriate in learner-centred class situations, but is very
helpful for high-ratio student-teacher classes, novice teachers, self-study groups,
and tutorial situations. The text provides, in a very comprehensive format,
clear-cut guidelines for ESL students who have to cope with academic work in
the English language classroom.