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What are academic skills?

Academic skills are important at university and build on what you have already learned at school. Katie tells us more in this article.
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© University of York

Academic skills play a key role in achieving success in Higher Education and beyond, and university provides a great opportunity to build on the foundational skills you’ve acquired during your school days.

When you join an academic community, and engage with people from diverse backgrounds and degree disciplines, you will learn skills in reading and writing, speaking and listening, reading and note-making. You will also be able to learn how to develop your digital, library and referencing skills and, with plenty of practice of the wide range of assessments you will encounter, fine tune your essay and report writing as well as develop your critical thinking skills.

Among all the other academic skills, critical thinking is perhaps one of the most important. Critical thinking and critical analysis are key terms used at university but in academic study, the word ‘critical’ does not mean that you are criticising what someone else has said.

What does critical thinking involve?

Critical thinking means engaging in a whole range of activities:

  • Analysing and weighing up arguments
  • Evaluating evidence that has been presented
  • Distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • Reviewing the research methods used (how the data has been gathered)
  • Considering the potential for bias
  • Analysing different interpretations, viewpoints and perspectives
  • Reaching conclusions based on your own reasoning.

You will read a lot at university, and whilst reading, you will be asking questions – this is known as critical reading. For example, whilst reading an article, you will begin by asking descriptive questions about who wrote the article and when, what it is about and what is the main argument the author is presenting? To develop your critical thinking skills you will go beyond these questions to ask things such as:

  • How was the research carried out?
  • Are there alternative theories that could have been considered?
  • Are there other factors that were not addressed as part of the research?
  • So what?
  • What next?

Developing your critical thinking skills might sound like it could be quite difficult to do but actually, you already think like this in your day-to-day life about some things – you weigh up when you have a decision to make, evaluating both or all sides of the decision, review potential outcomes, and consider different perspectives. Then you will make your own conclusions. University takes those skills you already bring to the table and helps you to refine them into academic skills and future success.

To help you, at the University of York, the Academic Skills Community (or ASC) supports students through their academic skills development. The ASC is designed to help students advance academic, language and interpersonal abilities and has been created to engage students with people from different backgrounds, nationalities, degree types and disciplines. There is also plenty of advice and guidance on maths topics, statistical concepts and analysis, and preparing for numerical reasoning tests, as well as resources to support understanding and production of academic writing.

Take a look at our Skills Guides. This resource is huge, but it takes you to a selection of resources which include videos, interactive tutorials, workbooks and links to help you develop your digital, information searching and academic skills.

Over to you

We would love to hear your thoughts about academic skills and how they are useful to you at university and beyond!

  • Which skills do you remember learning at school and which ones do you think you would most benefit from learning at university?
  • Which academic skills do you think would be useful for success in your future career?
© University of York
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