Summary: College Skills Inventory

The College Skills InventoryTM (CSI) was developed over 10 years from the experiences of students who attended four-year colleges across the U.S. It aims to identify whether pre-college students have the skills necessary to succeed in the higher education environment. The CSI:

  • Is based on interviews and observations of more than 3,700 students, as well as a direct examination of the requirements for 2,100 college-level courses over the span of 10 years.
  • Breaks down the skills, habits, and characteristics needed for college success in to core areas represented by scales and subscales. Each core area is critical to college success, and the scales and subscales summarize them for an easy understanding of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Is not a simulation like standardized tests where those who score well are assumed to do well in college. Rather, the The College Skills InventoryTM is based directly in the higher education system itself, on real-life students and actual college course requirements, and on summarizes the skills, habits, and characteristics of students who were successful in these courses.
  • The CSI was designed as a measurement for pre-college populations to identify what essential habits, skills, and characteristics they may already possess or be lacking for college. This has implications for both skills improvement before entering college, as well as class placement for incoming freshmen.

The College Skills InventoryTM helps to answer broader questions such as:

  • Is the student ready for the college environment?
  • Are there student weaknesses that should be addressed before entering higher education?
  • Would the student benefit from certain experiences before college or during their first year?
  • What specific skills should they improve to be ready to succeed in college courses?

The CSI also answers specific questions about critical student success skills, habits, and characteristics such as:

  • Do they study consistently, or put off their efforts until the night before an exam?
  • Do they have and apply study skill methods, or merely rely on their memory?
  • Are they an experienced reader who can digest and learn text information? Or do they rely solely on Instructor handouts?
  • Does the student know how prepare for exams effectively? Do they know when to begin preparing, and whether they’ve prepared enough?
  • Do they have an effective process for planning and writing papers, or do they write in one-shot the night before?
  • Do they seek input and feedback from Instructors about their overall efforts? Can they handle receiving feedback, or do they avoid it because they perceive it as criticism?
  • Is the student precise and organized in how they approach their studies, or are they disorganized and chaotic with their class work?
  • Can they use their time effectively, or do they put off work until the last minute?
  • Do they feel motivated to succeed in the academic environment, or are they unsure of whether going to college is for them?

Role Of The Scales And Subscales

The CSI’s scales and subscales are a way to group topics in to related areas. For example, questions about whether a student keeps up with assigned reading, studies on a regular basis, or has knowledge of study techniques would be associated with the Reading and Studying scale. The pattern of a student’s strengths and weaknesses across the scales and subscales can then suggest areas that may need to be improved before the student enters the college environment. For the CSI, scales are broad areas of related topic areas that questions are associated with.

Subscales are similar to scales, but they examine topics that can occur across many scale areas. For example, the Productivity subscale looks at a student’s ability to be successful at accomplishing goals like finishing required work. Issues that affect productivity might occur in different scale areas, such as the Papers & Writing scale, Test Preparation scale, or Work Style scales (e.g. the student has problems being productive with writing, when preparing for tests, or because they tend to be disorganized). Subscales can be very useful for understanding strengths or concerns that occur across many topic areas.

The special scales work in an opposite way (and direction) of the scales and subscales. Rather than increase with a correct answer, they increase with an incorrect response. This makes the special scales a “red flag” measurement and suggest further action if the student earns high scores in these areas. For example, a high score on the Advising Concerns special scale may suggest that the student is unsure of what they would choose as a major in college, or that they might benefit from career exploration. Similarly, a high score on the College Skills Concerns special scale would suggest that they answered incorrectly on many of skills-related questions in the CSI, and that they might benefit from tutoring, coaching, or other experiences to build their academic reading ability, writing ability, organizational skills, test preparation skills, or other areas.


The CSI’s scales currently include:

  • Reading And Studying
  • Test Preparation
  • Test Taking
  • Papers & Writing
  • Seeking Guidance On Efforts
  • Control Over Academic Life
  • Being Proactive
  • Self-Awareness
  • Motivation For Learning
  • Values And Beliefs
  • Academic Interest
  • Work Style
Screen shot of some College Skill Inventory scales.


The CSI’s subscales currently include:

  • Learning Skills
  • Understanding College Expectations
  • Productivity
  • Asking For Help
  • Pre-College Preparedness
  • Engagement In Learning
Screenshot of College Skills Inventory subscales.

Special Scales

The CSI’s special scales currently include:

  • College Skills Concerns
  • Advising Concerns
  • Learning Environment Concerns
Screen shot of a College Skills Inventory special scale.

Question-Level Analysis

While the scales and subscales show overall patterns of a student’s strengths and weaknesses, specific questions can give a more precise understanding about why a student’s response was consistent or inconsistent with essential college success skills. This item-level analysis can then be the basis for planning improvements or actions to strengthen a student’s skills, or for targeting specific issues with a tutor, advisor, counselor, or other professional. This question-level analysis can bring the greatest insights in to how a student can improve their abilities and be best prepared for college.

Scale Descriptions

Each scale, subscale, and special scale has a detailed description that accompanies it that describes the general content and ideas contained in that topic area. This affords the student a description of the topics associated with that scale, and is also the basis for understanding their percentage score. The scale descriptions also allow a student to understand which areas they might need to work on in order to be better prepared for college if they earned a low score in that area.

Answer Explanations

After submitting for instant scoring, each question provides the correct answer and shows the student’s response. It also gives an explanation for the correct answer that describes what successful students do on each topic. For example, if the question pertains to studying, the explanation might say that “successful students study on a consistent basis” and will give some details about important methods or considerations for that topic. In this way the answer explanations help a student to not only understand why they might have answered incorrectly, but also tells them what they can do to improve in the future. The College Skills InventoryTM provides an important feedback and teaching function in addition to being an assessment tool.

College Skills Inventory correct answer with answer explanation.


Strengths Of The CSI’s Approach

The College Skills InventoryTM measures actual skills, habits, and characteristics of students that are associated with college success and positive academic achievement. It is derived directly from the population that has the skills it wishes to measure – college students – as well as the environment it aims to make predictions about. Real-life college students were interviewed or even worked with directly during their course attendance, and the syllabi for their classes were reviewed to identify the content requirements. Because of this level of immersion in the construct it measures, the CSI is a “content valid” test and not a theoretical or aptitude test simulation that is assumed to be representative of an certain environment. It is based directly on the students, courses, and learning environments of the college system in the U.S., which makes it unique and the only college success assessment of its kind. Traditional predictors, such as standardized testing, high school GPA, or earning advanced placement credits are not based directly on actual students and the requirements of courses at colleges in the U.S. and have shown to have only moderate or even poor predictive power for understanding which students will succeed in college.


The College Skills InventoryTM is intended to gauge a pre-college student’s current skills as compared to the real-life skills needed for success in the higher education environment. It can be used to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses during high school, as well as at the juncture of transitioning to college. Juniors or seniors in high school, or incoming college freshmen, are the best candidates for the CSI. It is not intended for college students, please see the Applied Learning Skills InventoryTM for current college students.


The College Skills InventoryTM takes 20 to 30 minutes for students to complete. It is in a simple format, with instant scoring, and students can download the results upon completion.