If we are to provide effective study skills, particularly for non-traditional students, then the way we think about and respond to it needs to be radically rethought. Drawing on the contribution of New Literacy Studies the author criticizes decontextualized approaches to ‘study skills’ which treat students as inadequate in favour of one which constructs them as social practices with implications for people’s roles and identities. If students are to acquire ‘epistemological access’ to academic discourses there is a need to go beyond identifying the problem as simply one of teaching and learning. Some implications of this approach for more helpful forms of practice are identified.