Many students complain that they don’t know how to study, so I’ve compiled this short and sweet page of the basics.
Perhaps now, as the first grading quarter winds to a close, is a good time to read down this list and get back on track with these five essential good-student behaviors:
How to Study
Five Basic Practices for Academic Success
Do all your homework, on time, every day. Teachers assign homework so as to give you the practice you need to learn and remember the material. The single most important thing you can do to understand better, remember more, and score higher grades is to always do all your homework thoroughly (even the “optional” stuff) and on time.
It’s such a shame that in our culture testing has such a bad name.
The dad of one of my students is a physician; he recalls that:
Medical school is all about being tested. We were constantly quizzing, taking tests, and flipping flash cards (each flash card is a tiny test). We were tested multiple times every day. All that testing made our minds sharp, plus it kept us aware of the areas we still needed to work on. It was a powerful way to learn.
Back-to-school time is the perfect time to start fresh routines and establish healthy habits. These are the ones parents and I have been talking about the most:
Students, teachers and parents are all feeling the end-of-year time crunch; between sports, proms, plays, high stakes exams and piled-on schoolwork, it can be hard to imagine where to find those blocks of study time.
It’s time to resort to what I call Sneaky Studying. The key is to stop waiting and hoping for those big chunks of uninterrupted study time, because they ain’t gonna happen!
Teachers still hand out textbooks in September but then so many (I’m tempted to say MOST) teachers rarely assign readings or homework from them, instead supplying students with hand-outs, worksheets and powerpoints.
Commonly, students claim that their texts are “up in my bedroom somewhere,” never to be opened!
Yet textbooks can be wonderful tools for learning and for exam review.
Here in my school district, mid-year exams are on the horizon, but still far enough in the distance so that there’s plenty of time for students to prepare thoroughly and well.
This is a golden opportunity for kids to learn how to make an action plan so that daily review happens.
I always start by asking students to come up with a list of what they’ll need to do in order to be well-prepared for their exams, and most kids are pretty good at this part. Here’s a real-life, anonymous sample:
For chemistry I’m going to make flash cards based on the test study guides and my notes/worksheets. For history I will review my hand-outs and practicing writing some essays. For English I’ll have to refresh my knowledge on the books we read and their themes. In math I’m going to look over any old tests and quizzes as well as do the activities my teacher has on his website. For Spanish I’ll look at old quizzes and review the vocabulary and conjugations.
I hope you will agree that this student clearly knows what he’s got to do, and is off to a great start.
But now here comes the hard part: Notice how vague and unspecified this list is? It’s full of phrases like “review,” and “look over,” (what, exactly, does he have in mind to do? What, for example, does he mean by “look over”?) and it doesn’t specify WHEN he will do these things, HOW MANY flashcards he will create per day, and so on.
This list now needs to be converted into a daily action plan, including specific, quantified activities that will be completed each day.
Here’s my own hypothetical example of an action plan for this student:
Students typically wait until the last minute to begin studying for tests, and many parents support this practice, fearing that their kid will forget the material if they review it too early. But decades of tutoring as well as personal experience has taught me otherwise: Consistent, deliberate practice over time is the way to master material.
I have 30 tutoring students, and bunches of them go to the same schools and are in the same classes. This means that I often have multiple students taking the same test on the same day.
Recently, I was working with a number of students who were all getting ready for the same Monday algebra test (the test was being given by more than one teacher at the same school). My weekend schedule was so hectic that, in order to find enough time for everyone, I met with some students after school on the Friday before the test (my least popular time slot as you can likely imagine). The rest of the kids reviewed with me on Sunday.
This arrangement accidentally created a nice mini-experiment, with interesting results!
As a tutor, the most exciting, emerging area of my work is parent involvement. More and more parents are reaching out to me for information, skills and tools they can use in supporting their children’s learning. And, I am always encouraging parents sit in on tutoring sessions so they can refresh on the subject matter and learn new strategies.
All learning, including tutoring, is most effective when it’s backed up with daily, active involvement from parents and/or other caring adults.
When our schedule changes, many of the environmental cues that trigger automatic behaviors disappear. We feel unsettled, but our mind is open to developing fresh routines.
So although summer may feel tumultuous, it’s actually a wonderful time to help your student establish a new study habit, such as daily reading, vocabulary study, sentence writing or math practice.
Many students are in the thick of final exams right now and others have exams coming up in the next few weeks. Here are four more tips for final exams and school in general:
Study smart, and hang in there!
[photo taken at LisSurMer, Cape Cod, MA, May 2013]