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!
The Friday parents were concerned about the two-day gap between tutoring and the test, but guess what? Those Friday-studying students scored the highest! The lowest “Friday-studier” test grade was a B+.
Here’s my take on why: During those Friday sessions I helped each student lay out a weekend study plan, including a specific checklist of review items to work through on Saturday and Sunday.
Here’s what was on those checklists:
- Vocabulary and concepts, either on index cards or Quizlet, to be flipped multiple times until mastered.
- Difficult homework and quiz problems, highlighted for the student to re-do (it’s extremely important to actually re-work hard problems on paper, NOT to merely look them over)
- The review exercises assigned or suggested by the teacher.
- Extra practice, (above and beyond what the teacher assigned!), especially the chapter review in the text. Khan Academy, Varsity Tutors, and IXL are also great sources for more practice problems. Important note: Extra practice is useless without an answer key or an auto-scoring system like those found on these online programs; you DO NOT want to do tons of extra problems incorrectly!
This all wound up being more work than the students were used to doing, but I don’t think it was egregious.
My impression is that the biggest change for those Friday kids was the longer stretch of preparation time; I wonder if they had ever begun studying on Friday afternoon for a test on Monday. However, by beginning a few days in advance the daily studying was pretty painless…and the results were certainly worth the extra effort.
I also believe that having a written checklist made a big difference. Commonly, kids study “until they feel good about the material,” but, unfortunately, this gut feeling can be terribly inaccurate, especially among novice learners.
Besides, as students study they become fatigued, willpower fades, and wishful thinking / rationalization begins to creep in, making them “sure” that they are prepared…when they are not.
The checklist made willpower irrelevant and kept the Friday studiers on track towards doing everything they needed to do.
(On this topic, if you’re looking for a great holiday read or gift, I love The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande.)
[photos of holiday-decorated lobster traps, Provincetown, MA]