Savvy Study Skills Help Kids Make the Grade

By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman

Jamie has a history final coming up. She sits down to study for it but then gets distracted with e-mails and a phone call. She finally settles down an hour later but doesn’t know how to start. There is too much information. She wants to get a good grade but feels overwhelmed. The anxiety begins…

As we see the end of the school year approaching, we anticipate impending finals. This often causes a great deal of anxiety because the final exams generally count for a significant portion of the fourth quarter and final grades. Adequate preparation goes a long way. While some students start preparing early, others, the procrastinators, wait until the last minute. While many parents encourage their children to be the plan-ahead types, that doesn’t always work out. So how can you help? Here are some studying basics that might help your child.

Setting: Your setting is important when you sit down to study. You should designate a study area that is free from distractions. Do not try to multitask because you won’t be able to concentrate on either task very well. (This includes checking Facebook, chatting with friends, studying for another subject, etc.) Make sure you are not hungry during study time, and get enough sleep so that you are alert. Reward yourself with breaks at logical intervals. Occasionally study with a friend.

Time Management: If you have too much information to study, break it down into sections and mark on a calendar what you will study each day. Set up a daily schedule that includes studying for multiple tests. While procrastinating is tempting, it is much easier for your brain to absorb material over time than in one night. Do not do the majority of your studying the night before a test. Research has demonstrated that studying 24 hours or more before a test is better for retention. By following these three “plan ahead” strategies, you will have a head start when it is time to do the actual studying.

Pay attention in class. Your teacher will tell you what is important, and you can jot down notes or try to note it in your memory.
Do the required reading and review material on a regular basis.
Try to become interested in what you are studying. Find ways to relate it to your own life.
The most effective type of studying is active studying, not just reading over the notes. I have broken down techniques by subject.

Math: It is important to do your homework and pay attention when the teacher reviews it to check mistakes. Do you have copies of relevant past quizzes and tests? The final may be similar. Find out everything that will be on the final and do sample problems of each type to make sure you understand. The most important homework is usually a general review right before the test. That is the time to make sure you know how to do each problem. When you actually take the test, neatly write down your work. It’s great to do mental math, but too much of it can cause careless errors.

Social Studies and Science:

Reading for Retention: When you need to remember material from a textbook, use the SQ3R strategy.
S = Survey – Read titles and subtitles, pictures and captions, highlighted phrases, vocabulary words, and questions throughout and at the end of chapters.
Q = Question – What do you know about this topic? What do you want to know? Write a question for each subtitle.
R = Read – Read actively. Highlight if you own the book – otherwise use post-its. Keep in mind the questions above.
R = Recite – Answer questions that you wrote above. Paraphrase or teach someone else.
R = Review – all questions and answers – have someone test you.

Study Guides
When it is time to prepare for the final, your teacher may distribute study guides or you can create your own. To do well on the final, you need to understand the main ideas and also memorize some details. The act of creating a study guide will help you organize information in your brain. It should include each concept you need to know with supporting details. Do not memorize isolated facts and events without understanding major events and concepts.
There are several formats, depending on your personality type.

Put everything onto one to two sheets of paper. These should be headings and notes, but once you read a note, you should be able to expand the concept in your mind.
Index cards – Each should cover one main idea, and the notes should jog your memory about the supporting facts.
Create a graphic organizer, with the main idea in the center and subsets branching out.
Memorization: Use mnemonic strategies, such as creating acronyms and silly sentences to help you memorize details.

Study with a friend. Then you can compare study guides or create a better one together and test each other. A parent can test you as well.

Essay Tests:
Ask your teacher some examples of questions that will be on the test. Then take the time to write at least parts of sample essays, including specific examples to back up your ideas. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the course material so that you will be prepared to answer a variety of questions.

Ask Questions:
Ask your teacher any questions you have about the final. Knowing what to expect and being psychologically prepared is half the battle.

Effective study skills can play a substantial part in improving grades. Take the time to study more productively. Create the right setting, manage your time efficiently, and practice active studying. When you finally feel ready for a test, give yourself a break.

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