Teach kids how to study

I am a university professor. Every year my colleagues and I are surprised at the number of students who enter our hallowed halls of learning without understanding how to study. Some students think reading the textbooks is enough. Others think that by showing up to class they will somehow absorb all necessary material by osmosis. But unless the student possesses an eidectic (or photographic) memory, learning what is needed in this manner is unlikely.

Only by adopting proper study techniques—often taught by parents—will children learn and retain knowledge. William J. Rapaport, associate professor of computer science at the State University of New York, Buffalo, wrote an online booklet called “How to Study: A Brief Guide”. Rapaport’s first suggestion is to help your child understand how to manage his time. “School is a full-time job,” Rapaport said. Children frequently try to fit homework and study around the other things in their life instead of making the schoolwork the priority.

One way to make schoolwork a priority is to actually put it on a schedule. James Deese and Ellin K. Deese, in “How to Study,” write, “A schedule makes time by cutting out wasted motion. It keeps you from worrying about what you are supposed to do next…Assigning time where time is due keeps you from neglecting one thing for another.” Having a study schedule that includes what to study when also helps students avoid either tackling hard or easy subjects first and then not having time to concentrate on the other subjects. (Experts say to start each study session with the “hard” subjects as they will take more time and concentration.)

After determining when to study, students need a place to study. Mangrum-Strichart Learning Resources’ website How-to-study.com says that a good place to study needs nine things: to be available when it is needed; to be free from distractions (meaning no TV, no Facebook, no iPod); to contain all of the materials needed to study; to have space (a desk or table) at which to work; to have enough storage space to house the study materials; a comfortable chair; enough light and a comfortable temperature (too warm and the student may grow sleepy).
Once a place is determined, it is time to crack open the books and notebooks. Rapaport offers advice that is common to all how-to-study experts: take notes in class and then rewrite them at home. This is the best way to process and absorb the information. Rapaport said, “to write down as much as possible, as it will force you to pay attention what’s going on in class, it will keep you awake, and there will be less that you have to remember.”

To take notes thoroughly and quickly, your child will need to develop an abbreviation system. Let him know that is fine to use the ampersand for “and” and to abbreviate however he’d like as long as he can remember what the shortened versions of words mean. Also, neat handwriting doesn’t count. The only people who will see these notes are you and the child. The legible notebook will be the one your child recopies the notes into at the end of each school day, spelling all words out fully and fleshing out any ideas that were quickly jotted down during class. This rewriting of the notes is one of the keys to good study habits.

Psychologists and advertising professionals will tell you that most humans need to review something approximately three to seven times before we remember it. Rewriting and organizing notes is the beginning of that review process. Later, when things need to be recalled for the test, the “clean” notebook is the one that should be read repeatedly while studying for the exam.

And while we’re talking about reading, students with the best study habits read slowly, but not because they cannot read fast. They read slowly because they are contemplating what each sentence means. Teach your child to make notes in the margins or to use those Post-It self-adhesive arrows if writing is not permitted in the book when they see something they think they will need to remember or something about which they have a question. Your child can also write that question or comment down in their notebook so they can review that before an exam or when they need to write an essay.

If your child is one who prefers to review information in small chunks instead of an 8-1/2-x-11-inch piece of paper full of information, help her make flash cards. But make sure both the potential question and the answer are written out on each side of the card. When you and the child are reviewing the flashcards, have the child write down the answers instead of recite them. The writing process will help imbed the information into your child’s memory. Plus, as Rapaport said, “You will have to write the answers on the actual exam, so get used to writing them now.”

And when will your child know she’s studied enough for the day? When all of the notes have been copied, all of the homework has been completed and when she feels confident that she knows the material for any upcoming tests. 

Jill L. Ferguson is a freelance writer from San Carlos, CA.