Monday, September 26, 2011

Are your children empowered with the necessary study and time-management skills needed for academic success?

As a new academic year begins, it is crucial that students possess the ever-important skills of studying and time management. These two skills are inseparable from each other, and once mastered, they are the key to educational achievement.

The same poor excuses for bad grades have been used for generations: “I am a bad test taker,” “My teacher didn't give us a study guide,” “I have a bad short-term memory.” Surely you have heard someone use at least one, if not all of these explanations for bad performance in school; and maybe you’ve even used them yourself. These excuses are nothing more than that -- excuses. Many students claim that they learn best by reviewing their notes the night before the test and that when they study earlier in the week, they just forget everything by the time they take their tests. These students will also tell you that they can't remember the information that they aced for the test the following week, which means that it was not commited to long-term memory. Without learning the material well enough to understand it, they will inevitably do poorly on the final exam or any tests that build on concepts learned the previous week. With the right study skills, however, anyone can excel in each of their classes, even if they do prefer English over math.

Let’s say for instance that you know your high-school student has a test coming up at the end of the week. You ask them if they are studying each day, and they reply with an honest “yes.” To them, looking through their notes or completing a homework study guide is studying. When they get C's on their tests, they blame the grade on "difficult tests" but they don't realize that what really happened was that they didn't understand the material on the test because they weren't prepared. Simply flipping through flashcards and reviewing a study guide doesn’t cut it. Your student needs to understand all of the material. It's not just memorizing facts but having a comprehensive understanding. If your son or daughter is able to have a discussion on the subject and capable of arguing how they came to their conclusion, they are on the right track. As an educator, I have heard every excuse in the book when a student does poorly; and alternatively, I have seen students ace their tests when they prepare by studying the way I advise them to.

First and foremost, effective study skills revolve around proper time management. The only way for your child to finish all of their tasks and to get good grades is to prioritize and manage their time, this way, nothing important is forgotten. My students use their planners to abide by a “four-day plan” when preparing for a test. If your child has a vocabulary test on Friday, then beginning on Monday, the student makes flash cards that will help them study throughout the week. Writing the information down is an act of effective studying in and of itself. On Tuesday, they use their flashcards to write out sentences for each word. Again, reading and re-writing help to cement the information into long-term memory. Wednesday they take a practice test. When they are done, they will see what areas need extra work prior to test date. By Thursday, they should have the majority of their practice tests mastered. If they are still having difficulty in any specific area, they still have a day to meet with their teacher. Not only will this help the student to conceptualize all of the information, but it will also show the teacher that your child is dedicated to learning and has the desire to succeed. This is something that will not be forgotten as they are grading tests! Having a planner is crucial to this process because they block off chunks of time to study each day, and your student can see how this time fits into their daily schedule. Accounting for studying, socializing, eating and even a nap will ensure that everything gets done in a timely manner.

The four-day plan is not limited to test taking. These study skills can be utilized for learning concepts, writing papers, or doing projects throughout the year, and not just in crunch time. The four-day plan should be repeated weekly, and when done so properly, test time is much easier because your student already knows, understands, and owns the information they will be tested on. Students at Merit abide by the following weekly schedule: Monday includes reading, highlighting and outlining materials. The student re-writes the information in a way that makes sense to them. On Tuesday, they are encouraged to seek out multiple perspectives on the subject. For instance, if they have been studying the hydrogen fuel cell in class, they should go online and/or to the library and read additional materials. This allows them to get a more complete understanding on the subject, and not just a one-dimensional perspective. On Wednesday the student re-writes all of the information they have collected through reading, lectures, secondary sources, etc. Compiling all of the information will help them to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together- it will all start clicking. By Thursday, the student should be able to have a discussion on the subject. If they were to be challenged on the information they are presenting, they should be able to argue their point; understanding that there are no black and white answers. If they are able to do this, they have a full conceptual understanding of the material, and not just what is required for answering specific questions. Finally, on Friday, I have them do their “All’s.” “All’s” combine all of the information they have studied this week, with all of the information they have learned from the beginning of the school year. By doing their “All’s” they truly understand what they are learning, while simultaneously preparing for comprehensive final exams at the end of the semester.

If this seems like a rigorous study process, that’s because it is. I can assure you though, that it is through this method alone that I have seen my students succeed. Like everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. If you do the work now, you will undoubtedly see the returns later. These study skills will be invaluable when your child enters college, because they will truly have the “right” kind of study skills they need for a more challenging and rigorous education.

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