In classrooms across America, teachers strive to provide engaging lessons, meaningful homework, and assessments, but more often than not, our students aren’t learning how to learn. Kids walk out of their classrooms armed with study guides, notes, and chapters to read, but they don’t know how to put that information into storage for retrieval tomorrow, next week, or three months from now.
For many teens, studying means quickly reading through their textbook or notes. Wrong! Studying isn’t passive; it is a full contact sport. In order to really study, students need to get engaged in the material. This type of studying is very different from merely reading over the material. The following tips will help your child to properly prepare for the next upcoming test.
- Set the groundwork
Helping a younger child study for a test might be a piece of cake, but so often, teens resist their well-meaning parents’ support. When you know a big test is coming up, approach your child early on. Consider asking, “Can you show me how you’re going to study?” Open a dialogue about how your son or daughter will prepare. Remember, the end grade isn’t as important as the preparation process.
- Use the study guide properly
If you are reviewing test material with your child (or if he is doing so independently), encourage him to make connections instead of merely verbatim. For example, if you are asking your child to define terms for a biology test, ask not only the definitions of mitosis and meiosis, but also how they are the same and different. Helping your teen make connections between topics stimulates flexible thinking. This is important because the actual test questions may not be just as they appear on the study guide.
- Try out a 3×5 card
When your child has a study guide or an old quiz from which to study, they should read the question, cover the answer with a 3×5 card, and try to recite the correct response. If they get it right, they check it off and go to the next one. If it’s wrong, they practice a few more times until they get it down.
- Utilize mnemonic devices
Researchers have found that using mnemonic devices can help students improve their memory skills by connecting to-be-learned information to what the learner already knows. One common mnemonic device is HOMES, which is an acronym for the Great Lakes- Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. This strategy is flexible; it can be used with virtually any type of rote memorization. Once students are shown how to use this technique, they come up with all kinds of catchy acronyms to make retention easier.
- Let your teen hold the cards
If your teen has flashcards that he needs to study, let him hold the cards and quiz you. Studies show that merely allowing the student to hold the cards and take on the role of the teacher increases time on task and retention of information. If your child is a visual learner, encourage him to draw a picture next to the term he is learning. This helps to create a mental image, which triggers the definition. For example, if the vocabulary word is “docile”, his drawing might be of his dog, who is good natured and easy to train.
- Make a practice test
A highly effective way to prepare for an exam involves creating a practice test. This means that the student generates a sample test of questions he thinks might be on the exam. This information can come from old quizzes, a study guide, or notes. Encourage your child to ask the teacher about the test format. Will it be comprised of essay questions, fill-in-the-blank, or multiple-choice? This formation helps with preparation.
- Invite a friend over
For some students, small group learning is far more appealing and productive than going it alone. Positive peer influence has been well documented to improve academic success, and as an added bonus, study groups are fun. Group discussion will help your teen absorb new information that he may otherwise miss just by reading.
- Plan ahead
Practice makes permanent when studying for tests, especially when it’s done in advance. Once a deadline for a test is given by the teacher, your child should record it in his planner along with the smaller study tasks leading up to the final date. Breaking a large task, such as studying, into smaller ones over a period of days increases memory retention and decreases stress.
- Troubleshoot test anxiety
Many students are quick to complain about test anxiety. Although some may be accurate in their self-diagnosis, others are nervous because they haven’t prepared properly. Perhaps they’ve read their notes, skimmed the chapter, and reviewed the study guide, but that is not true preparation. Quizzing oneself until the information is committed to memory is imperative. If an answer is “on the tip of his tongue,” it’s likely that it wasn’t stored into memory effectively and more work is needed.