3 Habits of Highly Effective Students 🌟

After 21 years of working with students, I’ve discovered that the most effective ones don’t usually obsess over big, long-term goals like the ones many of us set at the start of a new year. Instead, they focus on the simple daily habits they know will generate the results they want.

Daily habits are much easier to stick to than abstract goals—and they’re more likely to get you to that big finish line anyway! Here are 3 habits of highly effective students that your child can begin to practice any day of the year.

Habit #1: Effective Students Study Strategically

While most students resort to reading over class notes when it’s time to study, successful students take a more strategic approach. More specifically, they move beyond information review to information retrieval. This means taking the time and focused effort required to recall information without looking at the answer on the study guide. 

Students can practice information retrieval by creating and taking practice tests, working slowly through a stack of flashcards (without rushing to flip them over!), or writing out short essays about the concepts being studied. This strategic study approach improves a student’s ability to both understand the materials now and recall them on test day—a win-win!

Habit #2: Effective Students Plan Ahead

The most effective students practice short-term and long-term planning. Short-term planning means creating a to-do list each day. Successful students think ahead about the blocks of time in their day and plan when they’ll tackle each item on their list.

Long-term planning means using a planner or app to track upcoming due dates and tests. This helps students avoid late-night cram sessions (which studies show aren’t that effective anyway). Instead, effective students learn to set aside time each day leading up to big due dates or tests to make progress without stressing themselves out.

Habit #3: Effective Students Limit Distractions

For generations, kids have had a knack for getting distracted during homework time. But there’s no denying that today’s students have an unprecedented number of distractions clamoring for their attention.

Effective students know how to silence some of that noise by heading to the library, downloading a focus app, or setting timers for shorter blocks of focused study time. The methods vary by student, but the important part is having a plan in place to limit distractions and focus fully on the work in front of them.

Bonus Tip: Effective Students Know When to Seek Help!

Ok, this one isn’t so much a habit as a mindset, but it’s true. Effective students and their parents aren’t afraid to seek help when disorganized systems are holding them back.

Maybe you read through these habits and thought, “Ok, Ann, that’s all well and good, but I can’t make my child do any of this.” And I get that! I had the same struggle when my own kids were in school… until I invited a tutor into our home to help them out.

That’s why we offer executive function coaches who can come to your home and work one-on-one with your child. These coaches know how to diffuse the tension of the homework battle and guide kids to systems that will work for them—including these three habits of highly effective students.

Click below to schedule a free consultation and learn more about guiding your own child to effective systems (without all the pushback).

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Our 3 most popular posts of 2019 👏

Do you ever look around at other parents and think, “Why does everyone else seem to have it all together? Am I the only one figuring this out as I go?”

The truth is every parent is making educated guesses on what’s best for their child, and every parent second guesses themselves from time to time! And, as parents, where do we turn for answers? The internet!

Over the past year, some of the posts on our website have attracted tens of thousands of readers like you. Today, I want to share with you our three most popular posts from 2019 so you can see what questions your fellow parents are asking—and get the advice we’ve shared with them!

Check out the posts below, then forward this email to a fellow parent as a reminder that we’re all in this together… and no one has it all figured out!

#1: How to Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide for Parents

No parent wants to see a bad grade on their child’s report card. If it does happen to your child, it can be really hard to know how to respond. Perhaps that’s why this post has been our most-read post of the year with over 31,000 views.

Check it out for helpful tips concerning…  

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades (and how to talk to them about it)
  • Whether to punish your child for bad grades or reward them for good grades
  • How to investigate why your child got the grade and what to do about it moving forward

With report cards coming up after the break, this is a great piece to read now or bookmark for later. Here’s to hoping you won’t ever need it… but being prepared just in case!

#2: This $5 Tool Makes Homework Much Easier

So what’s the simple tool our tutors love? Whiteboards! 

They’re not flashy or tech-savvy, but they still work wonders with elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Read on to learn what you need to know to make this whiteboard trick work in your household.

Read our post to discover…

  • Why planning for an entire month isn’t realistic, but planning for one day at a time is too short-sighted
  • The best way to avoid stress later in the week
  • The truth about kids being disorganized or falling behind

Schedule a call with us if your child could use a little extra help.

#3: What’s your child’s homework personality?

How is the school year going for you and your family so far? It’s around this time of year that assignments can pile up, calendars can fill up, and stress can build for the entire family. Add a child’s disorganization or poor time management to the mix, and things quickly go from bad to worse.

Read our post to learn about...

  • Focus Apps for Tick Tock Tommy
  • Planning Ahead with Last Minute Lucy
  • Weekly Check-ins with Hot Headed Harry
  • Clean Sweeps with Backpack Bonnie

If your child resists your efforts to help, know you’re not alone. I’ve been there! And that’s why I’ve created a special Executive Function Coaching program to connect your child with an expert tutor who can coach her to find and implement systems that will work for her… without any work on your part!

Schedule a Consult

Has your child tried this simple (but effective) study strategy? 📖

Does your child beg for your help with their homework? Or do they resent your attempts to lend a hand? Either way, it can be difficult to encourage independence while still giving your child the support they need to succeed in the classroom.

That’s why I love the simple study strategy our head tutor will share with you in today’s short video. It can be used as a tool for independent study or in a group, with a tutor, or one-on-one with you. And it only takes a few minutes to set up!

As Jan Rowe explains in this video, all you need for this simple homework tool is a pack of Post-It notes and three poster boards labeled To Learn, To Review, and Got It! 

To Learn

Help your child prepare to study by putting questions on the front of each Post-It note with the correct answer on the back. Refer to their study guide, past homework assignments, class notes, or the textbook to compile everything they need to know for the test.

To Review

Once the Post-Its are on the To Learn poster, a friend, parent, sibling, or tutor can easily quiz them—or, since the answer is on the back, they can quiz themselves! Whenever they get a question right (without peeking!), the Post-It can be moved to the To Review poster board.

Got It!

Once Post-Its are on the To Review board, encourage your child to take a break to work on another subject or eat dinner. When they come back, they can review the Post-Its on the To Review board and, as they get them correct, move them to the Got It! Board.

Watching the information move from To Learn to To Review to Got It! will help your child study for their next test and build their confidence as they see all the content they’ve already mastered.

Need More Study Strategies?

If your child continues to struggle with confidence or performance in a particular subject, don’t let them struggle alone—or try to shoulder the burden of helping them on your own. Let us match your child with their ideal tutor who can come to your home and share more strategies like this one. They’ll make homework time fun and help your child build the confidence and independence they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond!

6 Proven Strategies for Better Grades

If your child is resolved to perform their best in school this year—or to at least tackle first semester finals with confidence—I’m sharing six study habits today that will help. Each of these learning strategies from The Learning Scientists is backed by decades of cognitive research and is proven to help students study effectively, retain what they learn, and perform their best. In other words, they’ll help your child work smarter instead of harder!

(Full Disclosure: Sometimes kids push back when their parents suggest strategies like these—and that’s normal! You can avoid those homework battles and set your child up for success in 2020 by getting a tutor for some extra support. Just click here to schedule your free consult.)

#1: Space out studying over time.

If your child has ever stayed up late cramming for a test, you already know how stressful that can be. As it turns out, it’s not very effective either. Students perform best when they spread out their studying over time, so encourage your child to study for a small window of time each day leading up to exams. Spacing out their studying will make homework feel less intimidating and help with recall on test day—it’s a win-win!

#2: Practice retrieving information.

When told to study for a test, most students default to simply reading over class notes. But for best results, students should practice bringing information to mind on their own. Encourage your child to try writing or sketching everything they remember on a particular subject before checking class notes for accuracy and missed points. Simple tools like flashcards and practice tests (they can even create their own!) also help with information retrieval.

#3: Elaborate on big ideas with many details.

The best way to wrap your mind around a big idea is to elaborate on it with smaller details and make connections to other ideas. As your child studies a new topic, engage them in conversation about how things work and why. Encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers or to create a list comparing and contrasting two different ideas. Diving into those little details can really make the big picture come into focus.

#4: Switch between ideas while studying.

When you’re building muscles in the gym, you don’t pick one exercise (like push-ups) and do them over and over for your entire workout. Instead, you pick a variety of exercises and rotate between them. Effective studying works the same way. Instead of picking one idea or topic to study for an entire session, allow your child to pick a few and rotate. By switching between ideas while they study, your child can strengthen their mental muscles, make connections between topics, and increase their mastery of all the materials.

#5: Use concrete examples to understand abstract ideas.

When a topic feels confusing or abstract, the best way to increase understanding and commit it to memory is to explore concrete examples. Kids can compile examples their teacher gave in class, find them in their textbook, or try to come up with more on their own or with friends. As students list examples, they should also practice explaining why each example works so they can better understand the big idea behind it.

#6: Combine words and visuals.

Students of all ages learn best when they can combine words with visuals. When students come across visuals in their class materials, they should stop and use words to describe them. On the other hand, when they have a chunk of text, they should stop and create a visual—like an infographic, diagram, or even a cartoon strip—to illustrate the ideas. This practice of putting words and images together will help your child grasp the material now and recall it later.

Each of these strategies can help your child study and succeed in any subject, but we also know that students will simply find some subjects harder than others. If a particular class has you and your child banging your heads against the wall, please remember you’re not in this alone! 

Just click below to schedule a consult, and we’ll connect you with an in-home tutor who’s an expert in that subject area.

Schedule a Consult

Is the “No-Zero” Policy doing more harm than good?

The No-Zero Policy is a new grading strategy that is increasing in popularity in schools across the U.S. and, in fact, Fairfax County has adopted it as well.

From the FCPS website:

“Collaborative teams may choose to apply a penalty when work is turned in after the due date. Though if a student has made a reasonable attempt to complete work, teams are encouraged to assign a grade no lower than 50 percent.”

So for example:

Let’s say a student had three assignments he had to complete and he only turned in two of them.

On both of them he got an 80 percent, making his traditional scores 80, 80, and 0. If you average those scores together, that would be 53 percent (an “F”).

Zero Percent of Ten


But let’s say the same student got an 80, got another 80, and instead of getting a zero for that assignment he didn’t turn in, he was automatically given a 50 percent. Now the student has a 70 percent (a low “C” – which one might argue better reflects their understanding of the material).

Is this a good or bad thing?

Argument A: It’s good in that it decreases the negativity cycle, and better reflects how well students are doing with a greater weight placed on tests.

Often, if a student doesn’t turn something in and knows they’re going to get a zero, they may be less inclined to try as hard for the rest of the quarter, knowing that their grade is now “screwed up.”

Argument B: Giving kids credit when none is due is inappropriate, and breeds a lack of accountability.

As this Edutopia article on the topic mentions:

“A no-zero grading policy allows students to do minimal work and still pass, pushes students forward who haven’t mastered the content, and doesn’t teach students the real-life consequences of not meeting their responsibilities…”

We may be making positive changes in the short term, but we’re also potentially sending kids off to college unprepared to deal with the consequences of not completing their work.

Overall, I believe that the no-zero policy for most kids is a good thing, but would love to hear from you.

What do you think? Comment below!

The Do’s and Don’ts of report card reactions

Now that we have a perspective on how to interpret the grades that your child comes home with, the next question is:

How should you react?

If your child comes home with good grades…

…it’s often a parent’s natural reaction to say things like: “Wow, that’s awesome! You’re just so smart. I always knew you were a natural at math.”

Nice Work!

However, this type of praise may do more harm than good. Instead, focus on praising effort, because it’s something kids feel like they can control (unlike their intelligence or natural abilities). Also, though it is indeed time to celebrate good grades as a victory, keep in mind that it’s possible to go overboard with rewards and incentives.

If your child comes home with a bad grade…

First things first, spend the time to figure out what’s going on. There are usually one of two reasons for bad grades.

Reason One: They don’t have mastery of the content.

This means that even though they do the homework, they do extra credit, and they turn things in on time, they’re not “getting” the material. They’re very organized, but they don’t do well on tests, especially unit tests and midterms

tests that cover material over a longer period of time.

If this is the case, your child may not be absorbing the class content

appropriately, and might need to work on their study skills.

Alternatively, despite their best efforts, they may need some one-on-one help from you, a teacher, or a subject tutor who can help bring them up to speed.

Reason Two: They have difficulty with organization and executive functions.

These are usually the kids that get great test scores, but don’t turn in their homework. Their projects are often late. They seem disorganized. They don’t know when things are due.

For students who fall into this category, it’s usually difficulty with executive functions and/or lack of organization skills that’s causing their low grade, not content mastery.

If this is the case, your child may need some work on their routines and habits both in school and at home, and could benefit from working with an Educational Coach.

Once you’ve determined which camp your child is a part of, it’s time to start looking forward rather than dwelling on what happened in the past.

It can be tough

Our natural reaction as a parent is to say:

“Well, what could you have done differently?”


“You know, you should’ve done this or you should have done that.”

Instead of looking back, look forward and say:

“You know what? I can tell that you’re disappointed. Now that you know what material is covered and you know how your teacher teaches, what might you do going forward?”

That’s a better question.

Finally, if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to handling poor grades, I highly recommend you give our full post on this subject a read:

Read the Full Practical Guide to Grades for Parents

Are your child’s grades good, bad, or somewhere in-between?

We all know that an “A” is outstanding and an “F” means failure…

But what do you do if your child gets a “C”?

Well, it used to be, back in the good ole’ days when we were growing up (and used to walk to and from school in the snow… uphill both ways) that a “C” was “average.”

Walking Uphill

Clearly, that’s no longer the case.

As we’ve covered before, because of grade inflation an “A” is the most awarded grade in the United States. To recap, as of 2016, among high school students who have a C or higher GPA:

  • 47% of students receive “A”s
  • 44% of students receive “B”s
  • And only about 9% of students receive “Cs”

That means that on average, a “C” means your child is struggling in class. They do not have mastery of the material, and are likely falling further and further behind their classmates.

Additionally, if the “C” is in a cumulative class like math, a math-based science, or a foreign language, where one skill builds upon another, it’s especially hard for your child to dig him or herself out of a hole.

So here’s a quick breakdown of how to interpret your child’s grades:

  • If they received an “A” chances are they’re in good shape in that class, unless you have reason to assume otherwise.
  • If they received a “B” take some time to ask them about it. It’s worth digging a bit deeper into how they did on specific tests and assignments. For example, if they did exceptionally well on assignments, but poorly on exams, it may be an indication that they haven’t fully mastered the material, despite their diligence.
  • If they received a “C” or below, action needs to be taken. We give some tips below on how to handle this, but it’s safe to assume that they’re behind and need to improve.

Now on to the “hard” part – The Do’s and Don’ts of report card reactions

High School: Lend a Hand and Listen

Last but not least in our series, we sat down with Yara Alemi, one of our highly-regarded high school student tutors, to tell us how best to tackle the transition back to school after break.

(Read our post about Elementary Students Here or Middle School Students Here)

What’s hard about January for your high schoolers?

Yara: One of the things that I always notice with my high school students is that jumping back into the higher level content, once they’ve had that big winter break, can be very difficult for them.

I also work with a couple of juniors, and this is around the time when the pressure of college applications can become really overwhelming.

How do you approach this with your students?

Yara: With the higher level content, one of the big tips is you have to stay organized, and you have to stay on top of it. So with my kids, we go through their syllabus, we make sure that they know when all of their tests are coming up, making sure, for example, that they don’t have three tests on the same day they didn’t realize.

What are some strategies that you take with your students to help them break down all of the work that they’re going to have due in January?

Yara: I’m a big fan of a planner, like many of our tutors. So just spending some time and looking at the monthly view is key, but then I always have my kids make a weekly docket.

So it’s not, “Oh I have to do all of these things by the end of January, it’s so overwhelming.”

It’s, “Okay, this is what I have to do by the end of the week to make sure that I’m still on track.”

And a lot of times, they get a lot of joy from being able to just click “Check” on one of the tasks that they’ve done.

What can parents do to help?

Yara: This is a difficult time for a lot of kids, and I think that one of the biggest things that a parent can do is they can listen. When your child comes to you, and they sound like they have a million problems, as a parent the natural inclination is to jump in and help them out by solving those problems.

But your kids are more likely just looking for a shoulder to lean on, and someone to listen to them. So instead of saying, “I can solve this, and I can help you,” let your son or daughter experience what it’s like to be an adult and have them come to their own solutions. They will lean on you when they need to.

If you’re looking for extra help, a Subject Tutor can deliver that “quick boost” your high schooler needs to feel confident going into January exams.

Contact us if you’re interested.

Get A Subject Tutoring Boost

The Forgetting Curve: Why hard-working kids don’t always test well

In previous posts, I’ve outlined a few trends we’re seeing with grades and testing. And all indications point to the fact that otherwise smart and hard-working kids just aren’t testing as well as they used to.

Additionally, as much as we want things like Test Optional to continue to catch on so that standardized tests are de-emphasized on college applications, we’re still left with the fact that test scores are a big part of what get kids in the door.

So what can we do about it?

One problem we see with the students we work with is not how much time they spend preparing (which can be significant), but what they’re doing with that study time.

In short: they may be studying hard, but they’re forgetting what they study.

This is because of a particular fact about how memory works that most students aren’t aware of.

This is what’s represented in the Forgetting Curve, and it illustrates how information is lost over time if no effort is made to retrieve it.

Image via qz.com

If you’ve ever wondered why back before we had smartphones you could remember the phone number of every one of your close friends and family members… but now have to search through your contact list to make sure you have your parent’s phone number right, this is why.

Fortunately, there’s a strategy your kids can employ to avoid this issue and put their study time to better use.

It’s called Spaced Repetition, and it helps students remember more by re-introducing the information already learned at an interval that coincides with the Forgetting Curve (just before you’re about to forget).

If you’re having a hard time remembering something, you may need to review it daily at first.

But then as you get better, that interval increases to every few days… then weekly… then once a month, and so on.

Here’s a great video on how to put this strategy to good use, along with some apps and tools your child can use to put all of that hard work to better use and start improving their test performance.


Do Retakes Help or Hurt Our Kids?

Along with the test grades your child’s teachers have passed back over the last few weeks, may have come the following opportunity:

To retake those tests and try to improve the second time around.

On the face of it, this seems like an excellent policy.

It gives kids who might not be the best test takers the opportunity to accurately demonstrate what they know.

And to the extent that retakes serve that purpose, I’m all for them.

In practice though, I believe retakes have had negative consequences on both our student’s study skills and their preparedness for standardized tests.

First, they inflate grades… and our student’s perception of how well they know the material they’ve learned.

The most awarded grade in high school and in college continues to hold steady at an “A,” three times more common than it was in 1960.

Image Source: USA Today

This on its own wouldn’t be a problem, if we also saw the same trend with SAT scores. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (average SAT scores fell over the last decade).

While retake policies vary, most allow an averaging of the first and second test scores, with some allowing a complete replacement.

That means kids who would originally have received a 60 (and maybe take a hard look at their study routine) can retake and end up with a B or an A.

Second, they affect our student’s ability to take standardized tests.

We receive calls from parents almost every day with stories of students who have amazing grades (sometimes well above a 4.0 with advanced credits), yet unexpectedly low SAT or ACT scores.

These are diligent, hard working kids who care deeply about their grades.

They’re doing the homework, they’re participating in class, they’re working hard on group projects, but they’re not always doing well on tests.

So they retake the test and bring up their grades, but don’t address the core problem: they weren’t ready when the test was given.

As the author of this Washington Post piece puts it:

“When my son told me he’d just retake his math test if he did poorly, we had a long discussion about what it means to be organized… If he studies and does poorly, that is one thing. But falling back on a retake… isn’t going to cut it.”

So is the answer abolishing the retake policy?

No, but I do think we have to make sure we’re preparing kids in the first place with the study skills they need.