‘Tis the season for final exams, unit assessments and chapter tests. What does it take to ace these exams? It’s not just the time that’s put in; it’s also the method of studying that produces the best results. Over the years, I’ve seen bright kids that don’t get the grades they were hoping for on these end-of-year tests. They almost always fall into one of three camps when it comes to studying (or not).
These are the kids who do fairly well throughout the quarter, especially on quizzes, but do poorly on cumulative exams. They are smart students who manage to get by during the year without putting too much time into their homework and to studying. The studying they do is often at the last minute. If they have a test on Thursday, they start getting ready on Wednesday night. These kids don’t have a strong sense of urgency until they are right up against a deadline. This type of cramming can pay off in the immediate term, but when they need to learn information on a deeper level, it backfires. Cramming only puts information into short-term memory, whereas learning it over many nights and sleeping on it (by the way, sleep is a fantastic study tool) stores it into long-term memory. It’s not uncommon for Crammers to have two other traits – disorganization and procrastination.
These kids are very hard workers, and they are often fairly well organized. They do well on quizzes and some tests that mostly require memorization. They put a lot of time into studying but don’t see the results because they have a hard time connecting the dots. For example, in history, they may learn about two important battles, but may see them as separate events, not completely understanding how they’re connected. They may not understand how one situation or circumstance affects the whole. So they have trouble making sense of the bigger picture. In math, they can learn a skill in isolation, but have difficulty applying it to problems outside of the specific skill learned. These kids need lots of practice making connections because it doesn’t always come easily to them.
For these students, school has been a breeze. They never really had to study when they were younger, and always got good grades. These are the kids that may not love academics, but they can sit in class, absorb the information, and do well on the test without much effort.
They’re good at critical thinking and analyzing information. But as the work gets harder and more complex, they lack the study habits to perform to their fullest potential. These are the students who could get straight A’s but instead get B’s because they lack the proper study skills. They need direct guidance and a study plan to learn the material quicker and more efficiently.
So, how can studying be tailored to the Crammer, Memorizer, or the Absorber?
Here’s a quick breakdown on ways that will benefit each of these types of students and some other tips that work for virtually any kind of learner.
First, the Crammer has to want to change. In order for a different way of studying to work, he or she must recognize the problem and be willing to make modifications. If it’s not seen as an issue, all the parental suggestions in the world won’t work.
I’ve found that crammers are willing to plan ahead if they don’t feel like they have to do any more work than necessary and if they see the changes result in better grades (and they almost always do). The good news is that they often don’t have to put in more time, they just need to use it more efficiently.
Studies show that when students use a concept called Distributed Practice, they are far more likely to do better on tests. For example, if your child has a test on Friday, he could study for an hour on Thursday night, but he would actually get a better grade if he took the same amount of time and distributed it over multiple days — 20 minutes Tuesday, 20 on Wednesday, and 20 on Thursday. The reason he’ll get a better grade is not because he’s reviewed the material multiple times; it’s that he’s slept on it. When you learn information and then sleep on it, you’re consolidating that information into long-term memory. However, when you cram for a test, that information is learned at a superficial level, really for regurgitation the next day. It’s going into short-term memory. Long-term memory is more beneficial, because when you have a test later on, say a month later, you’re much more likely to be able to retrieve it.
Crammers also respond well to the suggestion of using “weird windows“. Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and if they’re not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it. In actuality, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.
Memorizers do best when they study with others. In humanities subjects that require lots of critical thinking, listening to others’ points of view and how they connect one idea to another is helpful. Memorizers need to study in a multi-sensory way (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic). When left on their own, these kids study by rereading (reviewing their notes or study guide solely by reading the information over multiple times). This isn’t the best way to retain material because you’re only using one sense, the visual mode. By also studying auditorily, you’re incorporating one more modality – and now you’re up to two!
You can make learning stick even more if you add in the kinesthetic (also known as tactile) modality. Anytime you engage in “self-talk” by asking yourself, “What’s important here?” or “How is this topic connected to the other one?” and jot those notes down, you’re learning kinesthetically, by writing. Writing or typing forces the learner to synthesize the information which is valuable for retention on test day. Working with a subject tutor who can help kids create this “self-talk” and learn to study in a multi-modal way, is highly beneficial.
The Absorber is usually a quick study, but like the Memorizer, his main method of studying is rereading. Rereading is by far the most inefficient way to study since it uses just one modality. Absorbers do well when they learn how to use study guides effectively.
When kids are young, teachers provide study guides in the form of a fill in the blank worksheet with questions about what is going to be tested. A great way to use a study guide is to make multiple blank copies of it and to first fill it out as best you can without referring to any information. You’re trying to retrieve what you have in your head and put it down on paper. Then, when you absolutely can’t remember anything else, you can go back to your information, which might include your notes or the book, and pull that information out and write it down. Basically, you only want to study what you know. Use this method three times on three blank study guides, and then you’ll really have it mastered for the exam.
As kids get older, teachers don’t give study guides out as regularly. Instead, students can make their own. In fact, research shows that when high school students make their own study guide, they achieve better grades on test day. How do you do this? Well, you can take the main headlines from class notes or book chapters and turn them into questions and then jot down answers to those questions. Maybe there is a section in the book on the causes of the Revolutionary War. You can change that into “What are the causes of the Revolutionary War?”, and in an outline format, jot down the answers. When you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re requiring your brain to consolidate information and remember the important parts.
At the end of the day, when parents and kids understand study personalities and tailor the preparation process accordingly, final exam grades will be a whole lot better.