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Study Skills -- Ya Mean I Gotta Teach That Too?

I’ve always prided myself on having had good study skills that I had hoped to impart to my children, who are now teenagers in high school.  I have one son who was happy to take me up on some (not all!) of my suggestions and another who probably would’ve plugged his ears with his fingers would it not have been completely disrespectful.  This was frustrating, as I felt it was my parental responsibility to teach these kids how to prepare for higher level coursework. Then, exactly one year ago, life threw quite a curveball at us.  My older son sustained a head injury playing baseball, and had to have emergency surgery, which resulted in us becoming familiar with the term “traumatic brain injury”.  We endured months of both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, and are very grateful that today he is doing extremely well, from a physical and cognitive standpoint.  Part of his  rehabilitation program included daily “cognitive therapy”, which was designed to improve memory skills and give him strategies to enhance his ability to retain new information…….otherwise known as STUDY SKILLS!  I can’t tell you how many times I asked his therapist if I could bring in the younger brother for a few sessions, as I really felt this “cognitive therapy” was something that most teens could use.  She assured me that insurance wouldn’t go for it, but I was more than welcome to share some of the things I learned with his brother (smile).

I know through talking with friends who have college-aged kids that many students are not well-prepared for the kind of studying necessary for success with higher level coursework.  So many students have adjustments to make with being away from home, but also get slapped with the reality of life in higher education.  I’ve heard too many stories of kids flopping and floundering with their workloads, calling home in a panic with every exam, and feeling so desperately overwhelmed.  It occurred to me that some kids never learn how to study in an independent manner.  Sure, they’re often given study guides, which usually help focus the study effort…..but rarely will a study guide cover all the material, or tell a student the best way to use it.  Students really need guidance about HOW to study, not just WHAT to study.

I’d like to share some of the ways I’ve heard teachers and therapists help students improve study skills, and invite you to share some of your strategies.  I don’t believe helping students learn how to study is time-consuming, but it does take some forethought and planning.  It might be helpful to have a bank of ideas!  The result is students with better skills for lifelong learning.

  • The open note quiz:  Students are not required to take notes, but are given an “open note” quiz about a week before a chapter exam.  Common sense would tell even the most doubting students that taking good notes on the material is in their best interest.  This strategy also gets them started on reviewing for the exam well in advance.
  • Notecards:   Another “optional” study tool that has been suggested by some teachers….only the pot is sweetened…..students who turn in their notecards on test day get 5 bonus points on the exam.
  • The “tri-fold”:  I’ve seen a teacher require the completion of a “tri-fold” as a homework assignment.  These are great for learning new terms, especially foreign language vocabulary.  It may be used like this: The paper is folded in three columns.  In the first column, the student writes the word in the foreign language, and the English counterpart goes in the second column.  Then the student folds back the first column, and attempts to fill in the third column with the foreign language word.  The paper then gets turned over, and the process is repeated.  Repetition, repetition, repetition!
  • Mnemonic devices (e.g. acronyms, word associations)….Try having students draw a picture that they associate with a concept, or come up with a silly phrase to help them remember a list, sequence, or formula.  Our son was taught to use these often in his cognitive therapy.  I asked him if he still uses the strategies he learned, and he said he absolutely does.  Word associations are great for remembering things.  When memorizing some of the body systems, he remembered that axillary referred to the armpit area by associating it with Axe deodorant.  Hey, whatever it takes!

First 10 elements on the periodic table:  Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine, Neon

Word association to help you remember them in order:  Hyper Helen Likes Berries Boring Carl Never Opts For Neon

*The key to effective associations is to be sure they are personal to the students.  They should come up with their own, unless you have a great one that is catchy and easy to remember!

  •  Encourage multi-modal study habits….Read it, write it, and say it out loud!  When we use different senses while studying, this helps file the information in a “deeper drawer” of the brain.   This is better for longer retention of the material, and quicker retrieval.
  •  Although most teachers are excellent about giving notice for exams, I do know some who wait until the day or two before the test to give out the study guide.  This is usually the signal that students use to start studying, even though it may not be the intention of the teacher for students to wait for the guide.  It may be best to give out the study guide at least a few days in advance so students get the hint that it’s time to start preparing!  Yes, there will always be procrastinators, and even though you’ve had the exam date written on the board for ten days, some people will wait until they have the study guide in their hot little hands.

With all that teachers have to get done in a very short time, improving the study skills of students may not be high on the priority list for some, but there are some students out there who will truly appreciate it, many who will benefit, and some who will always remember that trick you taught them.  If you have any ideas to add, please do!  I’m still working on our other son (smile).