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!