Great students don’t study the way everyone else does. They usually need minimal review before tests, and they never need to pull an all-nighter before an exam. What’s their secret?
The answer is that students who are great at studying are doing it all the time. The most successful students have a consistent, ongoing process of learning that helps them absorb information as it’s presented during class. They put in time and effort during the entire semester, but it pays off when they sail through exams with flying colors.
Unfortunately, students spend their time in high school focused on course content and curriculum. They don’t learn how to learn, just what to learn. Some students naturally develop great study habits. The good news is that everybody else can be taught.
Here are the top 7 study tips for high schoolers:
#1 – Anticipate new content and review old content
Has your student ever thought about looking ahead to get a jump on the material the teacher will be covering in class? If that information is available, skimming it in advance could help generate questions they can bring into their teachers. Multiple exposures to course content can also help solidify the material.
While students are in class, they should be taking clear, thorough notes. Then, in order to fully absorb the material and ensure that their notes make sense, they should review their notes that evening while the information is still fresh. If they have questions, they can bring them into class the next day to have the teacher answer them immediately. While this approach does require a few minutes of review each day, it’s more efficient in the long run.
Students who struggle to concentrate during class may benefit from recording lectures and listening to them again. If the teacher gives permission, a simple voice recorder or the voice recording function on a smartphone works nicely, as does a LiveScribe pen. Students currently in virtual classrooms may be able to record lectures over Zoom or other platforms. If your student finds that they aren’t listening to those recordings, which can be time-consuming, skip them and rely on the other tips we’ve outlined here.
#2 – Take notes on your notes
Whether it’s math, history, or science, re-typing, rewriting, or at minimum tidying up and annotating notes from class is great for clarifying concepts and building retention. Students don’t need to incorporate every detail; rather, they should focus on the most important concepts and identify what they think may be covered on future tests. Students can also take notes on their textbook or handouts by adding explanations and detail in the margins (provided they own the textbook!).
Students should use this note-taking as a time to process the content, which is more than simply rereading or mindlessly retyping. The purpose is to synthesize the information. One good way to synthesize is for a student to rewrite or summarize notes into their own words. These summaries can even be verbal, i.e., spoken aloud to a parent, friend, or tutor. Rereading isn’t enough to create retention; the process needs to be active.
Ideally, part of your student’s daily routine would include processing their notes from class that day. A student might come home from school, take a quick break, then start a daily homework session by annotating class notes before moving on to the day’s assignments. Whatever your student’s process, regularity is key!
#3 – Return to earlier material
Once a concept has been introduced, your student should thread it into their study and review program on a regular basis. Some classes will require a weekly review of all course notes. Others will require students to consciously work with concepts in other formats, such as response papers or discussions.
Returning frequently to previously covered concepts will keep them fresh as your student progresses through new content. Building connections between concepts helps retention and also helps to broaden understanding of the material. The greater the web of knowledge your student can create, the better.
Students can also keep a running “terms list” or glossary for each class. This is a place to write down any unfamiliar vocabulary words or concepts. Again, for retention, it’s important that students write these terms down in their own words and review them often.
Just as with annotating notes, regularity is key for reviewing and consolidating concepts. We recommend students set aside time for review on a weekly basis.
#4 – Treat homework as a learning tool
The goal of homework is NOT to complete homework. What? Yep, it’s true. The goal of homework is to help students learn the material that’s being taught. Getting through the assignment without developing a deeper understanding of the material is really missing the point.
A student should only consider their homework done when they have completed the assignment AND learned the concepts or skills the homework was designed to practice. A student will need to leave enough time to work through the assignment at a reasonable pace and allow concepts to sink in. Even if the teacher doesn’t grade homework, students should treat every assignment as important.
#5 – Create flashcards early in the semester
There’s no better study tool than good old-fashioned flashcards. They’re an easy way to helps students identify (and remember) important concepts for future studying and review. However, flashcards are most effective when they’re reviewed regularly. At their core, flashcards are a memorization tool, and they work best with repetition and a longer period of time. In other words, making flashcards the night before an exam won’t do your student much good.
#6 – Clarify what’s confusing
If your student doesn’t understand a concept that was covered in class, they should address the issue immediately. Whether it’s asking a friend, going to a teacher’s office hours, or hiring a tutor, getting clarification as soon as possible is crucial. Going through a semester without understanding a core concept is like building a skyscraper on a shaky foundation. The longer confusion persists, the more your student will fall behind. And that means a whole lot more ground to cover before an exam.
#7 – Schedule regular study sessions
It’s helpful to make studying part of a set routine. Perhaps each class gets a dedicated weekly block of review time. If your student doesn’t have any new material to go over, they can use that time to annotate their notes, create additional flashcards, look ahead at new material, or review their terms list.
When your student is studying for exams, they should also do the following:
- Reverse engineer a study plan. Work backward from the test date and schedule specific times to review. Broadly speaking, we recommend studying for quizzes two days in advance, studying for tests three days in advance, and studying for exams two to three weeks in advance. This will differ for each class, but these recommendations are a good starting point.
- Redo practice problems. For technical classes (like math), students can start with a previously assigned set of review problems and redo them, making sure they’re comfortable with everything that was assigned. For fact-based classes (like history), they can review notes or flashcards that they’ve made throughout the semester.
- Check out previous exams. Many professors archive and make past exams available to students for practice. If past materials are available, your student should work through them thoroughly. Be careful though, because the current exam will be different — maybe slightly, maybe entirely — so other forms of review are important as well.
It’s important that a student’s approach to studying is both comprehensive and sustainable. If your student is overzealous, they won’t continue the process long-term. As your student is implementing these new habits, it’s better for them to start slowly than to go overboard and then quit.
Want to help your student become a stellar studier? Signet’s academic coaching program is designed to help students develop the skills they need for academic success in high school and beyond.