Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Is Your Child Studying The Wrong Way?

Why Cramming Gets a Failing Mark

Sometimes research comes along that confirms what teachers and parents have known for years. Recently money, time and effort have been poured into proving what you may have suspected since the time you prepared for your own high school exams: rereading material over and over is NOT an effective means of studying.

When faced with a test, many students sit down to try and “memorize” facts. They stare at a text book page, until the words blur and their mind wanders, hoping that the information will stick. Using that method some of the material may stay in memory for a very short time, but it is doubtful the information will remain there until finals.

So, in a culture where we believe “practice makes perfect”, what kind of studying does yield positive results. Here’s some advice you can impart to your kids as they prepare for tests and exams.

Don’t Waste Time on Someone Else's Words

Everyone’s brain is unique and we all have our own way of comprehending language. When a student listens to the teacher speaking, their brain automatically starts converting things into a more familiar dialect. Instead of staring at a glossary or a text book page to learn key words, students should be encouraged to put definitions into their own words. After each section or chapter they review, students should also summarize their reading in a language they can relate too. 

This doesn’t have to mean loads of writing – oral answers have proven to be just as successful, however it seems to be better for kids to actually speak their responses aloud, rather than compose them in their head. Perhaps it is too easy for the mind to become distracted if a student is just thinking, rather than speaking or writing.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you can convince your procrastinating teen of this one, then you deserve today’s SUPERSTAR PARENT award. Research shows that it is better to review the material frequently, in small chunks, allowing the brain some time to recharge and forget some of the information between sessions. This allows time for the learning to consolidate in your child’s busy mind. Revisiting familiar material also gives the mind practice in retrieving information out of context, as they will have to do during test time. 

The optimal way to study is early and often, not one or two marathon sessions right before the final exam. Basically, it is best to review everyday – however, who has time for that in our busy world? I say, encourage your kids to review material as early and often as possible – while still maintaining some balance in their life.

Make an Emotional Attachment

One purpose of having human emotions is to tell our brain's to flag something. A strong emotion instructs our mind to pay close attention and remember something. This is why you can more accurately recall situation in which you were extremely happy (such as the birth of your child) or extremely frightened (such as a dangerous accident), as opposed to a non-emotional experience (such as what you had for dinner three days ago). Emotions are like the mind’s highlighters, reminding us to revisit that information later.

If a student is struggling to remember something they should try to relate the material to a personal experience. This will create an emotional link to the information and greatly improve their ability to recall it.

Test, Test and Retest

Students should create practice tests for themselves, anticipating the kinds of questions a teacher might ask. Then, they should use their study notes and texts to find the answers to those questions. Again, students should engage in this practice early and often. Having kids frequently test themselves on the material, either orally or by writing things down, may be more work, but it is one of the best ways to prepare.

Many text books offer review questions at the end of chapters and some teachers provide practice tests. These are great places to start; however, having students make up their own test questions is even better, as kids interact with the material on more than one level. Any effective study practice hinges on students connecting and manipulating the information, rather than just reading it.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Elbow Grease

If studying is not hard work, then they’re not doing it right. Innate ability might help your kids sail through the younger grades without much effort, but middle school and high school should require hard work to earn top marks. A highly developed and persistent study routine will yield great results and set up excellent habits for future academic endeavors (college, university and other learning opportunities). 

Sure, it takes self-discipline to review material regularly, but the silver lining is an improvement in grades, an improvement in confidence and more future opportunities for success. Also (and maybe you can help convince your reluctant studier with this one) it shouldn’t take your student any more time to study the night before the test than it does on any other school night. While all their peers with poorer study skills are staring blankly into the pages of their text book the night before the test, your student can be out enjoying the warm weather, confident that they know the material. Remember what the tortoise taught you, slow and steady wins the race.


As always, enjoy the journey!


For more smart strategies to help with homework see YMC's A+ Guide to End Homework Frustration. To better understand how your student is being assessed in school, see Erin Chawla's post on Understanding the Rubric.

image via woodleywonderworks, flickr cc