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Developing Helpful Habits in High School for Longterm Success

The holidays are right around the corner.  People everywhere preparing with Christmas lists, meal plans, and festive decor.  Students are also getting ready… for finals!  Yes, it’s that last end-of-semester push to see what they’ve accumulated over the last six months. In honor of this hectic and often stressful few weeks, here are a few effective study tips to share with the students in your life!  

The first Schoolerie article How to Prepare for College in High School, an A-Z list, walked through all the important pieces of college prep. This will focus on the letter “B”.

B is for books, online or in paper.  Study them now, because they’ll get REALLY expensive later.  

ABC’s College-Prep Ease

Trends in Testing

There’s been a good debate lately about finals.  Harvard made the news a couple years ago when they published that only about 25% of their undergrad courses had scheduled exams.   However, for a majority of institutions of higher learning and most high schools, the final, or some sort of cumulative assessment will still play a big role in their courses.    In fact, some college students may find themselves in a course where only two grades are posted the ENTIRE semester.  Yep, just a midterm and a final.  On a side but slightly related personal note, walking into a midterm and relying on your own inflated sense of expertise is a pretty inneffective way to prepare for a test.  I spent the next two months clawing back from that mistake to obain an A on the final but a C in the class.  Whoops!  That was not fun.  

A woman in glasses with long brown hair is sitting in front of a computer.  She is wearing glasses, a white shirt, and a maroon sweater.  She appears be frustrated at what she is reading on her screen. There is a can of pencils in the foreground.  The woman has taken a pencil, held it in both hands, and is biting it while facing the computer screen.
Using these effective study tips will keep students from feeling like this during finals

The “real world” also relies on testing to designate professional status.  Think of the Bar, CPA, medical boards.  Even the service industry, like nail technicians and food service providers must pass an examination to legally practice.  Next time you are relaxing in that pedi chair, take a look at those framed certificates that line the wall. They had to pass a test to be there!  

“Good” vs. “Bad” Test Takers

Testing is a part of life. Some people appear to be more “wired” to function optimally in this environment.  However, studies have shown that there isn’t a genetic component to being “good”. I’ve often heard many students say “I have test anxiety.  That’s why I did horrible on that test”. My next question was always.  “How did you study?”  Often, the answer is something close to “I looked at my review guide when I got to class” or “I didn’t because I knew I was going to do bad.”  While testing anxiety is real, it can often be confused with lack of preparation.  Both situations can be pretty unnerving.  

Fortunately, people study studying.  No, that’s not a misprint.  There is a branch of brain study called “cognitive psychology”.  One of main tenets of this branch of science is uncovering how people learn. 

Helpful Effective Study Tips

Fortunately, even if you’re not a cognitive psychologist, here are some ways that you or your child can improve performance on finals this year.  

Tip #1 Ask the Teacher How to Prepare

Talking to teachers independently can be difficult for some students.  However, just the act of reaching out can help teachers better serve students in the class.  While its possible to see what concepts a student knows from their performance on class activities, teachers aren’t always able to read student minds.  Asking questions can also clarify what a teacher needs to re-teach in order to support learning.

Three Questions that Will Help

  • “I’m getting ready for my final and I’m feeling overwhelmed at where to begin. What would you suggest?”
  • “I’ve completed my study guide and am having a hard time with *insert problem or concept*. Could you show me the steps one more time?
  • “Is there going to be anything new that we haven’t been tested on before?
A white piece of paper is placed on a cream colored table.  It is a test.  The subject matter is physics.  There are questions and diagrams.  A hand is holding a pencil in its grasp at the bottom of the image.  There are two answers circled in pencil.
Teachers are a great resource for help. After all, they know what’s on the test.

Tip #3 Review Previously Tested Material

Teachers, like every other human being on this planet, have finite time.  While most will create a new type of examination for the final, it’s likely that many of the test items will come from previous tests.  Why?  Because those items are important!  Will it be the same exact test?  Most likely not.  However, if a concept was valuable enough to be part of a unit test, midterm, or highly weighted activity, it’ll likely make another appearance.  

A common practice for teachers when designing their course is to look at all the content and ask themselves “At the end of the year (semester, class, etc.) what must my students know?  For example, if it’s a class that is a pre-requisite, a teacher might say “What must my Chemistry I students know to be successful in Chemistry II?”  One of the effective study tips for students would be to look at the class in broad terms. It can help narrow the focus of study to the most important concepts. When in doubt, look at the bold print on the class syllabus!

Tip #4 FOCUS

Speaking of focus, ditch the cell phone/close out all browsers, turn off the TV. We live in an era of multi-tasking but not getting anything “done.” While we can complete multiple activities at once, we cannot focus on two things at the same time. If you would like to debate your skills, have another person record your conversation with a loved one while you scroll IG. It ain’t pretty.

What’s one of the benefits from turning off the outside world? Less study time! Edutopia found that students who utilize their time to concentrate on one task at a time perform better than their peers who studied longer but didn’t shut down social media.

Tip #5 Simple but Effective Tricks

Use sparingly!  These effective study tips or strategies will help the test-taker remember information.  However, if it’s not clear why you need to know that My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pancakes, it can end up causing more confusion.  FYI, that’s an acronym for the names of all the planets.  Yes, I don’t care what anyone with an IQ twice of mine says, Pluto is still a planet.


PsychCentral outlines how different memorization tools can help us remember facts. This can be putting the information into a song, think the ABC’s, or coming up with rhymes such as “In 1492 Colombus sailed the ocean blue”. If there’s a test item that is straight recall, or the regurgitation of facts, this can come in quite handy.

The “Brain Dump”

Retrieval Practice states that many teachers use this in seeing what students know. It can also be used so that students can “dump” material or knowledge at the beginning of the test. This allows them to declutter their thoughts and not have to worry about holding onto information that may be needed later in the exam.

Here’s how it works: Matt knows that he will need to remember three formulas to be successful on his math test. He reviews them over and over until the test begins. Before he even writes his name, he writes down the formulas on his test scratch paper or in the margins. Now, he has the formulas to return to at any time.

A test entry sheet lays on a white wood table.  A hand holds a red pencil and is coloring in the bubble.  The arms connected to the hands are covered in black sweater sleeves.  The background is blurry.
“Dumping” can be good on a test! Just don’t write all over your Scantron 🙂

Re-Create the Test Environment

Testing typically happens, hopefully, in a quiet room with minimal distractions. Studying in an environment that mimicks the testing atmoshpere can be shown to increase what Pschologist World calls “association”. Some studies have shown that chewing gum while studying and then chewing the same type of gum while testing can improve test scores. Before you head out and buy an armful of Double Bubble, this assumption only works if you are studying the correct material effectively.

Tip #6 Start Studying from Day 1

It’s like weight gain.  Putting on 20 pounds doesn’t happen over the course of a day.  Studying for a semester final during the last week of school can feel insurmountable.  While it may still be possible to pull off the desired grade, it’s going to come at a cost.  The trade off will likely be fun activities like hanging out with friends or sanity.  If studying for finals seems to be a traumatic event, put it in the calendar for second semester to start a healthy review schedule, starting in January.

Thank you for reading the “Effective Study Tips” post!

What other effective study tips have you found helpful?