Beyond Back-to-School - Easing Into Good Study Habits

Now that school is fully underway, how are your kids’ study habits going? In our home, we’ve already hit a number of panicked moments and complete disorganization. I know this is all part of the transition of getting into a routine, but the transition can be taxing on both parent and child.

It didn’t take long for me and my 14-year-old to figure out that the new organizational study system wasn’t working. The high school uses a 5- x 7-inch student planner, which was a change from the 8 ½- by 11-inch student planner from years before. My oldest child quickly adapted to the new system a number of years ago. My youngest found that it didn’t work for him at all.

So off we went to the office supply store. When we didn’t find any student planners to his liking, we considered other alternatives. The winner? A teacher’s planner. Who knew?

We also quickly adopted the organizational system that my oldest child created. If a subject didn’t have homework, you write “none” for that day in your planner. That way you know that you recorded the assignment. Otherwise it’s hard to interpret what a blank spot means. Does it mean you forgot to write the assignment in—or that there wasn’t an assignment?

We also found a larger filing system so that each class had one place to hold loose papers. I’ve seen too many middle and senior high school students stuff loose papers into their backpacks. After a month, it’s hard to tell what’s what. Plus, loose, crumpled papers easily fall out, and since they’re in a jumble, they look more like garbage than class notes.

We’ve also learned some key study habits from a new report:

1. Instead of studying in the same place every day, alternate where you study. Study at a desk one day. Then on the couch. Then on the floor. Students who study the same material in different locations learn the material better.

2. Mix your subject content as you learn. Instead of focusing only on math, do a little math and then a little English. Researchers say that musicians and athletes have been using this technique for years. They know it’s good to practice a scale, then work on a musical piece, and then play an arpeggio rather than playing only scales all at once.

3. Space out your study sessions. Instead of learning everything the night before a test, learn a little each day over a number of weeks. You’ll remember more.

4. Test yourself. Researchers suggest studying material then testing yourself. Study it some more and then test yourself again. This helps to cement the information in your memory.

Most of these study habits are contrary to the myths we’ve had about studying in the past. I had always been taught to choose a study location and stick with it. The problem with that approach, however, is that it gets boring after awhile. Moving the location gets the brain engaged.

I’ve also put boundaries on when I’m available to help. During the first week of school, my 14-year-old panicked at 11 p.m. at night because he had forgotten to do his homework assignment on dimensional analysis for science. Not only was I tired and it was too late to call a classmate, but I didn’t know what dimensional analysis was. He needed to convert um to feet. I didn’t know what an um was.

Eventually we figured out what to do, but I encouraged my teenager to pace himself better. He still was in the summer mindset of spending more time on Facebook and watching the TV series Friends than on getting his homework done. But now that we’re getting more into a routine, it’s working better. Homework is getting done on time—and in good shape.

What kind of study habits does your child have?


Benedict Carey, “Forget What You Know about Good Study Habits,” The New York Times, September 6, 2010.

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