One of the big things that I’ve been asked about lately has been how to help students study more efficiently and effectively. To be efficient, they must be able to do it with as little time investment as possible and to be effective; they have to be able to retain as much knowledge as possible.
Here are my top 3 tips for great studying:
Location, Location, Location
Two of the most common areas for study are the kitchen table and the bedroom. Both have their drawbacks. The kitchen tends to be the hub of the household, so the student is frequently interrupted. The bedroom is a poor choice because it’s generally full of distractions (a computer, stereo, cell phone) and it’s where your child sleeps, which makes for a naturally lethargic mood.
My best suggestion is a neutral location that is quiet and has good lighting – for most people, that’s actually the dining room! The student should bring only what he/she needs to study to the dining room, and pack it up at the end of the study session, to define a clear start and end to the activity.
Timing Is (Almost) Everything
There are two points to the timing issue. One is when your student studies and the other is how long they study on any particular subject.
Most students operate on a sleep-deprived schedule – going to bed late and getting up late (when they can!). This means that their most effective non-school hours are generally mid- to late afternoon, and attention trails off towards the end of the day. By having your student do their studying when they get home from school, they also tend to have better recall from what they learned in class that day.
The length of the study session is also important. Most high school classes run in 45 minute segments, which is just about perfect for maximum retention. That’s not to say that your student should be limited to under an hour, but after 45 minutes it’s important to take a 10 minute break and move around (get a snack, check email, take the dog for a walk). The student can then return for another 45 minute study segment, but for most effective study, they should switch subjects to exercise a different part of their knowledge base.
Looking for Relationships
Let’s be honest – studying can be boring. More importantly, there’s a difference between passively reading and studying. Studying should be an active verb – the student is meant to absorb knowledge, not just memorize information.
One of the most innovative ways to ensure that your student is engaging his brain and not just his eyes is for him to use relationship mapping for subjects. Start with a core theme or topic (generally the first paragraph in a text book, or the summary on the back of a fictional book) and take notes on the relationships to that core theme. Your student’s mind is a neural net, where one concept links to other concepts – putting this on paper (instead of the traditional list-style notes) can help students retain the component parts better.
EG: A relationship map (also called a mind map) for studying Romeo and Juliet may have three central themes of Love, Conflict, and Tragedy.
The Love section would include all the characters and scenes where love is demonstrated (i.e. Romeo loves Juliet – ACT 2: “What light through yonder window breaks?”).
Conflict could be broken down into family conflict (i.e. Feuding families – PROLOGUE “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny”) and fighting (i.e. Tybalt kills Mercutio ACT 3- Mercutio “A plague on both your houses.”)
Tragedy could be broken down into sadness (i.e. Juliet mourns Tybalt ACT 4-Paris “Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt’s death”) and death (i.e. Juliet kills herself ACT 5-Juliet “Happy dagger, here lies your sheath.”
The point of the relationship map is not to memorize the specific events, but to create a concept narrative that helps the student understand the relationships between the different subjects and recall those more easily later.