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Six Steps to Smarter Studying

How did you learn how to ride your bike? Someone probably gave you a few lessons and then you practiced a lot. You can learn how to study in much the same way. No one is born knowing how to study. You need to learn a few study skills and then practice them.

Why work on your study skills? It will make it easier for you to learn and do well in class, especially as you move up to middle school and high school.

Here are six steps to smarter studying:

  1. Pay attention in class.
  2. Take good notes.
  3. Plan ahead for tests and projects.
  4. Break it down. (If you have a bunch of stuff to learn, break it into smaller chunks.)
  5. Ask for help if you get stuck.
  6. Get a good night's sleep!

1. Pay Attention: Good Studying Starts in Class

Here's a riddle for you: Did you know that before you even begin studying, you've already started? Huh? Here's what we mean. When you pay attention in class and take good notes, you are starting the process of learning and studying.

Do you have trouble paying attention in class? Are you sitting next to a loud person? Is it hard to see the board? Make sure you're sitting in a good seat that lets you pay attention. Tell your teacher or parents about any problems that are preventing you from paying attention and taking good notes.

2. Good Notes = Easier Studying

Not sure how to take notes? Start by writing down facts that your teacher mentions or writes on the board during class. Try your best to use good handwriting so you can read your notes later. It's also a good idea to keep your notes, quizzes, and papers organized by subject.

3. Plan Ahead and You'll Be Glad You Did

Waiting until Thursday night to study for Friday's test will make for a homework night that's no fun! It also makes it hard to do your best. We're all guilty of putting things off sometimes. One of the best ways to make sure that doesn't happen is to plan ahead.

Ask for a cool calendar (something you like and can keep by your desk or study area) and write down your test and assignment due dates. You can then plan how much to do after school each day, and how much time to spend on each topic. Are lessons or extracurricular activities making it hard to find time to study? Ask your mom or dad how to make a schedule of what to do when.

4. Break It Up!

When there's a lot to study, it can help to break things into chunks. Let's say you have a test on 20 spelling words. Instead of thinking about all of the words at once, try breaking them down into five-word chunks and working on one or two different chunks each night.

Don't worry if you can't remember something on the first try. That's where practice comes in. The more days you spend reviewing something, the more likely it is to stick in your brain. There are also tricks called mnemonic (say: new-MON-ik) devices that can help you remember stuff. When you're trying to memorize a list of things, make up a phrase that uses the first letter of each. For example, are you trying to learn the eight planets and their order from the sun? Think: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos to remember Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Your teacher can give you ideas, too.

Another way to break it up is to study regularly instead of just the night before. You can always review your notes and read over the chapters you're working on. Or, if you're studying math or science, do some practice problems.

How much studying should you do each night? Your teacher can help you figure it out. Most brains can only pay attention for about 45 minutes. So if you've been working for a while and find it hard to pay attention, try taking a break for some water or a walk around the house. Just fight the temptation to turn on the TV or stop working!

5. Lose the Confusion — Ask for Help

You can't study effectively if you don't understand the material. Be sure to ask your teacher for help if you're confused about something. You can check yourself by reading through your notes. Does it all make sense? If not, ask your teacher to go over it with you. If you're at home when the confusion occurs, your mom or dad might be able to help.

6. Sleep Tight!

So the test is tomorrow and you've followed your study plan — but suddenly you can't remember anything, not even 2+2! Don't panic. Your brain needs time to digest all the information you've given it. Try to get a good night's sleep and you'll be surprised by what comes back to you in the morning.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013
Originally reviewed by: Chris Cortellessa, M.Ed, NCC