Helping Your Child Build Good Study Habits

It’s 8pm on a Tuesday.  Your child has a test the next day and he is desperately trying to learn the material to do well enough on it.  You watch the cramming and the struggling and you can’t help it as you blurt out, “Why on earth didn’t you start studying earlier?  Perhaps this is your lesson and you’ll learn for next time.”  But your child scraps by, is happy enough with his grade and two weeks/one month/two months later, you repeat the entire scenario.

This, it seems, has become all-too-common in households with school-age children.  Children leave their work to the last minute, parents berate them, they get by, and the cycle repeats.  I don’t think it needs saying that studying earlier not only helps performance, but overall retention too which helps one understand later concepts that build upon what was last tested.  Cramming for a test may get you by, but you don’t learn the material in the same fashion.

It’s hard for kids though because their sense of time is different (“The test isn’t for AGES!”), they often have a sense of invincibility (“I can do it all in one night”), and they overestimate their knowledge (“I totally understand everything”), even when their knowledge is shaky at best.  We know our children don’t enjoy cramming for a test, but they seem incapable of starting earlier.

The question has to become: How can we help them?

The first thing parents need to realize is how to help them organize the time for studying.  When we tell them to “start earlier”, what does that mean?  Many of them fear they’ll forget the information if they review it earlier.  Yet the key is repetition.  In our house, the recommendation (in Grade 7) is 15 minutes per day from the time the test is announced (or unit finished) to the test date, so long as that is at least one week away.  If less than one week, go to 20 or 30 minutes depending on the amount of material to be covered.  The point of this is that the material will be reviewed over and over and that’s a really good thing.  In order for kids to remember to do this, you need to be on top of them at first, asking when tests have been assigned and making sure they add “15 minutes of studying” to their agenda (if they have one) or their daily chore board.

The second thing parents need to realize is that many children don’t know how to study.  The act of studying isn’t really taught in schools much (at least where I am) and in turn, our kids just end up reading things over and over, thinking they understand it.  You can help them by working with them to create a study plan.  I believe a white board is very useful here for you can map out what needs to be reviewed, how it’s going to be reviewed, and the child can have it handy for the duration of his/her studying.

You want to make sure studying isn’t just reading over notes.  Your child should have some practice questions to do (if the teacher hasn’t assigned any, this is your chance to step in and help create some), note cards to make, and/or creating diagrams of how the elements of what is being tested all fit together.  What techniques are used will largely depend upon what the test is on.  For example, science will include note cards and lots of diagrams linking systems or labeling systems whereas math will likely be more like practice work and explaining why things happen.

The more of a plan your child has, however, the easier it will be to see why starting early makes sense.  Then when they hit the night before the test, you and your child can rest easy knowing that whatever happens the next day, your child has done a good job learning how to study and has done his/her best to prepare.

By Tracy Cassels

January 26, 2015