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Tips for Improving Student Study Skills

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Studying can be a major hurdle for students. Making the most of study time can be particularly challenging as kids head back to school and try to adjust to new classes and sometimes even new surroundings.

With this in mind, EducationWorld offers the following five strategies that target some of the more difficult aspects of studying. Developed by Eileen Tracy, an Oxford-educated expert in study skills, they offer students a new twist on traditional techniques. During the first days of school, try devoting some class time to honing these important skills.

#5 Time Management – This is often one of the more difficult issues for students to tackle. Between time spent in class, after-school activities and family time, there is very little left for anything else. Tracy suggests sitting down and creating a schedule that works for the individual.

“While there is (thankfully) no such thing as a perfect time-manager, there are various ways, some of them very structured, others much looser, to organize different types of workloads. You can adapt them to suit your preferences so that you have a timetable that works for you. The point of time management is to give you time off, too. Properly done, timetabling offers a balanced way of working, releasing you from the anxieties that go with disorganization. Many students find that this improves their motivation.”

You can work with your students to help them develop a timetable that provides ample study time as well as appropriate down time to avoid burnout.

#4 Essay Planning – A common theme explored at EducationWorld is the trepidation many students feel when required to write something. They often feel as though the ability to produce a clear and concise thought on paper is beyond them, and Tracy believes that this is due to a lack of forethought. She suggests that thoroughly planning out the essay before sitting down to write it can be a big step toward improvement:

“Planning takes time and practice, which is why students often try to skip this crucial stage in their hurry to start writing (particularly in exams). …This is counterproductive: a well-structured essay, rich in analysis, well-argued and relevant, scores many more marks than something that you try to work out as you go along. Examiners’ top complaint is that students don’t answer the question. That’s because most students don’t plan.

By learning to plan, you can develop your ability to read and interpret, to create logical links and to think laterally. You can stop agonizing over how to introduce and conclude your essay. All this will save you hours of redrafting. And in exams, you’ll score points by the power of thought rather than by purely relying on memory. Knowing that you can do this even under exam pressure is a great confidence-booster.”

Even if students have received some instruction on planning before writing, teachers may want to either reaffirm those previous lessons, or add to them. The more students plan, the better their writing will become.

#3 Memory Tricks – Mnemonics is a very old technique, but one that still works. On its face, it may seem a bit silly, but for many students this is far more effective than strict memorization. Tracy recommends making the process fun:

“Mnemonics are a huge variety of creative ‘tricks’ which stimulate your right brain, making it easier to retain all kinds of information than by rote learning. Mnemonics involve making imaginative associations, so students with good imaginations love these techniques. (They can also help you to regain your imaginative powers if these have been lost.) They are particularly useful in subjects such as biology, chemistry and history where names, facts, figures, dates and sequences need to be learned by heart. However, they’re also helpful in other subjects: for instance, I used them in my English Finals exams to remember lists of key points and dates.

Mnemonics bring another benefit: they help you to observe what you remember best. This makes you wiser as to how you should process your learning. Mnemonics take all the worry out of relying on your memory and can put some sparkle into your revision.”

#2 Mindmapping –This is a visual form of studying that prompts students to literally draw thoughts and ideas on paper so they can be reviewed visually rather than verbally. Tracy suggests that this technique can be used with students of all age groups:

“Mindmapping offers a terrific shortcut to revision and essay planning. You can also use it for brainstorming. It works for most subjects, particularly arts and humanities, but also some sciences. It’s effective even at the highest levels of university education. It involves sketching out information in a strikingly visual manner, using key words, colors and making use of shapes and space, stimulating your right brain. This encourages lateral thinking. Students who mindmap comment on how easily ideas come to mind with this technique. Mindmaps are also extremely easy to remember. Whether or not you’re any good at drawing, if you’ve got a creative streak, you’ll find mindmapping a liberation in your studies.”

#1 Note Taking – K-12 students typically fall into two categories when it comes to note taking; those who write down everything the teachers says verbatim, and those who write almost nothing down. Tracy suggests that the key to knowing how much to write down lies in the students’ ability to pluck out keywords from a lecture:

“It’s not always obvious how to take good notes from books and lectures: often they turn out to be unhelpful if they’re too wordy or too brief. Some students waste time writing everything out neatly or putting their notes into the computer. None of this is necessary. The art of taking good notes lies in identifying key points. This is a very active form of revision which enables you to summarize and absorb vast quantities of information quickly and easily. You’ll save yourself hours of time, and a small fortune on highlighter pens.”

You can help your students with this skill by starting the year off making special note of key points during a lecture. Saying, ‘Write this down because it’s important,’ lets the students know the idea is a key one. By the end of the first semester, they should have a pretty good read on your lecture style and their note-taking will be better for it.”

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