CollegeVine’s Top Six Study Tips for High School Students
There’s lots of variation among high schools. Some students go to schools where every single assignment receives a letter grade, while others go to schools where they don’t get any grades at all. Some high schools offer hundreds of different combinations of course offerings, while others offer only a single track of classes taken by every student. While there is no doubt that many variables affect your experience in high school, there are some elements of the high school experience that are just about universal, no matter who you are or where you go.
Studying will likely play a role in your high school experience at some point or another. Whether it’s for a final exam, your SAT, or even your driving test, it would be an exceptionally rare student who made it through high school without hitting the books, if not consistently then at least from time to time.
In this post, we outline six of our favorite study techniques, to be used for anything from acing that driving test to preparing for your big AP exam. You might even use some to keep you moving forward as you tackle that mound of college applications. If you’re a high school student looking to brush up on your study techniques or try a few fresh approaches, check out our six favorite study techniques.
1. The All-Important Study Plan
We all know that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but hang on just a second. You can’t go anywhere if you don’t know where you’re headed. Before you can start studying, you need to make a plan, and a big part of your study plan should be based on a challenging but achievable goal.
If you’re studying for an exam, base your goal off your past performance in the subject area and your typical grades in the class. If you’re studying for a standardized test, take a practice or diagnostic test to get a good idea of what you might be able to achieve. Always know what your goal is before you begin studying.
Once you have a good idea of your target score, create a study plan based on it. List the material you’ll need to cover and work backwards from your deadline to ensure that you have time set aside for each specific content area you’ll need to learn. By having a designated day or time that you plan to tackle each area of knowledge, you’ll be more likely to hold yourself accountable and get it done. It also makes your goal seem much more attainable.
If you have time, leave the last few days (or even a whole week) leading up to your test date or deadline open for review. That way, even if you fall behind or need to move on before you master something, you’ll still be able to give it one final pass before test day.
2. The Study Spot
Sometimes, it’s hard to find the time to study. You may only have half an hour at the end of a busy day to hit the books. If you have to spend those precious thirty minutes looking for a pencil, unearthing your flashcards, or finding the adapter for your laptop, you’re going to be out of luck pretty quickly. You can avoid this frenzy by preparing a well-stocked study spot in advance.
Choose a quiet place as free from distractions as possible. Even if you’re used to doing your homework at the kitchen table, it’s a good idea to choose a study spot that’s a bit more secluded, where you’re unlikely to be interrupted or distracted. Try to unplug from social media and turn your phone to silent while you’re there.
Prepare your study spot with all the tools necessary for success. Stock it with writing utensils and any calculators or other tools you’ll need. Keep textbooks or references handy. Locate outlets or run an extension cord so that the area can be well-lit and, ideally, equipped with a computer. Keep a water bottle handy and, if you tend to get peckish while you’re working, keep some healthy power snacks close by, like trail mix or protein bars.
By having a designated study spot that’s maintained with all your necessary study tools, you’ll save countless valuable minutes each time you sit down to hit the books.
3. Rewrite Things You Need to Memorize
There is a strong connection between the process of hand-writing your notes and committing them to memory. If you are trying to memorize a formula, a series of facts, or another necessity, and you just can’t get it quite straight in your head, try writing it out. If you don’t remember the first time, try writing it repetitively, like ten times or more, while mindfully focusing on what you’re writing.
A 2014 study out of Princeton and UCLA found that students who write their notes by hand are more likely to commit them to memory than students who type notes during a lecture. It is thought that the cognitive process of slowing down to interpret what they were writing by hand forced students to internalize knowledge more than the rote memorization more often used in verbatim typed notes. A 2009 study found similar results in both the young and the elderly when asking subjects to memorize a list of words. Participants who organized their lists in a meaningful way and wrote them down were far more likely to remember them than those who did not.
If you need to memorize something, try to organize it or frame it a meaningful way. Then, as you write and rewrite it, critically consider its meaning and organization to commit it to your memory.
4. Teach Someone Else
Just like organizing your knowledge and then writing it down forces you to consider its meaning, so does teaching the material to others. The ways in which teachers present knowledge also help to make sense of that knowledge. By considering how or why certain theories work, by finding connections or examples of them in your every day life, and by communicating them in clear, precise ways, you will gain a deeper understanding of the material.
Prepare the content that you need to learn in a way such that you can teach it to others. Prepare a short lesson or presentation to deliver the content to parents, classmates, siblings, or friends. Even if you can’t find any willing participants, still prepare a presentation as though you are responsible for teaching the material.
A 2014 study published in the journal “Memory and Cognition” found that students who were told to prepare to take a test did not perform as well on tests of knowledge as did students who were told to prepare the same material to teach to another group of students. The researcher noted that “when teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”
By preparing to teach the material, you will organize it logically, making meaningful connections and highlighting integral components. This thought process lends itself better to learning than does rote memorization.
5. Mix It Up
Next, take advantage of all the various study tools and learning techniques available. Different students learn in different ways, and even a technique that works well for you may not always be the most efficient for every subject area. Instead, use multiple learning methods to be sure that all your bases are covered.
This might include studying in groups or with a partner, in combination with designated solo study time. It could also mean interpreting information through verbal discussion, through writing, and through reading.
Take advantage of technology, too. See if there are any relevant apps, podcasts, or video tutorials that might be helpful. You may even find musical study tools to help with memorization. We live in an increasingly multimedia-centric society. Embrace it by leveraging multimedia to your advantage.
6. Bribe Yourself
It can be hard to stay motivated over an extended period of time. For some students, if you don’t find the material interesting on its own, it might even seem difficult to stay focused through a single study session.
In order to keep yourself on a forward moving trajectory, try offering yourself small rewards along the way. It could be that after outlining one chapter, you can take a break for a snack or go get some fresh air. Maybe you tell yourself that after an hour of focused reading, you can go online and check your social media feeds for 15 minutes.
However you reward yourself, be sure to set limits and stick to them. It’s easy to get carried away in the land of Facebook and not resurface for air for another hour. Keep yourself from getting carried away by setting a time limit to your reward in advance, so that you’ll be motivated to continue working towards your next little break, too.
There is no single study approach that will work for one student 100% of the time. Instead, your best bet is to employ many varied, proven study techniques to cover as many bases as possible. If you find an approach that seems to work particularly well for you, use it. If you find others that seem to be a waste of time for you personally, move along quickly to something that works better.
By designating time and space specific to your studying and then employing a broad variety of study techniques to keep yourself moving forward, you’re sure to master the material in no time.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
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