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Setting Gears in Motion: Study Habits

School is a complicated place. There are students of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic levels. There are hundreds of rooms, a giant parking lot, a large sporting complex, lockers gallor, and so many people it’s hard to keep track. School is overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact, it can cause anxiety and stress for many students. Once the anxiety and stress sets in, the students check out academically and their grades suffer as a consequence. 

But schooling doesn’t have to be a complicated mess. It can have structure and routine. For example, having a steady study schedule that encompasses all of your classes can really help eliminate stress and make room for discovery. And creating a steady study schedule begins from day one of classes. Not halfway through the semester. If you are working on creating a solid study schedule, there are some pointers to keep in mind. 

Small Increments Beat Big Ones

Beware the cram session. Cramming has been scientifically proven, over and over, to be unsuccessful and to be debilitating for students. Cramming leads to almost zero retention and can cause further anxiety before a test. Instead of spending a large block of time studying, break your block into several small blocks. For example, instead of planning to study from 5pm to 9pm the night before the test, spend the week before the test studying in 20 minute spurts each day. As we all know, attention spans are generally quite small, so make sure you are catering your study time to your attention span. 

Visual Reminders

Sticky notes are a student’s best friend. Sticky notes help you keep track of your day and your calendar, as well as important details to remember. Sticky notes are excellent visual reminders to study. Stick one on your vanity or your mirror at home. Stick them to your school work. Trust me, if you see a sticky note five times a day that says don’t forget to study, you likely won’t forget. During college, I went as far as to stick my reminder notes on my food in the refrigerator to ensure I would see them. Girls gotta eat!

Another form of visual cues for studying is color coding. You can color code your sticky notes if you so desire. But color coding mostly refers to the methods you use for actually studying. If you are a visual person, use multiple colors of pens, pencils, or highlighters during your studying to categorize information. The colors act as a secondary means for retaining the information. If you remember what category the color represents, it can help you remember the material in the category. Next time you’re studying, color code your flash cards, your vocabulary terms, your math formulas, or anything else you are studying and see if it makes a difference for you. 

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Studying is not a sprint. It doesn’t happen over a small period of time. Studying takes months and months to truly perfect. And the American public school system doesn’t lend well to this. We only give our students a few months in a class before we switch things up. Which makes creating a study routine from the get-go even more critical. Your study routine might take some getting used to, but if you remain vigilant and consistent, it will come naturally to you and studying will become a part of your everyday routine. 

Once it becomes a part of your routine, you won’t have to stress over an upcoming test, because you have been slowly preparing for it for weeks. If you feel like a deadline for an essay is approaching rapidly, have no fear, your study routine has already given you time to outline and draft your essay. Now it just needs to be polished. Remember this next time you are assigned a big project. Plot out your study routine over the next few weeks until the due date. You won’t regret being ahead of the curve. 

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What’s the Actual Problem?

When children are doing poorly in school, adults often jump to the conclusion that it’s only about their grades or their achievements in class. This is not always the whole story. A student struggling in school could be going through a lot of things. Things that are often hidden from the surface. 

As a student who went through a lot of emotional ups and downs during my formative years, I know this to be true. Students aren’t always simply struggling with the material or content. Often, they are falling victim to other issues that trouble young kids. 

Trouble in School

Bullying

When a child is being bullied in school, this severely impacts their ability to be successful. Bullying often causes self-harm, depression, anger, and many other troubling things. All things that can negatively impact a child’s experience in the classroom or at recess. If your child is exhibiting signs of being bullied or is perhaps the bully, seek intervention from the school counselor. They are trained professionals and can offer additional resources to help stop the bullying. 

Malnutrition

This impacts students far more than parents or teachers can know. There are approximately 12 million students across the United States who experience food insecurities. Many of these students can be found in rural areas as well as intercity schools. Malnutrition causes lack of energy and inability to focus and can lead to rapid grade decreases. It’s important for parents and teachers to know that if a child is struggling in school – it could be starting in the home. 

No Connections with Teachers

Having a teacher in school that you trust and respect can be huge. Especially for young children. If your child has not developed a positive relationship in their school, this can be very detrimental. Teachers are role models for their students. Without role models, kids can begin to make poor choices or go down rough roads. Help your child develop a positive relationship with a teacher in school. That way, if they are struggling, they have someone to talk to as well as someone to push them to work harder. 

Trouble at Home

Household Changes

Changes in the structure of a child’s household impact them much more than we know. Whether they are moving from their childhood home or their parents are going through a divorce, these changes have the power to impact a child’s performance in school. This makes those teacher connections even more important. Teachers who understand what changes are affecting their students can help prepare them for the changes as they approach. This is the same for parents. 

Income Changes

Changes to a families’ income status can also affect a student’s grades. If mom or dad gets laid off from an important job, this often leads to changes that students aren’t always prepared for. Be aware of how this might impact your kids and try to get ahead of it. Teachers – be on the lookout for students who aren’t assimilating well and offer strategies. 

Sibling Disputes

For single child families, this isn’t so much of a worry. But for families like mine (five kids and two parents), sibling disputes are a real issue. I fought with my sister all the time and this definitely impacted me at school. I found myself getting distracted by my emotions and getting behind in lessons. Watch how your children interact with each other and be sure whatever dispute they have doesn’t follow them to class. 

Trouble with Life

Anxiety or Depression

Students suffering from anxiety or depression have a high chance of failing classes. This is due to the emotional stress one is under when they go through what I call “emotional slumps” or the extreme lows. These disorders are not to be ignored. If you think your child may be experiencing symptoms of these common ailments, speak to a medical professional immediately. Get ahead of the emotional trauma and do what you can to ensure your child doesn’t get behind in school because of it. 

Fear of Failure

This one is all too real for the “perfectionist” student. These students love holding themselves to high expectations and pushing themselves to be the best. And there is nothing wrong with that – until they don’t reach those expectations. Fear of failure can result in lowered motivation and lack of confidence – two very devastating emotions. If you have a student who strives to be perfect, help them set realistic yet challenging goals. Teach them that failure is a key aspect of learning and success. 

Lack of Motivation

People often call these children lazy. The reality is that these students are likely focusing their efforts elsewhere. Maybe they are a tremendous soccer player, a top player in the world of Call of Duty, or a devoted humanitarian. No motivation in school is hard to get through, but it isn’t the end of the world. For teachers, offering incentives can be hugely helpful. Whether that’s a pizza party for a high class average on a test. Or a promise to have open computer time after a project. Incentives can be powerful tools when wielded responsibly. 

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Setting Gears in Motion: Math

Math can be a difficult subject to master. Some people really struggle in their math and science classes while excelling in their humanities courses like English and History. This is likely due to the fact that math requires strong reasoning skills. If you possess these reasoning skills you are probably left-brained as opposed to right-brained which focuses on creativity.

For example, I am a strong right-brainer. My logic and reasoning skills fall short compared to my creative skills. I therefore have to work much harder at mastering mathematical content. This often lead to anxiety. If you’re like me, there are some key practices you can employ to develop logic and reasoning strategies.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book entitled Outliers which presented the argument that in order to master a skill, you must have 10,000 hours of practice. This may seem like a lot, but over a lifetime it isn’t so daunting. He emphasized the importance of practice. Practicing your craft is a huge step towards mastering it.

In math, practicing solving equations, working through word problems, and comprehending graphs greatly impacts your scores or grades. Practice is necessary to become good at anything. Take professional athletes as an example. They make loads of money practicing their craft. In their free time, they don’t lounge around or go on vacation – they drill, drill, drill. If you do the same thing with math, the mastery will follow.

Understand Your Errors

Like all things in life, it isn’t helpful to simply know you are wrong. You must understand why you are wrong to correct the behavior. It’s the same thing in math. If you make an error or mistake, you must understand why the mistake was made. You can then make necessary steps to change your thinking and correct the error to avoid making it again.

If you are making mistakes on your homework or course work, try taking a step back and understanding the concept. Once you have a full grasp of the concept, you can then break it down and learn how to solve the problem accurately.

Master, Then Move On

Some things come naturally to us. As babies, we naturally learn to crawl, then stand, then walk, then run. As adults, some of us have natural rhythm and dancing comes easy. This is like math as well. For some individuals, math concepts come easily and they can master them quickly and continue their way up the ladder into more challenging content. For most people, this simply is not the case.

It is important in math that you master concepts before moving on. Math skills build off of one another and become more challenging as you work. When you learn a new concept, practice it to mastery before moving on to harder problems. Failing to learn a skill before developing that skill further can lead to confusion and stress. Especially as you make your way into trigonometry and calculus. Start with a foundation, then build your walls, then top it off with a ceiling. You will be glad you did.

Test Anxiety and Final Exams

If you’re anything like I was in college, you know all too well how debilitating test anxiety can be. It didn’t matter how much I studied or how confident I was in the test, whenever I entered a testing room I felt instantly compelled to run away, quit school and join a traveling folk band. Anything to be off the hook.

This is a problem for nearly 20% of students across America. Test anxiety is no longer a simple fear of testing, but has grown to become the most common scholastic impairment in our country. Thankfully, we have some tips for dealing with test anxiety that help lessen the blow:

DO NOT CRAM

Cramming before the test will do you little to no good. In fact, this has been found to create even more anxiety that using more standard studying techniques. Instead of cramming, set aside multiple pockets of time for about a week before your test to study for an hour or two. That way, you won’t feel like your about to explode with knowledge. Plus, you get the added benefit of allowing more time for the information to sink in.

Study how you test

It’s very important to study under the same environment that you plan on testing. For example, if your test will be held in a quiet classroom with few distractions, study in a quiet environment with few distractions as well. If your test will be held in a private study room – put yourself in private room while you study. Studying at the same time as the test can also be helpful. If you can swing it with your schedule.

Confidence is key

I wish I could tell you that studying is all it takes to pass a test, but that just isn’t true. Not only should you come to the test prepared and well-studied, you should also come to the test feeling confident about your preparation. It may not seem helpful, but a little bit of confidence can go a long way. And can ultimately mean the difference between passing and failing.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason

Just like your car needs fuel to get you from point A to point B, your body needs fuel to get you from grade F to grade A. Make sure you eat a good breakfast the morning of your test. Testing in the evening? Take a hearty snack with you to keep your energy levels going. Believe it or not, your brain burns calories when you think critically, so make sure you have fed your beast.

Just breathe

Tests are hard. They wouldn’t be called “tests” if they didn’t test and challenge you. Understand this as an unshakable reality and you will feel better. Trust me, when you know you are about to do something that might be pretty tough, your mind prepares for it. Just remember, if you run into the seemingly impossible question, take a step back, take a deep breath, then take a crack at the correct answer.