Paul* slinked into my classroom. “Hey, Ms. P – can we talk about the last test? I did really bad on it. What can I do better next time?”
“Let’s talk about how you prepared for this test. Did you study?”
“What did you do to study?”
“Um, I reread my notes and some of the chapter the night before the test.”
“Was that it?”
“Was I supposed to do more??”
I had variations on this conversation MANY times when I taught high school. Many teens have no idea how to “study” or how long they should study. Many teens have no idea how to “study” or how long they should study. Click To TweetWhile they may be able to get away with that in elementary or middle school, usually by high school test grades start dropping.
Only a lucky few can get away without studying. (My grandfather was one of them. My grandparents attended college together and it drove my grandmother crazy. She had to study, but my grandfather was ready to go out!) The rest of us schlubs have to review material over and over again before we know and understand it.
Ever spent hours cramming for a big test, but you didn’t remember much? There’s a reason for that. Your brain collects about 30 minutes of information in working memory. If you take a break at that point, your brain starts to move that information over to long-term memory. However, if you study straight for 2 hours, you will probably only remember the last 30 minutes. Uninterrupted study sessions are counter-productive. It is more effective to study for short amounts of time (25 -30 minutes) over a week or longer.
More brain fun: rewards can be motivating. No surprise there, right? Here’s the kicker – you can set your own rewards to get you through things, like studying, that might not be your favorite. Now, don’t go crazy and promise yourself a trip to Paris. Think – going to a movie, getting ice cream with a friend, or buying a new piece of clothing. Giving yourself a small reward can help you stay on track and actually complete your studying.
Using that information, we are going to create a study plan. Your plan could be for a quiz, a test, a big standardized exam, or for final exams. In this process, you are going to commit to specific times and topics to study and create a series of small rewards to motivate yourself.
So grab my FREE planning worksheet below and something to write with! Let’s get planning!
Write your test date(s) on the monthly calendar in your planner or use this blank monthly calendar.
Break down the unit into sub-topics
For each test, create a list of sub-topics that will be tested. Let’s say your test is on World War II. Sub-topics might include causes of the war, the war in Europe, the war in the Pacific, the homefront, and the effects of the war.
Evaluate your current knowledge level for each sub-topic using the headings provided in the planning worksheet. You want to focus your study time on those topics you know the least. You know the causes really well, but you were absent when the class learned about the effects on the homefront. Therefore, spend a short time reviewing the causes, but spend much more time learning about the homefront during WWII.
Work backwards to create a study schedule.
Starting with the test date, work backward on the calendar to figure out how many days you have to study. Assign sub-topics to each day. For example, your WWII test is in 5 days. There were 5 sub-topics; three of which you know really well. That means you need to focus on 2 sub-topics. Roughly spend 2 days studying each of those trouble areas and 1 day reviewing the other 3 sub-topics.
Schedule study dates!
You are MUCH more likely to study if you actually make appointments with yourself and select specific content to study. For a quiz, try 15 minutes a day for 2-3 days. For a test or exam, your goal is 30 minutes a day for at least a week. If you’re preparing for an AP or IB exam or the SAT or ACT, you should be studying 15-30 minutes a day for 4-6 WEEKS!
Write the study dates in your planner. Be sure to include the sub-topic(s) you will study for each day. Highlight, underline, or put a star next to the study dates. If necessary, put reminders in your phone that will notify you when it’s time to study.
Think about what resources you need
This might include the textbook, notes, video lectures, etc. Make sure that you have all the resources you need. Hopefully, you have a quiet study space to work in. If not, hop over to this blog post and see how to put one together!
Set up rewards for yourself!
If you complete the study dates for a week, reward yourself with something small. That reward can get you through the rough days where you just don’t feel like studying.
This study plan will keep you accountable to yourself and focus your studying in more productive ways. If you haven’t already, download the Study plan worksheet and get started now. Let me know how it goes on Facebook or Instagram! Happy Studying!
*Name changed to protect the student’s privacy.