Study Habits: Strategies for Success


It’s never too early to develop good study habits. Clip this article for your rising high schooler!

Nobody reads before class.
There’s no way I could ask questions in class without completely embarrassing myself.
I can only study for a test by cramming the night before.
I don’t have time for school. I have to work, and I’m involved in extracurricular activities.

These are all reasons high school students give for not working hard in school. Many fall into the trap of waiting until the last minute and just not thinking about what they are learning. Then they start applying to college, realize their grades won’t get them into their schools of choice, and wish they had studied more and paid attention in class.

Rather than waiting until it’s too late, improve your study habits now!

1. Think actively when you read for class and listen while in class.
It’s easy to read and listen passively, highlighting lines of text or jotting down notes quickly. You might find yourself sitting in class, partially absorbing what you’re hearing while you’re really thinking about your plans for the weekend. But if you can focus more on what you’re reading or hearing, you’ll waste less time, and you’ll create an opportunity to learn and prepare for tests and papers.

The next time you read for a class, really think about what you’re reading and engage with it. Skim it once to get a sense of the overall message, and then try to rewrite that main point in your own words. Then write down any questions you have about what is being said. If the author is making an argument, you might ask yourself what evidence the author is using to make his/her point. If the work is more factual and straightforward, ask yourself about the connections between the pieces of information you’re being given. You might ask, for instance, if there is a cause/effect relationship between the events being described. Then, reread again more slowly. Try to answer the questions you’ve already posed, and then continue to ask more questions of the material.

When you’re in class, try to really listen and follow what your teacher is saying. Rather than writing down every word (which prevents you from really listening), write down the points that seem most significant. Keep in mind that your instructor will likely repeat key points.

2. Know what’s being covered in class each day.
This one is easy, but important. Before class, take 5 or 10 minutes to get yourself up to date. Review any notes you took while reading the assigned chapter or article so that you can remember what you’ve read and will have points to discuss. Also review notes you took in the previous class. It only takes a few minutes to prepare yourself for class, and you can do it while eating breakfast or in the five minutes before class starts. Those few minutes will help you feel confident, prepared, and engaged during class time.

3. Study for tests throughout the semester.
It wasn’t until I had my first all-nighter and delivered my worst-ever performance on a test that I realized the importance of being prepared and learning class material slowly and steadily. It’s tempting to cram, but you’ll hate yourself during those chaotic hours before a test. Instead, try to carve out short periods of time each week — maybe just 20 to 30 minutes — for each class. Use that time to review class notes, notes from your reading, and any other pertinent materials. Keep track of concepts you’re struggling with so that you can review them and talk to your teacher about them if necessary.

4. Keep up with your assignments.
Keep a calendar that details what’s due in each class. Take a few minutes to plot out a schedule for completing each assignment, and write each step into your calendar so that you don’t get behind. For instance, if you have a research paper due in one class, write into your calendar when you need to choose a topic and begin the research process. Do this for each assignment, no matter how small, and you’ll be able to more easily manage your time. You just have to be sure that you actually refer to your calendar frequently and make time to accomplish each day’s goals.

5. Talk to your teacher about anything you don’t understand.
If you’re struggling, it’s far more efficient to discuss your questions with the teacher than to labor through and try to work it out on your own. Of course, this only works if you’ve begun studying in advance and actually have specific questions and issues to discuss. In addition to helping you become better equipped to succeed in the class, talking to your teacher will help you get to know him/her and will show that you’re motivated and interested in the class. You’ll benefit from that relationship when you need a recommendation for college from someone familiar with you and your work.

It may seem daunting to incorporate all of these new habits at once, so start small. Focus on one habit at a time, and once you’ve got that one down, adopt another. When these habits become part of your mode of thinking, you’ll find it’s much easier to manage your school life. When you can manage school more effectively, you’ll ultimately free up more time for your social life, and that’s never a bad thing!

CATHY KELLER BROWN has taught college-level English and worked as a tutor and academic editor for the past seven years.