When we want to get good at something, we look to those who have already achieved highly in that area.
Would you take weight management advice from someone who thought cream puffs were a healthy afternoon snack and hadn’t exercised since they were 10?
You want your personal trainer to look amazing in lycra and have a six-pack.
In the same way, you wouldn’t want your teen to mimic the study habits of a student who gets less than stellar grades.
You want your teen to adopt the same study habits kids who get straight-A’s have.
With that in mind, here are our top 5 tricks and bits that great students use when they study…
1. They know what they need to know
We may all have the vision of the straight A nerd who runs around school with a huge backpack who’s knows everything about everything. But contrary to what some people think, top students don’t study everything.
In reality, smart studiers who get top grades in some cases study just as much as bad studiers who get average grades. The difference is that the former group have set time aside to figure out what they need to know, and in turn, what’s very likely to be in their exam.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the school year, now is a great time for your teen to start making a log of what topics they’re more than likely going to be examined on. And it’s not hard to figure this out. They simply need to look over their school books and ask themselves what the major topics have been.
2. They’re organised
Students who get good grades usually take their study into their own hands, and don’t require a lot of outside help. They know what they need to do, and they get it done.
Parents of good studiers who get good grades don’t often hear phrases like “Maaaa-ummmm, where’s my maths book?” or “Where’s my pencil-case?”. This is much facilitated by the fact that they have an organised desk space that is used specifically for school-related tasks, including study.
If your teen doesn’t yet have their own desk that’s big enough for them to spread out comfortably, this should be your first investment. This will become their own, personal study space.
It also needs to be kitted out with all the usual study stuff – calculator, paper, pens, pencils, text books, etc. This way everything is in one place – it doesn’t get moved around and lost (isn’t that all too familiar!).
Having this organised study space will make your teen’s head more organised. In turn, their study will become more structured as well.
No longer will they be able to use the lost book as an excuse as to why they can’t study today.
3. They have a plan (for the next week & the long term)
Students that do well at school and get the grades that make their parents proud always have a game plan.
Actually they’ve usually got two game plans – one for the short term and one for the long term.
On a Sunday night with the next school week looming, students who are on the right track to acing their exams know what lies ahead for the next 5 days.
They know when their tests are, they know when their assignments are due, and they know specifically what time’s they’re going to study and complete homework. They know by the end of the week they will have completed x, y, and z.
They’ve got a short-term plan. (This works even better when it’s written down!)
Another interesting observation is when you ask a student who has their eye on top exam marks what they want to do when they leave school, they’ll almost always come back with an answer. They might not have a specific career in mind yet, but they probably at least know that they want to get into university, or have a general area of study in mind – maybe something science-y or something English-ey.
Whatever it is, they’ve got a long-term plan too.
On the other hand, when you pose the same question to kids who are flunking high school, 9 times out of 10 they’ll tell you they have absolutely no idea.
We’re not saying that your teen needs to decide today whether it’s going to be marine biology or architecture just yet.
But if your teen is in the ‘no idea’ camp it might be worth have a chat about what tickles their fancy and see if you can come up with a few ideas as to what they might like to do when they leave school.
Nothing has to be set in concrete of course – this is just a motivation tool.
Your teen is going to be much more likely to get their maths homework done if they know they have to pass maths to get into the course they want to do.
4. They do the same thing over and over again
In life, when you figure out a system that works, you stick to it. Doesn’t matter what it is. When you have a formula that works every time (and works well) you’d be stupid to do any differently.
Studying is no different. Students who do consistently well at school have a study formula that has been tied and tested to produce results.
We can testify to this from personal experience.
We’re certain it was the execution of consistent study practices – or as we like to call it our ‘study formula’ – that enabled us to get consistently high grades year after year (please excuse the self trumpet-blowing time).
If you don’t quite get what we mean –take my (Clare) English high school study as an example.
Every year in English we had to write an essay on a novel. Thanks to our teacher and to copies of past year’s exams we had fair idea of what sort of questions we’d be asked.
To prepare for the exam (having already read the book during the year) I would start off by jotting down notes about different aspects of the book – themes, main character, setting, events, etc.
Once I had a few solid ideas for each thing, I’d have a go at writing an essay on one of them using the SEXI essay model (your teen needs to know what this is). Once I’d written this first essay I’d write it again, but better. I’d cut out the crappy bits and tidy up sentences where I could.
Once I’d got together a decent essay I thought would get a decent exam grade, I’d basically memorize it by writing it out as many times as I needed until the ideas were engraved firmly in my memory. And that become my English study formula for every essay I would have to write in an exam.
Same thing, every time. In fact, I continued using that formula right throughout university – and that was for science essays!
Of course carving out a study formula that works for your teen takes time. That’s a given.
But what they can do is start thinking about what study techniques work for them.
What helps them remember stuff effectively and helps them understand effectively.
It may take a bit of trial and error, but if it means that they end up understanding how to tackle studying for each subject, we’d say that’s worth the effort.
5. They’re disciplined
As you’re probably well aware, people don’t achieve anything unless a bit of blood, sweat and tears have gone into it.
Do you think marathon runners only go for a run when they’re in the mood for running?
Don’t think so!
Do you think people who get to an executive position at a prestigious company call in sick every time they felt like a day off?
Don’t think so!
Do you think students who get straight A’s love studying more than anything all the time?
Of course not!
They love camping out on the couch, watching TV, with a bag of chips as much as any other student. The difference is that the straight A student has a voice in their head telling them to get off their butt and go and study.
They disciplined and they stick to their weekly schedule. They know what needs to be done and that not doing it isn’t an option.
They don’t just study when they feel like it.
If you’re saying to yourself now, that’s great but how the heck am I supposed to make my teen disciplined all of a sudden – that’s OK. You should start off lightly.
If your teen is hopeless when it comes to motivation, you might want to start off with an incentive of some kind to get them going.
Any study is better than no study. Half an hour at a time is fine to start off with. Then they need to build on it. One hour at a time – two hours, etc.
The key is to get your teen into the groove of a study routine. Going from zero to hero isn’t going to happen. But by building up over time it is definitely possible to form new study habits that stick.
So there you have 5 of the most important things that separates the straight A’s from the rest of the student body. As you can see, it’s nothing really crazy or mind blowing, and none of it takes a whole lot more effort.
It really just boils down to using your time well and being smart about your study.
What’s also good is that all 5 points overlap. If your teen gets a bit more organised, they’ll automatically find studying easier. They’ll be able to find information more easily, they won’t waste time looking for stuff, and in turn it will be easier to notice what’s obviously important to study and what’s not.
And once they get the ball rolling, it will be easier to stick to a study schedule and become more disciplined. Motion creates motivation. It’s like when you start cleaning something in the house and later find yourself polishing the silver and cleaning under the couches.