Here’s the situation: Your child likes school. They enjoy their classes, teachers, and fellow students. They do their homework every night. They’re trying hard—but that effort and enthusiasm just isn’t translating to the kind of academic gains and grades you both want to see. If this sounds familiar to you, the key to helping your child crack the code on learning may be to focus on building some effective study skills.
Success in the classroom doesn’t come from any single thing—it’s about the right mix of attitude, habits, and effort. Strong study skills are an important ingredient in this recipe, and they’re very much learned behavior. “Straight-A students are not born—they’re made,” explains Katie O’Brien and Hunter Maats, co-authors of The Straight-A Conspiracy, who have tutored hundreds of students and were collaborators on this Princeton Review study. “Every student in America is capable of getting the grades he or she wants without all the stress. Managing your emotions, putting away the distractions, and creating a straightforward study plan that makes learning faster and more fun are far easier than most students and parents believe them to be.”
So, as a parent, how can you help your child develop the study skills they need to achieve academic success—and see benefits beyond the classroom as well? Here’s seven tips to get started!
- Create a designated study space for your students. Does your child have their own desk or workspace in an area of your home that is conducive to focused studying? Ask yourself if it’s well-lit and away from other distractions. Keep helpful study supplies on hand in this area, like colorful post-its, a variety of pens and pencils, highlighters, and scratch paper. Encourage your child to take ownership over the area by giving them freedom to decorate, and teach them to neaten up and organize their desk each night so they’re ready to get to work when it comes time for the next study session.
- Keep a planner. Time management is an incredibly important aspect of effective study skills. So, ensure your student knows how to keep a homework planner. Have them write down important due dates for homework and projects, especially if their teacher makes these dates known far in advance. Then, the key is to stay on top of these assignments. Prepare for important tests by helping your child break down the content and make a schedule for reviewing the material in the days leading up to the test. Break down big projects similarly by determining smaller milestones and working with your child to make a schedule for when they will have these components complete. This can offset cramming and procrastination (and build confidence in the process) by making their workload feel more manageable.
- Take effective notes. Have you heard of Cornell Notes? Utilizing this classic note-taking system can help your child process information taught in class and truly retain what they’ve learned. There are even studies showing that writing notes out by hand results in better retention than not taking any notes or using a laptop. Teaching your child to use active reading strategies—like taking notes or highlighting key themes and passages—is also very helpful for retention.
- Practice for tests. Simply reviewing content before a test isn’t necessarily the best method to ensure your child is prepared for an upcoming test. Instead, encourage them to try more interactive approaches, like completing practice tests or using flash cards. Asking your child review questions and having them provide short essay-style explanations aloud can also be a great strategy to make sure they truly understand the material.
- Avoid cramming. Studying a little bit of a subject every day is much better for long-term retention than studying for a longer period of time a single day. Help your student structure a study schedule that will allow them to space out their practice on different subjects—as little as 10 minutes of practice a day can help! It’s also important to encourage your student to break up their studying with smart breaks. Taking a 15-minute break once every hour can work wonders on keeping them focused and productive.
- Teach your child to ask for help. Perhaps your student is struggling with understanding a specific lesson in a particular subject or doesn’t quite understand the night’s homework assignment. When this is the case (and it happens to everyone at some point or another) asking for help is key. Teach your student how to bring up challenges early with a teacher and ask for help—and don’t be afraid to bring up concerns with their teacher yourself either. Teaching your child how to build effective working relationships with other students and asking their peers for help is another important lesson in asking for, receiving, and offering support.
- Avoid distraction. Teach your student how to put their computer away and turn off all other devices that may serve as a form of distraction while they’re studying. Multi-tasking also takes away from learning, so encourage your child to focus on a single subject for a sustained period of time before moving onto another subject. And above all, ensure that your child has healthy sleeping and eating habits in order to maximize their focus and make the most of time spent studying.