Getting Your Kids Motivated to Study

It happens to everyone at some point. “What? The test is tomorrow?!” Students have busy schedules and dropping the ball once or twice is understandable. However, if you find that your student is consistently working late at night to cram for a test or complete homework assignments at the last minute, it’s time to get some help understanding how to learn-to-learn. Planning how and when to study helps students reduce stress and become more successful.

Learning-to-learn consists of skills that promote student success. All students benefit from learning-to-learn skills, and it is especially helpful for those students who seem to always be rushing to get things done. Here are five simple but effective ways to help students manage their own learning.

  1. Planning and Prioritizing. Regardless of whether or not your school has an online assignment portal, students benefit from writing down assignments for the week and making daily to-do lists. A planner provides a tactile-visual of the week and helps students focus on the information they need to manage their time. Time management is key to succeeding in school: planning study times for tests or chunking assignments into manageable pieces, planning, organizing and prioritizing are skills needed to be successful in school and beyond.

  2. Spacing and Interleaving. Practice is widely accepted as an important factor in learning. How and when students practice is a key component for easily recalling information from long-term memory. Spacing study sessions over four to five days makes it more likely that students will remember the information when it’s time to take the test. Interleaving improves long-term learning because students mix multiple subjects or topics while they study. For example, students can cycle through several topics doing some math, some science and some history and then cycle back through the topics in a different order. Interleaving forces the brain to continually retrieve information because each practice attempt is different from the last, so rote responses pulled from short-term memory won’t work.

  3. Knowing what I don’t know. One reason that comes up over and over again in conversations with students about why they didn’t ask for help is that often “they don’t know what they don’t know.” Knowing what you don’t know takes effortful studying. Effortful studying includes completing the review guides from memory and taking note of those questions that could not be answered. That is the information students should study … that’s the information they don’t know.

  4. Effortful studying. Effortful studying is using active strategies that rely on students “doing” and produces better results than passive strategies like reading and rereading textbook and notes or flipping through flashcards. Effortful studying means revising classroom notes by turning them into outlines or graphic organizers. Explaining concepts to others is one of the best ways for students to show they know material – “you can’t explain your thinking if you don’t know the material.” Effortful studying is not just making flashcards but using them in active ways like playing the “memory game” or grouping the cards into categories to show how the information is linked.

  5. Self-Advocacy. There are no “dumb” questions except the “un-asked” question. When students struggle with a question in the homework or review guides it signals the need to ask for help from peers, teachers or parents. Students sometimes struggle to understand their needs and how to communicate them to others; therefore, it’s important for the adults around them to ensure they understand when to ask for help. Self-advocacy is a life-long skill that takes practice and it is never too early to begin. The first step in learning this skill is to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, use a planner to organize study times, use active learning strategies to learn – not memorize – and see help-seeking as a positive strategy. It is what active learners do … and nothing says that you are an active learner more than asking for help.