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Proven study techniques for high school students

A positive mindset and some proven study techniques can make all the difference to your students’ success. Karen Boyes, motivational speaker and expert in effective teaching, shares tips for teachers to pass on to students.

Be ready to learn
Start the year with curiosity and wonderment of what you might learn this year. It is often helpful to look over the textbook or web pages, read the chapter/page headings, scan the index and take note of the captions under pictures and diagrams. This provides a base for new learning to sit upon, just as when a painter starts with a base coat of paint to ensure the main colour will bond.

Turn up to class ready with your note-taking tools. Whether you are using pens and paper or a device, ensure you have these ready. Great learners also have a note-taking system. Develop a bank of note-taking symbols and shorthand. For example: w = with, ∆ = change etc. Learn to paraphrase what the teacher has said, rather than writing it word for word. If you are using a phone, take a photo of the information, upload it to a Google drawing document and add notes with speech bubbles and text boxes.

Even if you are not interested in the information your teacher is teaching – pretend you are! Looking like you are interested will give the teacher the impression you are interested and it is much easier to teach an interested student than one who is mucking around and doesn’t care about the information. Participate in all activities and volunteer – it will all help with your learning.

Set learning goals
Create a strong reason to learn the information this year. Maybe it is the foundation for future work which will lead on to to something bigger. The stronger the foundation, the easier the new knowledge will be to learn. Maybe you have your eye on an academic prize or simply want to be able to get better marks than you did last year.

Once you have your why – the big reasons or picture – then break these big goals into smaller achievable goals. Create milestones and dates when you would like to achieve each step.

You might consider breaking up your learning goals per subject and topic.

A great idea, used by many successful people, is to create a chart or poster with photographs, key words and motivational phrases to help keep yourself focused for the year. Remember to place your creation somewhere you will see it each day, or photograph it to use as a screen saver.

Engage in the learning process
Ask questions if you are unsure. Did you know research shows the more questions students ask, the higher their marks will be? It makes sense, as asking questions means you are engaged in the learning. If it is challenging to ask during class, ask after class or send an email to your teacher after school.

If you are not sure go to websites designed to help. Here are some of my favourites:

  • for NCEA Maths and Science
  • Science focused
  • com is for English, Drama, Economics, History, Computer Science and more

The great thing about these sites is they are FREE – which actually means you have no excuse. Get searching, downloading and learning today.

When revising from your textbook, notes or a video don’t just read or listen to it as these are very ineffective ways to being able to retain information. Instead read or watch two or three sections, and summarise each before you continue. Use colour and draw diagrams to make the process more fun and memorable. If you are musical, make up a song about the information you need to learn. Create mnemonics or memory pegs for information you are required to remember. Make flashcards with questions on one side and the answers on the other and test yourself regularly.

Learning takes energy – it is not a passive activity and the more you engage in the process, the faster you will learn.

Evaluate your learning
So how do you know if you are learning? Ask yourself these questions…

  • Can you explain the information clearly?
  • Do you have confidence in discussing my learning with others?
  • Can you effectively teach it to someone else?
  • Can you apply this learning in a different context?
  • Can you emphasis with the situation/people
  • Do you ask questions to further your understanding?
  • Can you debate your opinion and understandings?

Another way you will know if you are doing well is from the teachers’ feedback. This will mostly come in the form of your assignments, tests and practice exams. Read the teacher comments and work out what you could have done to improve. Most importantly, go over and learn the questions you got wrong.

Remember, learning takes energy and time – and it often feels difficult, challenging and hard. Acknowledge those feelings as part of the learning process and use proven study methods to help you increase your knowledge and understanding.

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