Developing Effective Study Habits

Help each individual discover what works best as he or she builds a personalized repertoire of strategies for studying effectively.

By Noel Woodward

Students studying

As the teacher says, "Tonight, your homework is to study," the students dutifully write down study in their agendas. Some leave class confident they will study that night, but when they sit down to do so, they realize they aren't really sure what to do. They stare at their notes, read through the vocabulary, and look over their homework, but what next? Was that really studying, or just scanning the material? Help your class out by spending some time talking about and working on effective study strategies and skills. They will be able to use these strategies for years to come and will feel confident as they prepare for tests, quizzes, and formal discussions.

Setting Up for Success

One of the first things to think about when it's time to study, is the environment. This is a bit personal, so pupils might have to spend some time figuring out what is best for their needs. The goal is to find the least-distracting space that will be conducive to productivity. Some people like complete silence, while others need music or ambient noise in the background to help them focus. Take a few moments to brainstorm with the whole class. Where do they study best? Do they like to work alone or with someone else? How long do they work before they take a break? Use the collective knowledge of the class to build images of various ideal study spaces.

Once you get across the idea of a positive study environment, think about covering study preparation techniques. Studying the night before a test is probably not enough for success in most cases, so strong studiers start organizing and reviewing shortly after they first receive the information. Encourage individuals to organize their work and handouts in a notebook or binder and on a computer if they have one. Suggest that they review new information at the end of each week, even if there isn't a text. When they do this, they can take note of concepts and ideas they don't understand so that they can look these up or ask someone for help. This way, they won't be confused come test time.

Study Strategies

You can help your class by setting specific goals when they are supposed to study for homework. Depending on what you want them to do, assign a minimum or maximum study time. Students often don't know how long to work on a task, and this will give their studying some structure. In addition, you can break down the material into smaller pieces. Tell your class to look at the first three chapters tonight and the next three tomorrow, or pick apart their notes tonight and work on a set of practice problems tomorrow. It might take some thought on your part to chunk the work up effectively, but definite goals will give studiers a tangible end-point and give purpose to their work.

Since people learn in different ways. One strategy might work for one person, and confuse another. Here are some ideas you can give your class to use as works for them:

  • Take notes on your own notes. On another sheet of paper, try to explain concepts using your own words and examples. If you can't explain it on your own, ask for assistance.
  • Use a note-taking strategy, such as Cornell notes to help you review. Cornell notes require you to go back into your notes and add in comments, questions, and a summary. This review will help reinforce material.
  • Categorize or organize information into lists, groups, visuals, or anything that makes sense. Making connections between different words or concepts can build understanding and cement ideas in your mind. If a connection makes sense to you, and makes sense according to the material, you're more likely to remember it when the time comes.
  • Make flashcards and test yourself, or ask someone else to test you. Try out an app, such as Flashcards Deluxe, to create easy-to-read flashcards with pictures and sounds and then store them all in one place.
  • If a teacher provides you with practice questions, do them! It's a good way to figure out if you understand the material on your own.
  • Vary your study activities. If one method is not effective, it's possible another will work out. Try moving from reading, to practicing, to discussing, to writing, and so on.
  • You know how you can sing all of the lyrics to that song you heard the other day, but you can't remember what you did in class two hours ago? Create your own mnemonics or songs to help reinforce class material.
  • Get together a study group and ask each other questions. Your collective understanding should provide support and help build understanding. Also, you're likely to engage in the material if you are interacting with another person.

These are just a few ideas. Ask your pupils what they do that works best and add to the list. They can keep their list in their binders and check off what they've tried as they work their way to becoming effective, successful studiers.


A Survey of Skills

Get an idea of how your pupils study with this 30-question survey. Questionnaire-takers read each statement and check a box marked rarely, sometimes, or often to indicate how often they employ each strategy. This could be a great starting point for a discussion on study habits.

Building Positive Habits

Aimed toward kindergarten through eighth grade learners, this resource presents a series of activities designed to build positive habits early. The resource comes with several printable worksheets that class members can use to track their progress.