Aim for an “A” – 8 Study Habits That Work


Let's get something straight right up front. Studying is a skill that requires organization, self-discipline, time management, and many other habits. In order to be successful at studying, we as parents have to ensure that our children are learning these skills and then make sure to enforce them. Again, studying is a skill. To be successful, students must learn these skills and continually practice them. And to be sure, these skills can be learned and employed by learners of all ages. It is never too late to develop these skills.

With our college-aged son being home for the summer we were re-enlightened to fact that he does not have great study skills and does not use his time wisely. In fact, while he is brilliant, we think he studies harder not smarter and procrastinates which usually means he stays up way too late to finish projects - last minute. And although saying something like this to a 19-year old almost always elicits a fight, I wish we could move past it together so that he could gain all the knowledge he can in his chosen field. My only hope is that he might read this blog!

Get organized.

Getting organized is the first step towards success.

  • Use a scheduler and write down every assignment and then turn them in! It is sad to say but true, but many students do the work and just do not turn it in. Parents need to stay involved and create consequences if their student continues not to turn in work.
  • Consider color coding. Having binders and folders color coded may seem like a waste of time, but in the long run it really does help. Doing so makes it easier and faster to grab what you need. Get in the habit of placing your newest notes on top of older notes. Organizing your work in color-coded stacks when you remove them from your backpack makes it easier to move from subject to subject. Keep your work area clean and free of food and non-work items.
  • Make an appointment. Block off specific time in your schedule for homework, class by class.
  • Be consistent. Create a specific study schedule and stick with it.
  • Do difficult tasks first. My mom use to tell us kids to do all difficult tasks first that way everything that came after was, well, easier. Her logic was right for another reason. Difficult tasks are easier to do when the brain is fresh. Completing difficult tasks first also has a positive psychological benefit in how you approach the easier subjects that follow.
  • Set goals. As easy as this sounds, many people forget to set the intention of what is to be accomplished in each study session. Setting goals also establishes a mental outline of how and what you are about to study.

Pick a study area.

Selecting the right study area is probably the most important thing to do. All the organization in the world will not help you if you cannot find a place to focus that is devoid of distractions. Make sure that you set rules and regulations around your study area. If you choose to study in an office or secluded area, let everyone in your home know your intentions. For example, tell them if the door is closed between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm that you are studying and ask to not be disturbed. Let's talk more about distractions.


Only bring what you need to study. Technology is a huge distraction these days. Many of us use our computers and cell phones as a means to study. But You Tube music videos, Pandora, etc. are too much of a distraction. If your music is close to you, the temptation to change channels or videos is just too great and is the largest of time suck distractions! If you need a little background music, turn on a stereo, iPod, or phone somewhere far from your desk. The music should be low and not something you focus on. Leave your television off. Cell phones can be an effective study tool but also a lousy distraction. If you use your phone scheduler, calendar or timer, great! Just set your screen to that application. Text messages, IM's, and social media are the worst distractors. Shut your sound off (which will not affect timer sounds) and answer calls and texts on your break. Rule of Thumb: anything you can turn off, do!

Take breaks.

Some research shows that a person's ability to retain information decreases after about 30 minutes, so break your study period into two 30-minutes sessions with five minute breaks in between or if that seems just too short a period for you, study for an hour and then take a 5 to 10 minute break.

  • On your break, get up and move. Stretch, use the bathroom, get a snack then get back to work.
  • Set a timer for your work and break periods.
  • When you come back take a couple of minutes to review the work you just completed.

Set a timer.

One of the most underused but most effective tools is a timer. If you find by night's end that you still have a boat load of work to do, start setting a timer. Make sure you start it at the beginning and end of an assignment. But experience in my household shows that not setting the timer at the beginning of breaks can be the source of minutes. A five minute break can turn into a wasted 30 minutes or more!

Know your learning style.

Are you a visual (by sight), auditory (by hearing), or hands on (by doing) learner? While I think it is important for everyone to know how they best learn, I also know from being a student myself and hearing my own son complain, that often there is just so much work that learning style falls way down on the list compared to just getting the assignment done and turning it in. But the truth is, if you absorb more by hearing, if you listen to videos that cover the same text that is in your book you will learn and retain more. Conversely, if you are a visual person, reading that text will probably do the trick.

Learning tricks and techniques.

  • Do not cram. Cramming generally stores information in your short-term memory not your long-term memory. So, you may do well on the quiz you just crammed for but you will not retain that information in your long-term memory necessary to pass the cumulative test at the end of the semester.
  • Do distributed practice. For more effective learning from reading spread out your study sessions into 30 minute increments.
  • Do use the SQ3R Method when reading chapters. This is an acronym for survey, question, read, recite, and review. This technique helps you retain what you read. Although the nuns at my school instilled great study habits, I was a highlighter and note taker which never helped me. I wish I had been taught this process. In a nutshell:

Survey: Preview the chapter quickly. Look at titles, introductions, subheadings, summaries, pictures, diagrams, and anything in bold.

Question: Before you begin reading a section, turn the heading into a question. This increases your comprehension and stirs your curiosity.

Read: Read the material under the heading with the intention of discovering the answer to your question. Write down main ideas and take light notes and stop often making sure you understood what you read. If you cannot answer the question, reread the section until you have learned the answer.

Recite: You need to recite out loud the answer to the question you asked prior to reading the section of the text. The answer needs to be in your own words.

Review: Take some notes from the text, if necessary. When done with the chapter, look over the notes and become familiar with the important facts. Recite the main points out loud. Always review your chapter after reading it. Do quick reviews daily and in-depth reviews before tests. Quiz yourself often.

  • Be a good note taker.
  • Do not highlight! Studies show that highlighting and underlining text may hinder learning the material because individual facts are learned instead of the entire subject matter.
  • Do not re-read text. When studying for a test, do not re-read the text. This is simply a waste of time. Do use the SQ3R method to learn the facts.
  • Do create and use flash cards
  • Do lots of practice and self quizzes. Have someone else quiz you.
  • Do take down notes on what your instructor tells you to. Hint: it will probably show up on their test.

Study Groups and Tutors

Even the best of study methodologies sometimes will not help you get ahead. Truth is there are plenty of subjects that are just difficult. If you find that you are not grasping a subject well or just can't get on top of the homework, consider getting a tutor or study group. Often times, just having someone else explain something clears up the problem you are struggling with. One word of advice regarding study groups and tutors: do not get chummy, keep it professional. Doing so will keep it from becoming a social hour and a waste of your precious time.

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or Facebook Google+

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