The skill of studying

The skill of studying

As the Head of School, I have heard so many times parents saying, “well, my child has a great area to study in, it’s calm and without distractions. They spend hours studying, yet they are not achieving the results that they require”. Students will comment, “…but Ms Best, I highlighted everything that I needed to know, and then I didn’t know it for the assessment!”

The explanation that we teach in our school is simply that studying and knowing how to study are themselves skills that need to be learnt, practised and tailored to meet individual needs.

Students learn in different ways and, therefore, may need to understand and be taught different ways to study and learn. They should choose the study methods that are most effective for them as individuals, and the subject that they are revising.

Fundamentally, studying for tests and exams is based on work learnt in school in class. Therefore, it is crucial that students focus during valuable taught lessons so that when they are tested on their knowledge and understanding, they recall, remember what they previously learnt, and are able to make short notes to remind themselves.

Of equal importance is that schools ensure that students make clear, concise and accurate notes that will be invaluable for revision. Missed lessons should always be caught up and your child encouraged to ask their teachers about any aspect of the work missed that they did not fully understand.

Asking pertinent and relevant questions in class should always be encouraged, especially when your child will be revising at home. If they are not keen to ask questions in front of their class, encourage them to ask at the end of a lesson.

Asking questions about one’s learning shows maturity and taking responsibility for one’s learning path. It is important for students to do this for themselves, and should be openly encouraged in any learning environment.

So, your child has made and displayed their much-considered revision timetable, has paid attention in class, asked questions and is ready to begin studying; where do they start?

Personally, I encourage all students to buy a set of blank exercise books and use these to begin their studying. Label each book for every subject to be revised.

Start at the beginning with notes made in class. Firstly, review class work on a whole subject, unit or topic and use the blank exercise book to make shortened notes on the area to be revised.

Next, look again at these shortened notes and highlight or list key words for a topic area.

Encourage your child not to fall into the ‘love of highlighting’ trap. A whole page highlighted is very difficult to recall, whereas a short sentence or keywords highlighted can be visualised and recalled more readily.

When a subject’s unit of study has been summarised, there are a range of different ways that students can breakdown the topic areas to help them to recall information. This is very much an individual choice.

  • Flashcards can be created – normally they are most effective when used individually to recall information, such as giving a key word on one side with the definition on the other, or on one side the student asks a question and writes the answer on the back, so they are able to test themselves. Flashcards are not new; however, they are a proven and excellent way of learning key information.
  • Mind maps can be created – mind maps are a way of linking a subject, topic or area of study around a central focus word or subject. They are normally brightly coloured and completely unique to an individual’s brain and thought processes. Therefore, mind maps are highly effective study aids.
  • Story webs – similar to mind maps and can be made to represent pictorially the order of processes, for example in science subjects to depict the order of an experiment. Students use these to great effect if they recall facts pictorially.

By using a range of study techniques, children are enabled not to merely learn to recall facts, they are able to use learnt knowledge, to think around a subject and to really question and understand the subject.

‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think’ – Albert Einstein

By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé