Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms


2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.    

National Time Management Month: Tips for Parents to Try at Home

Like children and teens, we adults are not always on top of our game when it comes to time management. As much as we would like to be productive 100 percent of the time, that is not always likely—and sometimes, just purely impossible.  As we all know, people naturally tend to avoid doing things that they do not want to do. If even we adults indulge in task avoidance on occasion, it can be expected that adolescents will do the same when it comes to homework and studying. Since what occurs at home directly impacts success at school, putting time management strategies into place as a family will inevitably provide academic benefits in the long run.

Help your child to categorize, then prioritize. It sounds simple enough—just as we plan our errands or to-do lists in a logical, timely, and practical manner, so should your children when they are prioritizing their assignments. However, students with executive functioning deficiencies may find this style of logical order or planning to be exceptionally difficult.

For example, if you know that you need to go to the gym, fill up the gas tank, and go grocery shopping, there is a logical order of operations: gas first, in order to drive, gym, then groceries. Any other means of organizing your errands would leave you stranded on the side of the road or with a car full of spoiled food. Logical? Yes. But easy for all adolescents to grasp? No. They will need your help to prioritize and logically plan their assignments and afterschool obligations. Show them how to assess the time it will take to complete all items of the to-do list. Help them to identify the difference between tasks that are time-consuming versus difficult. If a task is both time-consuming and difficult, it should likely take top priority.

Encourage productivity and effort with bonus slots for free time or weekend activities. Intrinsic motivation is the end goal. But, until that mindset kicks in, it is more than okay to negotiate, praise, or reward hard work. If you notice that your child has spent extra time and effort on a research project, perhaps consider shelving the week’s chores. If your teen has submitted all of her school assignments on time, treat her to a movie of her choice or additional screen time before bed.

Lead by example. When you are asking your child to put down the phone and work, you should try to do the same. Grab a book or catch up on some work while your teen hits the books. Not only are you setting an example, but you are also ensuring that you are not contributing to distractions. Talking on the phone, watching television, or scrolling through social media sends a conflicting message—“you should be working, but I do not have to.” Instead, share in the quiet, productive work time.

National Time Management Month: Advice from the Teacher

“Do as I say, not as I do” certainly applies to this topic of time management. As much as I know how to manage my time, the execution piece has always been a steady work in progress. Shamefully, I must admit that, like many other people, time management is one of my pitfalls. Since I can very personally relate to the struggle that is time management, I can also say that I spend a great deal of time—no pun intended—pondering how to improve my own tendency to procrastinate. Again, I am still working on this lifelong skill; however, I have found some strategies and reminders that prove to be very helpful in this area. As much as we adults struggle with managing our time, so do our students. And, being that they are still developing, maturing, and learning, adolescents can benefit greatly from modeling strategies when it comes to time management.

Students should categorize, then prioritize. In any given week, students may have personal or social obligations, academic obligations, family obligations, or extracurricular obligations—quite the full calendar for today’s teens. Not only can these packed schedules be stressful, but without proper time management, completion of all “to-dos” could prove impossible. Organization is key to prioritizing time.

First, students should categorize all events and due dates on a weekly or monthly calendar. This can be done with post-it notes or color-coordinated pens. After the to-do list has been organized by obligationschool, family, social, etc.—students should rank these items in order of importance for school, family, and extracurricular tasks. Have adolescents consider questions like, “Which assignment is going to take the longest?” “Which task is going to impact my grades the most?” “What family event is the most significant?” This prompts students to consider what items are most important to family members or significant at school, allowing them time to work carefully on the more difficult items. In terms of the social category, students may want to rank or prioritize items based on interest. This way, events or gatherings that teens are most eager to attend can take top priority during their free time.  

Take frequent, short breaks between tedious tasks. Again, planning these breaks ahead of time is helpful for managing one’s time. The idea is to avoid cramming as much as possible, especially when it comes to school-related tasks. When sectioning off study/work sessions, students should be mindful of their focus and attentiveness—a work session is only successful if the entire time slot is spent working efficiently. Students should treat the short breaks as though they are rewards for the “grind” and effort they are exerting. These breaks prevent burnout—which happens when students lose steam or motivation while cramming or working for hours straight. Breaks allow some breathing room so that assignments, tasks, or practices are not only completed, but completed thoroughly and proficiently.

Lastly, and most importantly, put the electronics away. Social media, email, and television are my own vices when it comes to being productive with my time. As much as adolescents may fight this, the focus needs to be solely on the task at hand in order to manage time effectively. Instrumental music is an option for those students who prefer background noise, but truth be told, less is more with regard to distraction.