Mastering Study Skills

“Work smarter, not harder.”  These are words I taught my children at a young age…though some days they come back to bite me.  I’m thinking of that time they programmed a robot to mop the floors….  Highly successful students embody that statement.  They have learned to work smarter, not harder, and you can, too!  

Cyclical Studying

Cyclical studying, learning in cycles, helps your brain to cement concepts more effectively by providing ‘practice.’  What this translates to is eliminating the cram session, and replacing it with smaller, repeated study sessions.  Just as you don’t learn to tie your shoes on the first attempt, your brain doesn’t store information well in one cram session…

There are five steps to this cycle:

  • Before Class – Read the assigned text, or other materials, before class time.  This gives you an idea of what will be discussed.  Check out the titles, headings, bold-print words, pictures and graphs, and read any available summaries.  This primes your brain for the topic.
  • During Class – It kind of goes without saying that you should physically attend class.  Skipping class is a bad habit, and one that’s easy to fall into.  Being in class gives you the opportunity to learn visually (watching the teacher and any presented materials), aurally (listening to the discussion), and kinesthetically (taking notes by hand).
  • After Class – Sometime after class (but before bed), take a few minutes to skim over your notes.  Some students find it helpful to re-write the notes, especially those who are kinesthetic learners.  Doing this same-day helps to transfer memories from short term to long term storage….like in the movie Inside Out!
  • Weekend – Read over your notes and make sure there are no gaps.  Do you understand everything?  Read through the text to answer questions.  Work any assigned problems.  Watch a video to help cement the concept.  Make a list of any questions you’ll want to ask the teacher?  By covering the material again and again, you’re storing it more thoroughly in your brain.
  • Before the Test – If you had to teach this material to someone else, could you?  If the answer is yes, then read over your course notes and be confident in your preparedness.  If the answer is no, ask yourself which concepts you aren’t sure about.  Read through all your course notes, and dig out the answer to your questions!  

A note on study sessions….

It can seem overwhelming to sit down and go through a pile of notes, and it’s not effective for your brain to do this.  Avoid cramming, and make a plan for your study sessions.  One hour is enough to cement a lot of knowledge!  

  • Start with a focus.  This will probably be covering the material from the day’s class, but could be as broad as covering everything since the last test.
  • Take a walk.  Every fifteen minutes, take a two minute break for a walk.  Get the blood moving, and it will help your brain perform better, too!

Employing these eight study habits now, while in high school, will make the transition to college considerably smoother.

  1. Make a plan.  Successful students have a routine and schedule.  Plan a time to study each day, and you’ll be more likely to actually do it.  When you study at the same time, it becomes a part of your routine.  Your brain will adapt to that routine and become mentally prepped for the study session, thus helping you to retain more information.  Need help planning?  See our Favorite Planners for Teens.
  2. Just say no to procrastination.  Maybe you don’t like the subject or find it really difficult, or maybe you just want to go out with friends.  Don’t put off studying…once you get into that habit, it’s too easy to start sloughing off all study sessions.  If you’re having a particularly tough day, shorten it from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, but stick with it.  Even those 15 minutes will help to cement the material and keep your routine in place.
  3. Don’t study all at once.  Cramming doesn’t work – it just exhausts your mental and physical energy.  Shorter study periods spaced out over the semester are more effective.  This cyclical studying allows your brain to build connections in between study sessions.
  4. Distracted studying can hurt you.  In an age where there are noises, images, videos, games, and all sorts of distractions, you’ll have to learn what setting works best for you.  Some students require complete quiet for concentration.  Others need background noise, such as classical music.  You’ll need to figure out how you can keep a steady train of thought as you focus on your books and notes.  You’ll also have to learn to stick up for your personal space, as there will be people who try to distract you, too.
  5. Study groups help…sometimes.  Tackling a subject in a small group can help you get answers to tricky concepts, complete assignments more quickly and effectively, and cement the material.  When you teach others, you’ll be learning that same material at a new level.  However, if the group doesn’t stay completely focused on studying, it can quickly dissolve into a waste of study time.  Insist on these two rules – everyone comes prepared, and only the subject matter is discussed.
  6. Take notes…and review them.  Completing the assigned reading before class time will help you know which notes to take.  If you read it, and the teacher mentions it, you can be fairly sure it’s something important to know.  As part of your study session, review the notes you took in class.  Some people find it helpful to rewrite them, as the act of handwriting notes helps to cement them in the brain.
  7. Do the hard stuff first.  If you have a subject that you dread, do it first.  It will require the most mental energy, and you want to be sure you have enough to tackle it.  Getting the difficult subjects completed first will leave you with a sense of relief when it’s time to tackle the easier ones…and they usually go faster, too.
  8. Review on the weekend.  I know…you want to relax and enjoy the weekend, but carving out even one hour of weekend time to review the previous week’s notes and the material will help reinforce those concepts so that you’re ready for next week’s material.  

Develop these habits, and you’ll see even more academic success!


Yvie has 20+  years experience in education and counseling, and has a passion for helping other homeschool moms! You can find more of her thoughts over on her blog Homeschool On The Range.

2 thoughts on “Mastering Study Skills”

  1. I would write my notes in class and then type them when I got back to my dorm room. This way I was learning the information twice and my notes were easier to study when it was time for a test.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Division of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine