1. Get organized.
When you have seven or eight classes in a day, with seven or eight different teachers, it can be easy to get a little lost. In fact, it can be easy to miss assignments entirely. But consider this: If you earn two 100’s and one zero, your grade averages to a 66.6. As in, one failing grade can drag your A average way down, into a hole you’ll be hard pressed to dig yourself out of it. Remember, a 0 looks like a hole for a reason. Don't earn 0's.
The solution? Use your daily planner and keep papers in color-coded folders. If you always put your history homework in the green folder (or blue, or red, or whatever says HISTORY to you), then when it’s time to turn it in, you’ll always know where it is. And if you don’t have homework? Write THAT down in your daily planner. A blank space could mean you forgot to write down the assignment, so always put something for every class, even if it’s “no homework tonight!” Feel free to draw some unicorns on the agenda. Unicorns are never bad.
2. Take notes.
There are a lot of ways to do this, but my favorite is an adaptation of Cornell Notes. I don’t use the summary part on the bottom, and I leave about 2/3 of the page for notes and just 1/3 on the left for noting key words, and summarizing. You should be taking notes even if your teacher doesn’t direct you to—by high school, they expect you to take charge of your own learning.
Wondering what to write down? There are some great note-taking videos out there. Crash Course has a whole Study Skills Course that's awesome (and free!) But for starters, if the teacher repeats something, write it down. If they tell you something is important, write it down. If they put something on the board, write it down. Writing something down as you listen forces your brain to analyze the material and put down the most important bits. It’s why typing into your laptop is not necessarily better… the more thinking you do up front, the longer you’ll remember it later. Speaking of remembering class material…
3. Study a little every day.
Your class notes get to play double-duty! If you simply review your daily notes, spending maybe 10 minutes per class, you’ll be way ahead. Take it one small step at a time. Your memory benefits from repetition and the sooner you see the material again, the more likely it will be encoded in your long-term memory. Transferring key words to notecards is also helpful, especially if you are taking a foreign language.
Know what doesn’t work for the long term? Cramming. Trust Auntie Amy on this one. Yes, you might be able to survive a test by studying furiously the night before, but you are making things much harder for yourself when you have to take end-of-term tests or when the material is something that you will be building on in the next chapter, which is often the case for math, science, and languages.
4. Ask questions.
Your teachers are just people. I realize that if you are shy, the thought of raising your hand in class might feel impossible. If that’s the case, send an email after class or write a note and drop it off on the teacher’s desk, but if you don’t understand something, you must ask the teacher before the test. They will love you for doing so. They will be amazed and impressed by your willingness to learn.
And if you have the question, at least a handful of other students do, too. Be brave. Ask the questions.
5. Find a study buddy.
Sometimes, another person can keep us on task and motivated. Of course, choosing the right person matters. Don’t choose the kid who never turns in their work, but if there’s a person who also seems to care about actually learning the material, don’t hesitate to ask if they want to study for a big test together. Take turns quizzing each other. Look at each other’s notes—one of you might have heard something the other missed.
Having to explain something to someone else is a tried and true method of learning material. Remember that just because material feels familiar, it doesn’t mean that you know it. Until you can explain it in your own words to someone else, without looking at your notes, you have more studying to do.
Thanks for joining me for Auntie Amy's Top 5 Tips for Succeeding in School. Simple doesn't mean easy, but it will work if you put your mind to it. Remember, you also need to eat well, get plenty of sleep, and enjoy time with friends and family, too. School is just one part of your wonderful life. Now, go get yourself some folders, an agenda, some notebook paper, and rock out those classes.
One bonus tip for the road:
It's that time of the year again... final exams are looming, the gate through which you must pass to reach summer vacation.
But don't worry. I've got your back.
Here are five steps to follow to finish out your school year with style and grace, instead of blood, sweat, and tears.
1. Don’t cram
Research says cramming isn’t effective, even though a lot of people keep trying. It’s far better to study for 10-15 minutes each day for a week than a bunch all at once. Think of it like taking sips of a slushie instead of gulping it—and getting a brain freeze. Cramming may let you feel like you’ll succeed because the material will look familiar and it’s easy to think, “Yeah, yeah, I know this, I know that,” but recognition is not the same as recalling it. Instead, dedicate a little bit of time every day to study for each final exam. Depending on how much material your test covers, a chapter per day for a week might work.
2. Write out Your Notes
The science is in: writing things by hand helps us remember things much better than typing them out. You may not be able to write down every word the teacher says—but that’s precisely what will help you discern what is actually important to know and summarize as you listen, so you can write down only the critical stuff. Or even if you take notes in class on a laptop, go home and make notecards the old-fashioned way to help lock in the information you’ll need.
Sleep is critical to our health, but also to our learning. Sleep consolidates our new knowledge and organizes memories. Getting a good night of shut-eye is your best tool for making sure you remember what you studied the night before. Logically, this means that pulling “an all-nighter” is a really bad idea. Not only are you cramming (see point 1) but you aren’t giving your brain any time to absorb the material.
4. Eat well.
We all know that eating well is a priority, but sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. Breakfast in particular can be tough to maneuver on a busy school morning. But on test days, it’s critical that you eat a solid breakfast with protein so your brain has the energy to carry you through the day. As a bonus, eggs contain a nutrient that is thought to help improve memory and cognitive performance. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Fast and easy ideas: Yogurt parfait, breakfast burrito, fruit smoothie with protein powder, oatmeal made with soy or dairy milk for a protein boost.
5. Decide your goal and go for it.
Writing down your goals or stating them in public helps people reach their goals. Goals help us stay more accountable. So write down your test goal and post it in your room. Tell your friends, parents or teacher that your goal is to make whatever grade you need—an A, a B…even if it's just to pass! You are much more likely to do so once you’ve officially committed to doing it. Goals transform people from wishers to doers.
So there you go—five steps for taking charge of your academic success during final exams. This all assumes, of course, that you’ve been paying in class (because you have, right??) and listening with intention. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you learn as you go, with the understanding that you might as well do it right the first time. Don’t find yourself sitting in summer school while your friends are heading out to the pool.
With a little planning and dedication, you can ace all your finals and soar off into summer with victory. Decide to rock your finals and end your school year strong.
You’ve got this.
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