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:
To those of you in 4th-8th grade and older, I hope I can offer a smidgen of help & encouragement as you traverse the waters of intermediate school, middle school, and high school.