This has cropped up a lot recently, mostly because I've got friends from all over the world, and I've been running into kids and college students complaining about exam time now for... sheesh, nearly 5 months.
Most universities here will dedicate a course early in a student's degree simply to study habits and "how to be a student." It's very, very important to explain to students that academic achievement is less related to intelligence or natural gifts and is actually a specific skill-set in and of itself. As always, you're supposed to stress the "effort" and "dedication" over natural "talent" - because this is a common misconception you run into with kids all the time, yes up to and including "kids" in college. In fact, this is such a big issue that psychologists are desperately trying to get parents to change their language and discuss this with their kids.
A kid thinks: Johnny is stronger than me because he was born like that.
The truth is: Johnny has been wrestling for years, on a dedicated training schedule and strict diet, while working out ever since he was six years old. Of course he's stronger than you.
This is absolutely true with schooling too. Assuming that innate talent or intelligence will make you excel in school is no different from the following:
"Oh, you're an intelligent person. Now go cross that 20 foot gymnastic balance beam while doing a handstand and whistling the Bulgarian national anthem."
They are only somewhat related, as you can see. Ahem.
At any rate, clumsy analogies aside, there are a few changes in attitude and time management that can go a huge way with school, and most students (myself included) only realize them when they've almost entirely finished with schooling.
But these hints and tips are hard to pass on, because understandably a kid in high school, or coming from high school into university, will have a totally different perspective to an older person entering university or any form of industry training. It's totally understandable; for one thing, there's no guarantee that the kid wants to really push his or herself to do well in school - they're forced to go to school! Their teachers are often unreasonable, unfair and, yes, absolutely disrespectful while demanding unswerving respect from them.
Me? I joke about with my lecturers at the pub, we're friendly, and I get stuff done because I'm paying to be there, because I want industry recognized qualifications.
But regardless, there are some good ideas for if you want to do well in school. Even if it just is to get your parents off your back, or because you want to get a reasonably okay grade so you can stop doing nonsense high school and do what you really want to do in university... whatever!
These tips are often taught to new uni students, though it's hard to break out of 12 years of bad primary/secondary school habits, and recognize that you should be wanting to be at university - nobody is forcing you. I think it's important for mentors and parents to pass on these tips, explain them properly, and encourage their kids to try them. It should not be forced on them, it should be the students' own decision. But, without further ado, here's a few techniques I've found to actually work awesomely (I also know law and physics graduates who do these things too, so it's not just my dumb ass!). Maybe I can help!
Note that this isn't me trying to be condescending to my readers, nor am I an amazing student. But some of my readers are still going through school, and some are even parents. This is just something I'm throwing together to help whoever it helps. Feel free to pass it on to others who might need it.
1. Take notes.
Remember when the teachers made you blindly copy down whatever crap you weren't interested in off the blackboard? Truth be told, blindly copying down their notes is a poor idea, and really, they just do it because they want you to sit down and shut up.
But taking notes, especially when the teacher moves onto something you think you might need to remember later, is a very good idea. This does mean you need to pay attention, stop screwing around in class, and actively take notes, yes. Take the highlights of what the teacher is saying and scrawl them down. When they're doing practice equations, copy down the equation and note down how they work through it.
You don't need to write down every word. Just the highlights. Scrawl 'em down. If your teacher punishes you for daring to write while he/she is talking, your teacher is a moron and you've just encountered one of the failings of our education system.
1b. Ask for Clarification!
Also, teachers have a habit of skipping over things quickly, they don't check if students grasped what they were saying, or even heard them. They might even have a ridiculous policy of not allowing questions "until they're done."
Stop the teacher occasionally and ask for clarification if you missed something or don't get it. Remember, you should be taking notes and working through any examples he or she does on the board for you. If you can't ask the question immediately, write the question down somewhere and ask as soon as possible.
Many teachers are wonderful human beings who will do all they can to make sure you grasp the subject. A lot of them, however, are merely human beings, and human beings are lazy. If you find a teacher's practices are making it hard for you do well as a student, don't be silent. You can complain.
If a teacher is rude or aggressive or threatening when you ask politely for clarification, complain. If necessary, to the principal or higher. It's your duty as a student; many teachers suck at their job because although they have 25 years experience, they've never once been pulled up for doing things wrong in those 25 years.
On the other hand, your teacher is a person too. Put yourself in their shoes. Be respectful. Most teachers will want you to pass. Trust me, everything goes much smoother if you and your teacher get along.
2. Actually work in class.
This one sounds obvious, and I'll give a pass to the kids in primary & secondary school for wanting to screw around instead of do the busywork they get forced into doing (while learning more at home when they read their fantasy books...), but if you're wanting to do well, do the work. You will fail in college if you don't do the work.
Be professional. Be polite. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
Seriously though, getting things done in class if you can means you won't have to worry about homework. You'll also more likely get things done if you attend the class.
3. Use resources and your initiative.
This one especially applies to IT classes.
You have the internet at your disposal. My generation was only just starting to get it. Now, "every child has a laptop" and internet is in every school and lab, and for goodness sake, never underestimate the usefulness of Google.
How do you create a pivot table in Excel? Google it. Don't sit there like a putz.
Of course, if internet isn't available, remember you likely have a lot of other resources. Starting with your teacher and ending with your local library.
4. Important: structure your time.
OK, this one is painful and hard to get younger students to do, but it can be done, and should be done.
Everyone's heard this as a teenager. Almost everyone ignored it, though.
Set aside an hour or so of your time, at least 5 days a week, that you dedicate to your schoolwork. In this time, you take out your equipment (be it a pen and paper or opening that document you need to finish on the computer!) and make yourself get started.
As you can see, this is an anti-procrastination thing. Most of the time, your homework is easy and will only take you a little while, so just get it done and dusted! A primary school student won't need to spend more than 30 minutes on their homework. When you advance to college level, you will need to take more time. Much more.
But the point is that you make yourself do your schoolwork, at a set time, on set days. It's the "getting started" part that is the hardest, so make yourself get started.
How does this look in 4th year university law? Well, one law graduate I know used to hide away in her room for five or so hours, 3 days a week when exams were coming, phone turned off, no television. The room was a study, it was just for work, no distractions were in there. She would revise, study, research and work on assignments for upwards of 5 hours, and often forgot to eat. She slept when it was time to sleep, and woke up when it was time to wake up and work again. Her dedication and time management was excessive, but she did get her degree easily and with an exceptional grade. I believe she also got honors.
It's not uncommon to see uni students sleeping in libraries, covered in notes and clearly underweight.
You don't need to do that in the early years. Just structure your time a little, and set up a period of time that you will consistently focus on your work. If you have trouble getting started, ask your parent, tutor, mentor or older brother for help. Say, 6pm to 7pm, you do your homework, watch The Simpsons, play some games, then go to bed.
Parents, help your kid out. Even if they sit down to make themselves do their work, they might want someone to talk to and frame things in their mind; younger kids might want you to remind them how to do something, or just prompt them a little. On the other hand, go away if they need to focus! >:)
Positive reinforcement can work well. Praise a kid who sticks to their timetable; reward them; talk to them about how this will help them get through school, and how getting through school with a good grade is good for them. Oh, and start early, and start moderate. Don't push your kid too far and burn 'em out or make 'em resentful.
Remember though: school is not pleasant, and a lot of kids have trouble in school. They might desperately want to just forget about it when they get home. They want to throw that schoolbag down and try to forget. Be sympathetic, and if your kid is having trouble sticking to a timetable or doing anything school related outside of school hours (or simply having poor grades), talk to them. They might have a serious problem; do not blame them or call them lazy. Children/teenagers are NOT lazy by nature.
4b. Go to bed!
That's also a part of time management! Keep a reasonable and consistent bed time!
I know, it's not easy, trust me I know. But try to get to bed at a decent time.
This is especially true for younger students, and also especially difficult for them.
Children and teenagers are supposed to have 10 or more hours sleep per night. Adults actually need much less - around 8. But teenagers especially have different "body clocks"; they tend to not get tired until much later at night, this is just natural.
So, students: it's awful to go to school tired, and it causes health problems too. It will definitely mess with your ability to do your work or remember things. Try to aim for a reasonable bed time, and wind down with a book to read under a lamp or something.
Parents/teachers: remember what I said above. A teenager's body basically wants to be up until midnight, then wake up at 10am the next day. Many students come to class extremely tired, and some are genuine insomniacs, and no it isn't their fault.
It's been shown that later starts are better for students. Studies have confirmed as absolute fact that a 10am start for school is the best option - yet this has not been adopted. So whose fault is this? Certainly not the exhausted 15 year old who couldn't sleep last night after doing his chores, homework and trying to squeeze in some time for himself, and just couldn't nod off until midnight before being dragged out of bed at 6:30am.
Revise and remind yourself about those notes you took! Again, this should be a part of your timetable!
I found that taking quick notes on paper or on my notebook computer was great, but then going over them and fleshing the notes out, making it better presented, etc, made it much easier to remember things. Sometimes it just takes that second or third glance, while you re-read it and change a few keywords to bold/italic, for it to stick in your head!
This is the reason they tell you to highlight things in textbooks, by the way. The highlighting, aside from making the important point stick out on the page, makes you read and recognize the section as important and highlighting it alone might make you remember it better!
6. Keep at it.
The vast majority of people are going to be very capable of getting good grades in school or university, especially the earlier years. Much like losing weight, however, being a good student takes constant effort - and honestly? You probably underestimate how hard it can be, you might get some effort shock here.
But ultimately, early schooling comes down to having concepts explained to you, and then repetition to make it stick. Those are the two parts to learning throughout elementary to high school. There are only two ways things can go wrong.
So if you're having trouble or perform poorly in test conditions, use those resources. Consult your teacher, mentor/tutor if you have any, or parents if you have good parents. Make sure you get the concepts right. Then make sure you stick to a decent study time-table, revise and study your notes and maybe do some practice work.
I've tutored several kids, including my own peers. Usually, the problem is simply a failure of a teacher to communicate the concepts, or a failure of the student to work on it and commit it to memory. Usually the former, honestly, it's hard for a teacher to properly educate a single kid if he has 30 in his room.
It's repetition and dedication. It's not about "smarts". MANY SMART PEOPLE FAIL IN HIGH SCHOOL. Because being a good student is its own skill-set.
Oh, and almost forgot...
7. Know what the teachers want!
Ooooh, this one got me so bad in school.
As a general rule, always request the following when leading up to an exam/test.
- Example questions.
- Example answers.
When you finish the test or exam, make sure you request if possible:
- Your paper returned, marked and annotated.
- The answer sheet, to see what the correct answers were.
- Any feedback possible.
Why? Because another skill of being a student is know what kind of answers you were expected to give in a test. If you know the subject well, you still can't get good marks or pass if you don't demonstrate exactly what they want you to demonstrate. This is very bad, because it means that you're often graded based on keywords and such.
So if you miss out a keyword, or use a synonym, or imply an understanding... your teachers will be upset, because you clearly know what you're talking about, and you'll not get the marks.
I'll give an example, then stop writing this.
When I was doing History in high school, age of 16 or 17, we had a male teacher just starting out. He was great. We did have political differences though. One day, he was in charge of a test we all had to take. The test was about Australian history, around the time of federation. But that doesn't matter right now.
One question was simply: "What caused the Labor Party split in 1931?" I was tired, so I wrote...
Teacher read my paper, leaned in. "Write more."
I blinked. "Okay," I thought. I wrote: "Difference of opinion on how to resolve the depression caused the Labor Party to split." Which should've been my first answer, honestly, but I was tired.
Teacher leans down again. "Write much more." Note he was doing this to everyone, so I wasn't cheating.
I throw my hands up and write everything I can think of; who supported what plan at what level of government, who were the major players in the party and in the banks, everything. It went from 2 words to being scrawled all over the bottom of the paper and across half the back of it. My sleepy brain twigged, and I went back over my answers and expanded them too.
I was the only person to get 100% on the test, which I likely would've failed had the teacher simply not done that incredible step of telling me what I was doing wrong. It changed my entire attitude. I don't remember his name, but that teacher was a legend and I think he'll go very far.
So, always make sure you know what's being asked, and remember to include keywords - dates, names of important figures, concepts, etc. Always give more information than you think you need to. Think of what they could be asking or testing you about, what information is related to the question, then write it down.
OK, everyone. That's my biggest single journal ever. Enjoy. Hope I help someone. Maybe one day I'll condense this and/or make one suitable for younger kids. But for now, I'm out!