Developing Good Study Habits for College
So your teenager is almost ready for college. Everything is prepared. The tuition has been saved. The dorm room has been assigned. But wait! The most important items are often overlooked: study habits and writing skills. Does your child know how to study and write for college level courses?
"Student skills have been declining over the past 30 years," says Bernie Gaidosch, a professor at George Brown College and author of The Professor's Secrets: Breaking the Silence (Daimon Corp. & Classic Legal Publications Inc, 2001). "When you're in college, you become an independent learner. You succeed if you have skills; you scrape by if you don't."
Create a Family Calendar
So how do we give our children the skills they need to do more than "scrape by" in high school and college? "Start with opening up the lines of communication and talking to your kids," says Gaidosch. "You can ask your child, 'How is everything?' and his reply will be 'Great!' That ends the discussion."
Instead of asking a question that can be answered with one word, try asking about specifics, such as assignments, tests and essays. "Give your child a safe environment to discuss weaknesses or problems," says Gaidosch. "Let your child know that you are interested."
To show your interest, Rick Bavaria, vice president of education for Sylvan Learning Center, suggests having a large, family calendar in a central place. "Include important test dates and long-range assignments, as well as the upcoming family plans and sporting events," he says.
Parents can review the calendar and comment about future assignments. "This will let the child know that the parents are informed and interested," says Bavaria. "The underlying message to the child will be 'Learning is important in this family.'"
When your child receives a long-range assignment, such as a term paper, Bavaria recommends breaking down the task. "Put the due date on the family calendar, then break the assignment down into manageable chunks," he says. "For example, if the due date for the paper is June 12, have the rough draft due June 1 and the outline due May 22. Mark these dates on the calendar as well, so the child can feel success as she completes the tasks, and the family can celebrate her accomplishments."
Create a Study Nook
"Routines and schedules are very important, from kindergarten through college and even into our adult lives," says Bavaria. "Scheduling time for homework or studying becomes important in elementary school. It prepares students for junior high and high school, when they will have their busiest years and will need to know how to manage their time."
Bavaria also suggests having a designated study space. "Have a special place stocked with all the items needed for homework, such as pens, paper and calculators," he says. Bavaria adds that if having a certain homework space is not feasible, put all needed materials in a large case so they are easily accessible.
Check That Backpack
Another tip from Bavaria is to conduct your own pop quizzes at home. "If your son comes home with no homework, that is a perfect opportunity to quiz him on his spelling words," says Bavaria. Backpack quizzes are also recommended. "Periodically, go through your child's backpack," he says. "Make sure that their assignments have been turned in, and there are no notes from the teacher."
He suggests helping reorganize notebooks and folders as needed.
Classroom Tips for College-Bound Kids
Although it's crucial for parents to be involved in their children's studies, it is the children who have to actually do the work and make the grades. "Lack of knowledge hurts students in obvious ways, such as low marks and dropping out of school," says Gaidosch. "But there are also silent consequences, like low self-esteem, which will follow students throughout their lives."
So what advice should we give our children to help them succeed once they are out of the house and in the classroom? Professor Gaidosch gives a few suggestions:
- Take notes from your notes. From your scribbled classroom notes, take a few minutes each day to transfer important points to index cards.
- Reverse procrastination. Take all the things that would be obstacles to your studying (such as going out with friends or watching your favorite TV show) and list them as rewards to give yourself when you are finished.
- Recycle your effort. Don't throw tests away. Instead, create a file of tests to use when studying for midterms or finals. Be sure and write down all of the correct answers to questions you missed!
For college-bound teenagers, Gina Petrone, a student at Tennessee Tech University, says, "Go to class!" Making attendance a priority and taking good notes has helped her be successful at her studies. "I have learned to outline as I take notes, and I review my classroom notes as soon as possible," says Petrone.
How to Ace Essay Questions
Professor Gaidosch suggests in his book that an essay is merely an answer to a question. "You should be able to 'boil down' the message of the essay into one sentence," he says.
"Students often come out of high school not knowing how to write a formal essay," says Leon Johnston, a teacher at Briercrest College in Saskatchewan, Canada. "When I suggest to them, in Professor Gaidosch's terms, that 'an essay is the answer to a question,' it seems to help them understand the process. If I can simplify the essay and break it down into steps, it shows the students that they can do it."
The steps Johnston refers to are the basic parts of the essay: introduction, body and conclusion. However, Gaidosch says it helps to reverse the order. "Start with the conclusion and work backwards," he says. After researching your topic, write the conclusion as the starting point of the essay. Then, provide information to support the conclusion (the body) and announce to the reader the direction your essay is going to take (the introduction). Once all of the parts are completed, it is easy to rearrange them into the appropriate essay format.
When writing essays, Johnston also advises students to think through the topic carefully and formulate their own thoughts. "Students usually think that the more quotes the better, but that's not necessarily true," he says. "The professor wants to read what the student has to say, not a string of quotes on a topic. Students should form their own thoughts after carefully considering those of the experts."
When planning for your child's educational future, it's important to invest in strong study habits, as well as financial savings. Give your child the best graduation gift: the ability to succeed.