3 Science-Based Study Tips You’ve Never Heard Of

The funny thing about school is that students are expected to study but, amazingly, there’s no class that actually teaches them how to do it.

Go figure.

Everyone knows the common study habits that have been encouraged over time: highlighting text, summarizing reading passages, reading and re-reading material. It turns out that these routines can be very inefficient, and in some cases counterproductive.

There are scientifically proven ways of retaining information much more effectively. And couldn’t we all use advice like that?

I’m a “tell me why that works” junkie, so I’ve put together some science-based methods proven to help retain information. Finals are coming up, so share this with your high schooler. (And use this for yourself the next time you need to learn something new.)

1. Self-test rather than cram.

Testing yourself on material you need to learn activates entirely different areas of the brain than repetition does – it forces you to retrieve information that’s already stored in there. This helps you retain information for the long term (to access a week or a month later). Cramming by reading the same material over and over is only good for short term retention, according to the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel.

2. Teach, or prepare to teach, what you learn to others.

When students expected that they’d teach information rather than be tested on it, they had a better-organized and more complete recall of a passage they’d read, according to a study published in the journal Memory & Cognition. It’s all about the difference in how the information is organized in the brain – those who expect to teach have to find key points to arrange information into a logical structure, which is different than how students typically organize things when taking tests.

3. Move study areas frequently.

According to a New York Times article that rethinks conventional study habits, studying the same material in a different place every day makes us less likely to forget that information.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting.” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

 

So I don’t know about you, but these new, more effective ways of learning give me comfort about my decision to get out of the office more often (and about kicking the kids out of the house and trusting that they’re studying well and retaining important info at the coffee shop or on the nearest park bench).

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

What Colleges Actually Mean By “Holistic Review”

Let’s talk about holistic review.

My guess is that you’ve already seen these words on a few college applications or websites. And while you might get the gist of what it means, you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering what “holistic review” is and how it relates to your student.Basically, holistic review is when a school makes a decision about a student based on their application as a whole, rather than solely on their academic background.

While grades and test scores still matter (a lot), the applicant pool is increasingly competitive each year. Because of this competition, it’s no longer enough for colleges to base their admissions process solely on a student’s academic achievements.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, this is really great news for students! In addition to their grades, students can really focus on highlighting their interests/extracurriculars/volunteer work/jobs/special circumstances/etc and it will all factor into the admissions decision!Translation: You can stand out to admissions offices by telling them what makes you, you!

Sounds way easier than stressing about whether your academic background will be enough to get you through, right?

So what’s considered in this holistic review process? Here’s a general list of things that can be considered, but really just about anything can factor in!

  • Class Rank
  • Academic Background/GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT)
  • Achievements, Awards, Honors Orgs
  • Special Accomplishments, Work, and Service (Both in and outside of your high school!)
  • Essays (This is where you can REALLY show them your personality. Letting them get to know you and hear your voice in your essays is huge!)
  • Special Circumstances (This is really helpful if you’ve experienced anything that might have affected your academic performance, including socioeconomic status, a single parent home, family responsibilities, overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, language spoken in the your home, health-related issues for you or your family, learning differences, and the list goes on!)
  • Recommendations (These typically aren’t required, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few from your teachers, organization leaders, or other reputable leaders who can vouch for you as a person/student/worker/etc.)
  • Competitiveness of Your Major (Don’t forget to take into account the popularity of your major at each school you’re applying for as this can seriously impact the competition between applicants.)

That’s A LOT of information that goes into an admissions decision.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged by everything on this list, but it’s important to remember that holistic review can only benefit your student!

The purpose is to cover as much ground as possible within a short application – kind of like a first date.

And, very much like a first date, it’s just as important to relax and be yourself as it is to put your best foot forward.

Let’s continue the discussion! What are your thoughts on holistic review? Please leave a comment below!

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Encouraging Better Grades from Your Teen

So often, teen’s grades start slipping due to procrastination, not handing in homework, not finishing projects on time, poor test scores – you know the drill. It makes for a tough home environment when two incredulous parents are struggling to figure out how to get through to a teen who just doesn’t care what they think, and doesn’t think there’s really a problem in the first place. As much as you try to keep a stress and drama-free home…well, I’m sure you know how grades can really put a damper on that plan.College admissions folks put a lot of emphasis on GPA (grade point average) and on academic rigor (expert-speak for “challenging courses”). In fact, it’s right up there at the top of the list for items they look at first when considering applications. So, it’s natural to feel a little pressure here.

And I’m sure that, after employing an arsenal of tactics to encourage your teen to lift those grades without any success at all (persuasion, reverse psychology, bribes – none of these are recommended), you’re probably ready for some new ideas. Well, that’s where this blog comes in!

A Self-Development Junkie’s Epiphany

If you’re not familiar with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, you should be. There is so much to learn and take action on within this book. With chapters entitled “Believe in Yourself,” “Unleash the Power of Goal Setting,” and “Success Leaves Clues,” you’ll find successes in your own life with these actionable principles.

The reason I bring up his book is because he also happened to create the same book in a simpler format for teens: The Success Principles for Teens: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. This book will seriously help your teen identify and focus on their goals for the future.

Sunday Afternoon Book Club

Try instituting a Sunday Afternoon Book Club with just you and your high schooler. Make it a goal to read a chapter a week and discuss how you can each use the principles you’ve learned in your own lives. Starting with the first chapter, “Take 100% Responsibility for your Life,” implement new initiatives to hold each other accountable for not blaming others or things outside of yourselves for things that go wrong in life. A friend of mine did this with her daughter and was able to eliminate her perceived lack of time as an excuse to get things done for her business and started getting up earlier in the morning to complete things. Her daughter used it to stop blaming a tough teacher for her low test scores and asked for a tutor to support her in math. They took serious responsibility together right away for everything and found their own solutions – no excuses.

After a few book club meetings, my friend’s daughter was showing significant improvements. Not only in the academic sphere, but she also started setting bigger goals for her future.

With this method, you and your high schooler will have two accountability partners: the book and each other. And, over time, you’ll find that your home life is much less stressful and your teen is doing better academically – both major wins!

Tips for Overcoming the Battle over Grades

  • Provide guidance, not force.  The surest way to get your teen to put up a wall is for you to tell them exactly how things should be done. You’ve probably noticed that power struggles are typically won by your teen in the homework/school arena – it’s one area they’ve got more control over than you do. Take more of a mentoring role here instead of one of authority; I promise it’ll produce better results. You can ask passive questions, like:
    • Are you satisfied with the way things are going?
    • If not, what do you want to do about it? How can you make it better?
    • How can I be helpful to you in this?

 

  • Model successful behavior. Demonstrate to your teen that you’re developing and working toward goals you’ve set for yourself. Take the available time you have in the car or at dinner to discuss your goals (to run a marathon, complete a project, earn more money at work, start a business). Talk about what’s working for you, where your challenges are, how you plan to overcome them.
  • Hire a tutor. Outsourcing the job of accountability and study support for your teen is one of the best ways I’ve found to ensure there’s less stress at home when it comes to school work. There are great tutoring companies out there, or you can check with your high schooler’s counselor to find out if there are free options for support at the school. Several of my students receive amazing tutoring at home via Skype and a shared whiteboard from people all around the country with PrepNow Tutoring.

A Little Solace: Success in Life Can Happen without Stellar Grades

Knowing that it takes some time for a GPA to increase over time, I did a little of what I call comfort research: It helped me to learn that Steve Jobs and Colin Powell are examples of very successful people who graduated with very low GPAs in high school (2.65 and 2.0, respectively). Maybe that’ll bring you some solace, too.

Heck – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t even graduate college! Just…maybe don’t lead with that. 😉

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!