With finals season approaching, students and teachers alike are feeling the frenzy of panic looming over the classroom. Studying (a term sometimes believed to have its origins in the compound word “student-dying”) is probably not high on your students’ list of things to look forward to.
However, while tests can be brutal, studying doesn’t have to be! So long as you remind your students to be diligent and forgo any cramming, studying can be painless and gratifying. One thing that I also like to do is incorporate good study skills into my classroom. I encourage my students to take notes as they read, and before a test or quiz, I’ll have my students review their notes.
Teachers can easily model proper studying to students by reading texts critically, taking notes, and outlining sections in a book. Whether you are assigning a traditional multiple-choice exam or a Socratic Seminar, here is a list of study tips to share with your students to help them prepare for final exams.
1. Keep a planner
It’s a tired refrain, but tried and true. Finals season is a hectic time, and with the end of the semester on the horizon, students will be up to their ears in assignments and study packets. The degree of organization is up to them, but having a designated notebook or agenda to list homework and study sessions, and checking that list daily, will save them (and you) a lot of grief. One way to incorporate this habit into your students’ routines is to have them write down the weekly calendar on Monday during the first five minutes of class. This quick habit will surely help protect yourself from the panicked choruses of “I forgot” and “that was due today?!”.
2. Don’t micromanage your schedule
On the other hand, there is such a thing as over-scheduling. Often due to stress, students can feel the need to write down every single thing they’ve got going on in between the time they wake up and the time they go to sleep. Going overboard when blocking out time for studying can create a feeling of dread and hopelessness; too much structure leads to unrealistic personal expectations and disappointment in oneself. Remind your students to be gentle with themselves, as their tests will be hard enough on them in the first place!
3. Create a study space
Good habits are balanced habits, and part of balance includes building boundaries between your work life and your home life. This balance is a notion that students can start incorporating into their school lives. Remind your students of this by encouraging them to make a designated area only for studying. Doing homework in bed or a game room will make flopping down for a nap or letting their minds wander too easy. By preparing a separate place to study, students will avoid this self-sabotage and be able to slip into a focused, school-oriented mindset without being uncomfortable or getting distracted.
4. Take breaks
While the ability to devote time and concentration to a single task is essential for education, everyone has a limited attention span. It’s nothing to be ashamed of!
Studies have shown that our brains can only maintain optimal focus continuously for twenty minutes – after that, it becomes harder and harder to retain information. It’s unrewarding and stressful to pressure students to study for hours on end without interruption. Taking short study breaks to grab a snack or watch some television lets your students’ brains digest the study materials and regroup before they move on.
5. Make a study guide
Whenever my students complete a lengthy, multiple-choice exam, I always allow them to have a page of notes on the test. The page of notes has to be one they specifically prepared for the exam. By doing so, students are already practicing good study habits. Having them create their own personalized note sheet is a genius, slightly devious study strategy.
Challenge students to fit all the information they need to know for the test on a single notecard or one side of a piece of paper. (Whether they can use the card is up to you.) The limited space will kick their brains into processing, summarizing, and organizing mode, forcing them to glean what is essential and what is not – which is what studying is all about! Consider making the challenge extra credit to incentivize using the technique.
Bonus: Ditch that phone
Finally, one highly-effective study habit that is of the utmost importance for students is to ditch their smartphones. Countless studies have shown that people aren’t as connected when their phones are nearby. As teachers, we should encourage students to ditch their phones during their study sessions and homework times. If this seems like a lot to ask, encourage students to set their phones aside for a predetermined amount of time -15 or 20 minutes to start. During that time, they should be 100% focused on studying. Once the time passes, students can take a quick break, maybe 5 minutes, and then return to studying again.
One of the most critical steps to teaching students how to study for tests and final exams is to focus on modeling the studying process. Make studying a part of your classroom routine. Show your students different studying strategies in class — model critical reading and engaging with the text with your student.