As a parent, you’ve helped your kids navigate some seriously unprecedented changes around school this last year with Zoom classes, virtual lessons, online testing, and lack of real-life interaction. If you and your offspring are still alive and speaking to each other, congratulations, you did it. But with the last months of the school year upon us, we’ve still got to get through final exams, end-of-year marking periods, and, for some students, intense ACTs and SATs. And you know what all of the above requires? Studying, studying and more studying. So to help your kids end this school year on a high note (or at least higher than it started), we’ve enlisted our go-to productivity expert Scott Doty, founder and CEO of academic coaching firm BrainStorm Tutoring to share his top study tips for kids of any age.
And, yes, that means any age. “When your kid is under 10 years old, we know he or she is not really doing the same kind of studying [as older students], Doty explains. “But these are all best practices that you can start teaching your 8-year-old or your 6-year-old … planting seeds that will be very valuable when they actually need to start studying for things.”
Before we get started, one caveat: All these pointers are based on the assumption that your student has both been attentive during class and taken good notes, so that they’ve got something to work with when it comes time to study. If your student is good on that front, read on for our uber helpful end-of-year study guide.
Start with why
“Students often lose track of their motivation, explains Doty. “How do we make sure that the student is going to be studying effectively? The first step is reminding the student why he’s doing this. If you’re student doesn’t really care, we’ve got to find some way to connect him to a why that’s meaningful to him.” That why is different for every student and every family. It might be something that’s easy to get psyched up about -- scoring well on the SATs can help you get you accepted to the college of your dreams, for example. It might be that the better you do this year will help you get ahead the next. Or it might be that the student will be rewarded or disciplined depending on his efforts. “To me the why part is a non-negotiable starting point,” he adds. “Like many things in education, there is not a one-size-fits-all for students or for parent-child dynamics. Carrot and stick belong in your arsenal of tools as a parent, but they should not be your only tools,” he says.
Get your student into state
Once your kid has a reason to study, you’ve got to make sure he or she is in the right state to study. “State means you help a student to create a certain energy, to bring a certain focus, the right attitude, physical ability,” says Doty, who adds that getting into a certain head space is often dependent on how the body is feeling. “Make sure they’ve moved their body, they have oxygen flow in them, they’ve eaten, they’re hydrated.” Doty suggests a few simple jumping jacks or pushups to get the blood flowing. “The primary ingredient for the brain to function is oxygen so we need to oxygenate the brain and I teach all of my students breathwork. Also, I’ll teach them how to meditate. A five-minute meditation can clear out the insanity and pressures and distractions of their day.”
Follow the three Fs
Focus: Focusing your brain sounds like a no-brainer (no pun intended) but outside factors play just as big of a role. First off, you want to make sure your student is studying in an environment conducive to focus, which means a quiet, distraction-free space to work. And if your student has a Spotify study playlist ready to go, you might want to rethink it. “Sound is very distracting. I tell parents not to let your kids listen to music while they study unless the music has no words,” says Doty, who points to studies that show listening to Mozart and Miles Davis can improve cognitive function. “But the key is there is no one singing in those songs. There are no words that your brain is actually thinking about and distracting you from the task at hand.”
Flow: “We’re trying to get the brain waves to a certain place where they really absorb material,” says Doty. The key is not interrupt this “flow” during a set time box. “Studying shouldn’t be open-ended. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m going to do the best studying I can do for the next 40 minutes,’ so then you get into a flow state. You turn off your phone, no other distractions, you are mono-tasking, and focusing on one topic, not a few things at once,” he adds. And that includes food. “Anything a parent does to introduce distractions, even if it feels like a positive distraction like a healthy meal, can and usually does break the flow.” Instead, once your student completes the time box, have her take a break to have a snack or take a quick stretch and then come back to it. “Then, when you get back to study mode, everything else is dead to you in the world and this is all you’re doing.”
Friend: Doty points to the fact that when most students study, they only absorb the material and don’t practice outputting. Thus when they’re asked to output on test day, they can feel unprepared. “When we study properly, we prepare to externalize, we prepare to have knowledge come out of us. To practice doing that, you need a friend,” says Doty. But it doesn’t have to be an actual friend. The friend can be in person or via Zoom or even an imaginary friend. The student can talk to an invisible audience or write as if someone will be reading his work. The key is to get plenty of practice writing or verbally reciting. “Why do people think it makes sense that in order to write out all of these great answers for an hour tomorrow, they should practice tonight by just reading? Reading doesn’t translate into writing,” shares Doty. ”So when we study well we should be externalizing constantly, either by writing or speaking.”