How to Decrease Stress during Studying

As I spoke about in my last blog post, state and standardized testing is upon us! Many students are busy preparing and studying (or maybe not studying…) for these tests, and they are stressing out because they still have their regular tests to worry about! There are so many tests; how is a student supposed to study for them all? Well, in addition to implementing the overall tips from “Preparing for big tests!” here are a few extra tips to help your student focus on the “right” material.

1) Study what you “kind of” know. Many students make the mistake of spending time studying the topics that they already know–or worse, they spend their time trying to study EVERYTHING. Neither of these is actually very helpful when a student has limited time. Even though reviewing material that you know helps boost confidence (and that’s fine at first), after a “once-over,” the student should move on to material that is less familiar. For more efficient studying, before starting, students should quickly group each skill or chapter that will be on the test into one of three categories: 1) stuff you know, 2) stuff you “kind of” know, and 3) stuff you don’t know at all (and probably have already tried to understand, fruitlessly).

Once the topics are categorized, students can then move through them more efficiently. Go over the #1 material once, then move on to the #2 material. This is where students should spend most of their time: solidifying #2 topics, not breezing through #1 material or trying to learn the more difficult #3 material. Students should only move onto #3 material once the #2 topics have moved into the #1 group.

How do we know what should go in the #3 group? Easy: when the student looks at the topic and says, “I have NO IDEA what this means.” It is more efficient to strengthen somewhat-familiar material (and move it into long-term memory) than to pick up pieces of material that make the student want to cry. Thiscategorizationmethod decreases the frustration and helplessness that students feel while studying.

A good example of this is when young students work on the multiplication facts, aka “the times table.” Often, students only like to review the 2s and 5s because they have those down solid. Few students want to work on the 3s and 4s and definitely not 6s, 7s, 8s, or 9s. However, after a quick review of the 2s and 5s, students should move on to the 3s… and STAY on the 3s until they have it down, then move on to the 4s. Many parents who try to help tend to run the 2s through 12s in quick succession, then start over again at the 2s and try to run through to the 12s again. Too much at once; that’s exhausting! As a friend said, “that’s too much elephant to eat at once.” Students should work on chewing and swallowing one piece of the elephant first, before chewing on the next piece. Don’t try to chew all the pieces at the same time.

2) Plan your studying. Make a schedule for what to study on what day, at what time. One of the biggest hurdles that students have is time management. This creates a lot of test anxiety to overcome. “There’s SO MUCH to do. I don’t have enough time to study EVERYTHING!” I have no doubt there is a lot of material. Some courses cover eight chapters (or more) in just four weeks! So scheduling when to study what is crucial to a student’s success.

By partitioning the study time, it is easier to see if there is actually enough time AND help focus the studying on one topic at a time. For example, if the student has 11 days to study eight chapters, obviously, do Chapter 1 on day 1, Chapter 2 on day 2, etc. That leaves a couple extra days to take a break or re-categorize (see tip 1 above). And if Chapter 3 is on day 3, remember only to study Chapter 3 on that day! This way, the studying is focused, and at the end of the day, hopefully that chapter has moved into the #1 category, which will help build feelings of accomplishment and confidence.

3) And seriously, get a tutor or join a study group! Many students aren’t able to understand everything during the class period. If you are one of these students, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Getting third-party help is how successful students succeed. Study groups are helpful because they give students the chance to teach others what they know and get help on what they don’t. Everyone has absorbed different parts of the material, and by sharing with one another, it reinforces and increases what each person knows.

If one-on-one help is preferred, there are tutors on campus and privately (such as myself) who can provide more individualized studying. Some of the most successful students use tutors because a tutor can properly guide the direction of a student’s studying.

Good luck and happy learning!

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