One of the secrets to high achievement is getting into great study habits quickly – right at the start of a course. How do the best students do this?
We’ve got tips from a teacher, all backed up with suggestions from top TSR members who’ve been there, done it and got the great grades to prove it.
Lessons have begun, teachers are setting homework and maybe there’s even the odd test looming on the horizon. Yes, the new school year is here.
Suddenly there are demands on your time and on your brain – lots of them. It's a complex juggling act to keep track of homework, manage the balance between studying and the rest of your life, keep your focus in lessons, get all your homework done and hit those deadlines. But anyone CAN do it.
At the same time you want to create a really good impression with new teachers (after all they mark your work and predict your grades!).
Teachers like nothing more than a well-organised and highly motivated student so what are the insider tips on getting into A* study habits at the start of a course?
1. Get into a note-making routine that works for you
Yes, you do need notes. They’re your personal record of what you need to know, written in your own words just for you.
Different styles of notes suit different people so experiment with different approaches and work out what works for you. Always remember their purpose – why are you making them?
Most students use them for reviewing their knowledge and for revision. Make sure you set them out in a way that suits their purpose.
The best notes have clear headings and sub-headings so you can see how the information is organised. This makes them easier to understand and to act as the basis for flashcards and mind-maps for when it comes to revision.
Notes don’t have to be written in full sentences but they do need to be legible. Maybe shorten words to make them quicker to write – ‘phtsy’ instead of photosynthesis, for example.
Once you’ve made some notes don’t waste them – make sure they are dated and put in the right order in your file.
2. Get your work organised and keep it organised!
Just before an exam a student told me that they didn’t understand one topic. I asked them to bring their notes in and we went through them together. I found them all in the wrong order.
Teachers try to teach in a logical order, building up students’ knowledge as their teaching progresses. Get notes out of order and they are virtually impossible to make sense of. We reordered his notes and suddenly it all made sense to him.
The message of this story is that notes need to be looked after. They need to be dated, put away in a folder or file in the right order and stored carefully with subjects and topics clearly separated.
What a great opportunity to buy some quality stationery!
3. Review the material you learn regularly
Most students think of revision as something that happens in a panic over the last few weeks (or days!) before an exam. While this final committing to memory is really important it’s made much easier if you have reviewed the course content regularly.
This technique of regular reviewing is known as ‘spaced repetition’ and is generally accepted as a really effective method of learning.
You can use the ‘spaced repetition’ approach by making up tests or quizzes, creating flashcards and/or making regular summaries of your notes.
If you create revision resources while you’re reviewing what you know you get double value for your work. That’s got to be worth thinking about. You can make flashcards and quizzes right here on TSR.
4. Use free periods
If you’re studying A-levels it’s likely that you’ll have some ‘free periods’ during the week. These free periods might be a new experience for you after being told what to do pretty much all day long up until year 11 - so what should you do with this 'free' time?
It’s incredibly easy to watch time pass by as you chat, text and wander about. Of course you need a break but actually free periods are a great opportunity to get ahead in your courses and to buy yourself a bit more free time in the evenings and at the weekend.
Why not head for somewhere quiet and get homework and any extra work done? You could start reviewing the work you’ve completed in lessons – maybe writing summaries or creating flashcards or quizzes. This is the sort of study habit that will get you ahead of the game and closer to those high grades.
5. Take advantage of any help available
OK, some teachers may appear a bit scary but they do really want to help you. Most of them like to be asked questions and to give up a bit of time to help you improve your work – after all, their pay may depend on your grade!
Many schools and colleges have time set aside where teachers can give extra help to individuals or small groups – take advantage of this. Asking for help is a strength and shows confidence, not weakness.
If you do have a one-to-one with a teacher, make the most of it. Work out beforehand what you want from the meeting and make sure you get it. Try to avoid general requests like ‘I don’t understand any of this’. This makes it very difficult for the teacher to help. Instead, try to ask something specific: ‘Could you explain Pythagoras theorem again, please,’ for example.