Ah, the start of another school year: pencils and notebooks purchased, sensible shoes broken in, and backpacks pulled out from their summer hiding places under the bed. Young children may associate the allure and promise of a new school year with new supplies and a new seat assignment in homeroom, but older students face more pressing challenges. There are minimal consequences when a first-grader performs poorly on a spelling quiz, but for teenagers, school matters and grades matter. Failing a single test can drastically affect a student’s grade in the class, thereby affecting his or her chance to get into college.
That’s why it’s so important for high school students to start the year right, not just with new textbooks and binders, but also with study habits that will help them do their best in class. Parents may no longer be able to assist with trigonometry homework or remember the plot of Great Expectations, but they can still help their kids develop study habits that will carry them through secondary school to their education beyond.
Develop Strategies for Better Writing
Writing has become a much more integral part of high school curricula, but effective strategies for writing papers and essays are too often not taught in middle school. Too many students put off papers until the night before they’re due, thus never developing the skills required to be a clear, concise, and organized writer. If your child doesn’t already, encourage him to start developing outlines for each paper, which will help him visualize the structure of the essays and stick to the important topics. No writing assignment should be poured onto paper at the last minute; help your child learn to start papers early so that he has time left over for multiple revisions. Learning how to edit his own work will help him develop into a more skilled and confident writer. Also, encourage your child to get into the habit of asking somebody else to look over each writing assignment before he turns it in—a friend or parent with good grammar, a trusted teacher, a tutor—to catch typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation mistakes.
Establish Good Study Skills
Being able to self-motivate and study on a schedule is an important skill that will serve any student far beyond high school. If your high schooler doesn’t already have a set schedule for homework and studying, encourage her to identify her most alert and motivated time of day—whether it’s immediately after school, after dinner, or in the early morning—and set aside that time for schoolwork. A study area should be separate from eating, sleeping, or lounging areas and should be organized, quiet, and free of distractions—including cell phones and email. Some students claim that music or television helps them concentrate, but a study published in the July issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found that information retention and memory recall were poorest when study participants listened to music or variable sounds; the best performance came from those who worked in quiet environments or in environments with steady, repetitive sounds. Help your child gather all necessary materials at the beginning of a study session, in order to avoid distractions later.
Manage Time Effectively
High school students are old enough that they shouldn’t have to be reminded of each task, chore, and school deadline. Make sure your child has a planner that he uses to keep track of academic deadlines, family and social obligations, and his job schedule (if necessary). He must learn to maintain a to-do list, prioritize assignments, and manage time to accommodate school, friends, family, work, and other activities in order to prepare for the independence of college life.
Another big part of learning to manage time is learning to mitigate procrastination. Help your child learn to set small, easily accomplished goals, instead of large, difficult ones, so that projects and assignments are less unwieldy and he in turn learns the rewards of completing tasks.
Ease Test-Taking Anxiety
Being nervous about tests has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with preparation and confidence. If your child has a tendency to test poorly, remind her that practicing good study habits will better prepare her for exams than pulling an all-nighter ever will. Instead of offering support by saying, “You’ll do great,” encourage your child’s confidence by saying, “You worked and studied hard. You have every reason to think you’ll do well.” Before big tests and exams, make sure your child has had a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast.
Relate to Teachers
Many students are afraid to approach teachers for extra help or advice, but a teacher can be their best resource. Whenever material is unclear, whenever notes are vague, and whenever your high schooler needs extra help, encourage him to approach his teachers. They’re often happy to make themselves available to clarify the day’s lessons or recommend tutors who can give more intensive one-on-one assistance. Also, remind your child to ask questions in class whenever he doesn’t understand something, and to participate in class discussions. A student who participates and asks questions is more likely to absorb and understand information than a student who takes notes passively is.
If you suspect that your child is still falling behind or even simply not doing as well as he could, don’t wait until you see Fs on his tests or failing marks on his report card. Contact your child’s teacher and find out how you can help, whether by finding a specialized tutor or by simply monitoring your child’s work and study habits more closely. An important lesson for teenagers to learn is that engaging with teachers will help them take control of their education and can serve as a model for how to interact with college professors.
When your teenagers were small children, you could watch them do their homework, then check it for them and be sure they turned it in. Once the kids are older, though, parents have no choice but to let them go and hope that they’re armed with the skills they need to do their work well. As a parent, you may have to sit back and watch your high school student figure out life on his or her own, but there’s no teenager who doesn’t do better with a little help from Mom or Dad.