11 High School Study Skills to Prepare You for College
February 24, 2017
11 High School Study Skills to Prepare You for College
Do you ever feel like you’re in classes with students who don’t need to study, but who still succeed? If you’ve seen this, or even if you are this person, it’s important to know that everyone will need to be excellent at studying in order to continue to succeed. The ability to study, brainstorm, and learn in productive ways is necessary for good results. If you don’t cultivate good high school study skills, more challenging classes in college will come as a surprise! Therefore, starting early to build the study skills you need to succeed is worth it.
In this blog, I’ll guide you through some ways to gain great high school study skills. Regardless of which subject you’re studying, these skills will be important parts of using your studying time effectively and applying what you’ve studied when exam time arrives.
1. Find your ideal working environment…
Everyone likes to study in different types of environments, so it’s important to learn what works for you! Do you prefer the background hum of a coffee shop? The total silence of a library? The comfort of your desk in your own room? If you’re distracted at home by TV or by the activities of your family members, how can you create a better study environment for yourself?
Whatever your preferences, everyone studies best in a low-stress environment. Make sure you aren’t continuously distracted (more on this under #7). Make sure the lighting isn’t too bright or too dim. Make sure you’re not so comfortable you could fall asleep at any moment, if, for example, you’re studying on your bed. At the same time, take care of yourself. Bring some snacks. And always make sure you're drinking water and staying hydrated.
2. ...and then change it up!
Even if you’ve found your perfect study spot, keep your brain engaged by taking breaks, going for a walk, or changing your study location. Changing your study location is one way to give yourself a break and a chance to refocus. Studies show that “instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention.”
3. Be an active reader with a pen in your hand
As you read, “mark up” the pages of your school books. This has been shown to dramatically improve reading retention, so you should cultivate your annotating skills. You can:
- Underline or highlight
- Write questions in the margins
- List important observations
- Circle recurring ideas and vocabulary words
- Write in definitions of terms you had to look up
- Track the appearance of certain themes
- Diagram concepts
While it might take you longer to complete a homework reading assignment if you’re marking up the text, this will save you time when you return to this material to study for an exam. You’ll have retained more of the information on your first read. Also, you’ll be better prepared to build on the topics if you’ve organized the key information.
4. Take good notes in class and record lectures
Like being an active reader, being an active notetaker saves you time and is an integral part of growing your high school study skills. When you take notes, you process the material the first time you hear it, so you’re more likely to retain it. You can revisit good notes to study effectively, as well.
Does your teacher speak too quickly for you to take thorough notes? Try asking if you can record lectures, so you can listen to them later. You can try Windows Sound Recorder or free software like Audacity. Even if you’re recording a lecture, you should still take notes by hand because you’ll remember a lecture better.
5. Avoid “the Hermione approach”
Harry Potter series bookworm Hermione Granger succeeds by memorizing her textbooks. While this method may work for spells and potions, you’ll be a lot more successful if you study by making connections and applying information.
One major key of high school study skills: Understanding a topic is different than being able to recite the description of the topic in your textbook!
Frederic Bartlett's classic learning study showed that we recall new information about things we’ve directly experienced. In other words, we learn by mapping new information onto things we already know and understand.
This is why it’s important to study by making connections. Only so much memorization is possible! As you study, apply what you learn. Consider scenarios you’ve experienced where that information is relevant and helps explain what you saw, heard, or felt. You’ll know you’ve learned a concept or topic well when you can apply it to new scenarios.
6. Plan your study time and start early
Organize your day or week so that you’re able to devote sufficient time to studying. This is an important part of being able to start studying early. Everyone knows that cramming is not very effective, but do you know why? Cramming leads to exposure to a topic, rather than understanding of a topic. Recognition and recall happen differently in our brains, so even if you can recognize information after a night of cramming, you’re less likely to be able to recall it and apply it in a different context on a test the next day than if you’d studied over the previous week.
Learning to manage your schedule to make time for studying is as important as being good at studying when you sit down to do it.
Related Content: Time Management Tips for Students
7. Cultivate focus and avoid distractions
It’s important that the time you spend studying isn’t wasted actually doing something else. Avoid distractions when you study. Put your cellphone on silent or in another room. Logout of Facebook and other social media. Learning requires you to process and apply the information you read. This isn’t possible if every paragraph you’re reading is interrupted by sending a text.
Committing your full focus to studying will help you study more efficiently and retain more of the information you study. Multitasking is a habit-forming activity. This means it works like an addiction. Once the habit of multitasking is formed, your brain will continue to function in this way, limiting your focus on important tasks. Therefore, studying without distractions is important to being able to continue studying effectively.
8. Know when to ask for help
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to effective studying is embarrassment. Remember, it's never too late to ask for help! If you’ve been lost or overwhelmed in a class for weeks, go and talk to your teacher. If you do poorly on a test, ask another student to work with you, try an online resource for learning like Khan Academy, or find a tutor.
The sooner you ask for help, the better! Therefore, assessing (and admitting) when you need help is a critical study skill. Tell your parents. Tell your teachers. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from asking for help.
9. Come to class with questions
Following up from number 8, one of the best things you can do for yourself as both a learner and a student is to show up at a class with questions. While teachers have prepared lesson plans, I’ve never met a teacher who wouldn’t put aside anything else to answer student questions. Chances are, another student in your class had the exact same question!
This approach has an added benefit. If you come to class with questions, not only will you be getting the help you need immediately rather than letting your confusion grow, you’ll be demonstrating to your teacher that you’re an engaged learner who cares. Your class participation grades will increase. Teachers will care more about helping you when they see you’re not just working for the grade, but to really learn their subject.
10. Test yourself
Anders Ericsson theory that someone becomes an expert in a field after “10,000 hours of deliberate practice” has gained wide popularity. While you won’t study for your Chemistry class for 10,000 hours, the concept of “deliberate practice” still applies when it comes to studying effectively.
One key way to practice is to test yourself. The tried and true method of flash cards is always worthwhile. Now your flash cards can be electronic rather than physical index cards, which shows that technology can help cultivate good high school study skills. Testing yourself helps you review knowledge you just acquired, reinforces that information, and helps you evaluate how much you know.
It’s important to be able to self-assess when you’re ready for a test or when you haven’t yet studied enough. Often, you’ll need to prioritize among your subjects. Do I need to work more on English Literature or Physics? Testing yourself can be a good way to tell when you’re ready for a test, so that you can focus on another subject. Some students overstudy for certain subject and understudy for others. It’s important to know how much to study.
11. Teach your friends and family
You truly know a topic when you can teach it to someone else! This is age-old wisdom that has been more recently reinforced by science. So, as you study, teach the content you’ve learned to someone else - a parent, a sibling, or a friend.
This is one advantage of studying with your peers. While you might need peace and quiet to study effectively on your own (see study skill #1 above), you will benefit from seeking out and helping others after you’ve studied. You’ll also be cultivating a positive and supportive learning environment for yourself and your classmates if you share your knowledge and help others! Setting a baseline with strong high school study skills is the first step towards success in college!