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Study and test-taking strategies for kids with learning difficulties

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Learning how to study

Your child may need to learn specific study strategies for organizing, remembering, prioritizing, and shifting approaches flexibly. These processes are the underpinnings of strategic learning and are essential for accurate and efficient studying. He may also need strategies for identifying global themes while ignoring irrelevant details and shifting from the details to the main ideas.11, 12 Self-checking strategies such as editing, planning, monitoring, and revising are critical, as many children do not use these automatically.13, 14 The study and test-taking strategies cited below are derived from the intervention research and clinical work we have done at the Research Institute for Learning and Development (Research ILD) over the past few years, which have demonstrated the efficacy of strategy instruction for all students, particularly for students with learning or attention problems.15, 16

Strategies for organizing and remembering

In order for your child to remember information, the information needs to be filed away in his brain in an organized way. The information will then be much more easily accessible when it is time to retrieve and use the information in the classroom or on a test. Tests are often used by teachers to evaluate how much students understand and retain after days, weeks, or even months of class work, reading, discussions, homework, and projects. It is important that your child develop organized systems for keeping track of information, or he may become overwhelmed or confused about the many details. You can help your child accomplish this by:

  • Making sure he is doing nightly reading assignments and using a system to record or summarize, such as taking notes, writing section or chapter summaries on sticky notes, or answering questions at the end of each chapter.
  • Having him summarize orally to you what he has read to make sure he derived the main ideas.
  • Assisting him in organizing materials, such as cleaning out binders and folders, creating sections with tabs or folders, and making sure all study materials, including study guides or review sheets, are gathered in one place.

Your child will probably remember information better when it is meaningful, familiar, or even silly! The following memory strategies may help your child with those details and facts that just won't stick.

  • Crazy phrases: If your child has to remember a list of items in order, such as the planets in the solar system, help him come up with a silly sentence using the first letter of each item on the list. The following is an example many teachers use to help students remember the nine planets in order: My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Otherwise known as: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
  • Acronyms: When the order of the information does not matter, your child can take the first letters of each item on the list and try to form them into a word. For example, to help remember the systems of the body, the acronym "RED CRaNES" can be used:
    a - (no system - place holder)
    Nervous Endocrine
  • Cartoons or pictures: If your child is a visual learner, it may help to make cartoons to illustrate concepts (e.g., history, science) or to draw small pictures to trigger his memory for vocabulary words.
  • Word associations: You can help your child make connections to other information he knows by using the sounds or visual representations of words. For example, if he has to remember that the word "distinct" means "different or unmistakable," you can help him find another word that sounds similar, such as "stink." If something stinks, it is definitely different and unmistakable!

Research Institute for Learning & Development Colleagues

Comments from readers

"Good Afternoon, The information is very freshing and informative and will help facilitate my learning and understanding when working with students that have learning disabilities. Thank You, Donavin White "
"I have a Daughter who is now in 11th grade.I find this information very useful for my daughter. I really need some help, when she studies and go into a test she is very blank and can not remember what she had studied. I know i am late but its never too late becasue now i am worried about her when she will go in to colledge and i want her to do good. Is their classes or online course she can do to help her test skills. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to her she does not do well and my tests. "
"'I have a daughter who is in 11th grad, but i find this information very useful for my daughter. She really need some help, when she study and go into a test she is very blank and can not remember what she had studied. Her test taking strategies were always bad, but now she is in 11th grade and i am worried what will happen to her in colledge. I know I am late but it never too late. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to her, she do not do well and my tests. "
"Most students are unable to link knowledge and skills gained in schooling,in the actual classroom situation.And i acknowledge the valuable assistance of your program...thank you."
"needs improvement but great"
"i think this is a gerat resouce for childern teens and adults and etc for homeork exams and more"
"i thought this was good article because all people can work and do things .But some people have different ways of learning and work "
"it is effective but needs improvement"
"I found this to be a very resourceful site! Being a special ed teacher, I have many students who need these strategies. I have even suggested many of my parents to view this site. Thanks!"
"I have found this article to be very helpful and I plan to give it a try. Thanks!"
"I do not have a child, but I find this information very useful for myself. I really need some help, when I study and go into a test I am very blank and can not remember what I had studied. I am now in college doing my pre-requsite courses. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to me I do not do well and my tests."
" great!i find it very useful ! do you have any sample test about study habits and learning attitudes of students that i could use/ reference to my thesis? tnx"
"Conserning multiple choice questions. The fact remains that a large number of student have problems trying to figure out the right answer. Where by most of it is by guess work. How do we help students to avoid these during exams, especially when dealing with students with learning disabilities?"
"This was great-however I am at the point where I need more specifics on how to retain memorized facts that seems to slip away the next morning after studying."
"this was very useful. thanks."