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Study skills for middle school and beyond

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By GreatSchools Staff

"Did you do your homework?"

Parents need to ask more questions than this one, teachers advise. How much should you help with homework? Monitor homework but remember it's your child's homework, not yours. You can help by asking questions that help guide your child to his own solutions. Some examples:

  • What information do you need to do this assignment?
  • Where are you going to look for it?
  • Where do you think you should begin?
  • What do you need to do next?
  • Can you describe how you're going to solve this problem?
  • How did you solve this problem?
  • What did you try that didn't work?
  • Why does this answer seem right to you?
  • Tell me more about this part?

Studying for tests

Studying for tests is a skill. For struggling students, it's a mystery.

"Unsuccessful test takers don't know where the questions come from," says Jim Burke, a California high school English teacher and the author of a number of books about teaching and learning. "The kids who don't succeed tend to think the others are lucky."

Parents can help their children manage their time and attention — which means turning of the cell phone, the TV and the iPod, says Burke.

Some tips to remember in helping your child:

Rereading isn't the same as learning.

"Reviewing alone is not enough, says Kipnis, the UPenn student, reflecting on what she has learned along the way. "Thinking of potential essay questions and outlining them or working out the challenging math problems helps me learn how to apply the material so that I do not blank when I see the questions on the test."

"For math and sciences, a big problem that I had was that I would spend a lot of time reviewing the concepts, but I wouldn't learn them because I was not practicing applying the concepts," she says. "I was the most productive when I created sheets with tons of practice problems and just practiced applying the concept in many different ways."

There are other ways your student can practice this kind of active learning - highlighting his notes, using Post-its to mark key textbook passages, making study cards, and mapping and diagramming concepts.

People are productive at different times of day.

Some people focus better in the morning, others at night. Help your child find the times that his efforts will be most effective.

Sometimes we just have to memorize.

You may have used a mnemonic like Roy G. Biv to remember the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) or My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas to remember the correct order of the planets, back when Pluto was still considered the ninth one. Inventing your own silly mnemonic together works just as well and can lighten up a study session.

Comments from readers

"pls help my 13year old is really not doing well with her studies,she is currently below average.what do I do? "
"I really like your aproach with this help study,I guess not only does this help my grandchild but this help me also Thanks alot. "
"My daughter is going to high school next year and, thanks to SOL's and NO TEXT BOOKS, hasn't learned "how to learn" or study yet. Memorizing a handful of SOL bullet items isn't "learning." Situations have already come up where knowing how to learn and basic study skills were needed and she was lost. I need to find an online course, community college summer course, at-home program, SOMETHING to prepare her before high school next year! Any suggestions? "
"This reallly helped my son! Thanks! "
"I just loved this article it is so useful to help my ADD child of 13 years from grade 7. "
"i think redecorating a room helps because you can get a nice desk and a radio next to it to help you study "
"Study skills has longed seem to me to be a euphemism for 'memorization'. You're not really 'studying' - you're trying to memorize. That said, the first 'study skill' is figuring out how the teacher tests. Does the teacher give short answer tests? Multiple choice tests? Or essay tests? Does the teacher focus on concepts or on details? Are the tests make up by the publisher of the textbook or does the teacher make them up on their own? Any single chapter or single unit of material followed by a chapter test or unit test can have sheer volumes of information. Any Middle Schooler can easily feel overwhelmed - where to begin? In the better world, maybe we'll finally stop giving closed-book memorization based tests but till then school will favor those students who are strong readers and who have the knack for remembering details. That's not every student. And many classes essentially throw volumes of information out every day without any coherent organization to it or without an overarching concept to which all the details are related. Once you know what kind of test is coming your way, then certainly making sense of the information is the most important study skill but that's very hard for students to do on their own. "
"I need help studying for earth science because the way the tests are written out are so completely new to me. "
"i need help studying for my social studies test that i have tomorrow! even though i am a straight A's student its still goingto be hard please help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.......... "
"thank you for your good research an recommendation it is very useful and hep me a lot i'm a teacher from iran .an English teacher "
"This article was really helpful on a essay that i had to write for my mom about homework. i am going to tell my friends to check it out. "
"Does anyone know any tips on different ways to study?? "
"My son is great when it comes to test and quiz' Ususally getting above 90's His issue is homework and participation. He does not turn it in when he does it and is failing regardless of test scores and semester has'nt ended yet. We've had him tested and his scores were on top. Even with therapy he has not improved a bit since 7th grade. What can I do to help and prevent him from failing? Any suggestions? "
"Thank you for addressing this very important topic. Study skills are so fundamental to doing well academically, and sometimes they are never taught. I also addressed this subject in my Blog article: Organizational Skills Count "
"Thank you for showing me how i can study for tests and get better at school i hope i pass my highschool exam!! "
"this article helped me "
"This website really helped me on an assignment. THANKS!!! (And by the way, it helped me organize before I failed.) "
"Im in 7th grade, and Im... a D and F student. Not because I dont pay attention, or Hate school, but its because I'm new to it all. I'm wondering if this means i'm one of the not smart ones. I try hard though, but it just doesn't seem to get me though. I'm hoping this article will help me, because I don't wanna be held back, and have my friends go ahead. I could LOSE friends that way, and become lonely. Im trying this out, and hoping (i'm Atheist, so I really don't pray) that it all works out :) "
"i found that the blog still didn't answer my questions. "
"This will really help me i just noticed that i should plan out every thing for my homework and study time. "
"I'm going into 6th grade next year, and some advice that i'm pretty sure would help is to find out everything you can about your school. Go to their website and check out all the teachers website so you know what they expect. Also, Some good study advice would be to go into a school library and do all your homework there after school. I got A's on every single assignment and test. But then again, I am the nerd everyone hates.... "
"this is summer vacation and i am going to 7ht grade. now, in 6th grade i did my class work and most of the time sent my homework in 96% of the time also. but i never had the energy to do my homework. it was because i always stayed up late and even though i got up every morning to go to school i still wasnt well rested so that brought me down. so this is advice to everybody. i really sound like a dork saying this but, sleep really does affect the way ur day will turn out and really is very important. i never liked to admit this type of stuff because im like a class clown and the girl everyone likes. but my advice that would like to add to this article is to get alot of sleep also cause it also effects how you study, and take tests, and do projects, and homework. "
"im 12 years old and i need help studying for a science test tomorrow and i cant seem to find a way to actually learn the key concepts. Please comment to help me."
"Im 11 years old and am starting to panic a little, im still in the 5th grade, every year in elementary school we have math of course, but whenever we go to learn a subject (mostly in 5th grade) everyone always knows what were learning before we learn the subject, i cant help feel like im dumb. How does everyone know what were learning? In 4th and 5th grade it was tough, i always have to nod and act like i know it when i dont. If things are like this now im scarred to find out math in 6 grade, i dont want to tell my teacher either. Reason number 1. she teaches me math and i don't want her to think im dumb, which i hope im not im a B B A A A student in 4th and 5th grade."
"Not helpful... I was looking for something which was actually help with the studying part. This is just common sense."
"I think that maybe you should post some tips like staying focused in class, and some different ways to study."
"I loved this artical. I am about to enter the 6th grade, and this really summed up 'middle school' for me!"
"i got my first C on a progress report so now i am trying to bring it up this was really helpful"
"Why is it that all articles offering 'study skill' ideas for students only cover how to PREPARE for the actual studying?... 'Find a quiet space', 'Organize important notes', 'Have all supplies needed in one place'.... blah, blah. Articles like this only state the obvious, EASY, parts of study. I am constantly in search of the article that will offer different ideas in helping my child to absorb the information needed for the test or quiz. Everyone learns in different ways. As a result, most parents can only offer the study skills to their child that personally work for them. What if my study skills do not work for my daughter or son? Where is the article that will suggest different ways to help my child retain the information she or he needs to learn?"
"im a teen (14) and this was really just common sense. "
"I am a teenager looking for ways to help myself study more...thanks this did help!!! "
"this is really helpful, i strugled to get my teenage son to study. now i know..."
"this article seem helpful i think im gonna try it. i need mental help with orginizing everything!! this artical should help meh."
"This article has a lot of useful information. Thank you."
"I do like this assistance. Thanks for this great organazation. Hope we as parents cculd particiate and take advantage of the informations. Thnaks"
"This is a great article. I'm 14 and starting High School in the fall and I'm looking for tips on how to stay successful throughout my time there. My biggest issue is being disorganized, so I'm hoping that if I follow these tips it will make keeping my grades up a bit easier. I can already tell some of these will work."
"I live in LA, CA. I have 2 boys that have been thru the montessori program from pre k-7. Neither of them have any study habits. Both of them are so bright. I want to have someone help me to teach them- i cannot do it. Do you know of a tutor or a program that is just about study habits and do's and don'ts. We are pretty desperate at this point. Please let me know. Thanx so much, a l i c i a m a c d o n a l d"
"This is great information. Thank you."
"thx for ur help"
"really great way to tell parents to help there kids study for tests, study space, and more!!!!!!"
"I'm 12 and in 7th grade. I usually am very organized and always turn in my homework on time. I participate in four different extra-curricular activities and I get all A's. But sometimes I just don't have the motivation to do homework. Sometimes, I stay up until 11 pm finishing homework and I am exhausted. I really don't have that much, but I end up staying up late because I can be a procrastinator sometimes."
"I have an auditory child who also has ADD. He is very bright keeps up with the homework and writes everything in his agenda. The problem is with quizes and test he really struggles to make good grades on tests. He takes notes and then I quiz him from the book and his notes. If you can give me some better way to help him study. He is 11 years old and loves middle school 6th grade. He started off great then the work became harder. The multiple choice questions are the worst. He does study, but will barely pass with a 70 or 67. If you have something I could follow to help him. Frustrated parent "
"homework assignment"
"This is an awesome site. I find the info very helpful, and share with my daughter. Do extra curricular activities help chances for scholarships, entrance, etc...for college? Thanks so much!"
"I loved this article- chcok full of info as my husband and I support both our 6th grader and 4th grader in readying for school in a month. "
" I have a son going into the eighth grade impaired in some ways by executive functioning issues relative to school work and homework. Do you have any leads on tutors in Houston, Texas who are skilled and qualified to work with students like this ?"
"Thank you for the excellent ideas. Even though we all seem to have busy schedules, I found it very important to have specific times set aside for studying. I also came across an excellent tool on the Internet that is a big help for all age groups. "
"Thanks that was alot of good advise i even took notes."
"I thinks that this is a good place to look if you want to get help with some of the things that you learn @ school.... this websight is a great way to get a better solution on the things that you need help with in difficult classes... Another student stated that there is a lot of extra homework given in advanced/challenged classes and that is true... the homewokr that I get from my challenged classes is alot also.....and I think that if we had a lot more time in class to do the work that the teachers would get a lot more homework back than they do now.... I would definately recommend this websight to both teachers and students... this websight has so many key points that are so basci that many people would probably just think of them on their own if they really thought... BUt this is an OVERALL great websight to look @ and come to when you need help!!!"
"This article is very good with lots of good ideas. I am going to apply some of these ideas for my middle school son. It identifies a problem I have which is that my son does not know how to study because they do not teach this skill at school."
"thank you for your input, I found it very helpful. I have a 4th grader who has a very difficult teacher and I am trying so hard to equip her with the right skills and I am finding it very difficult. However, this article was very helpful and I will look to it often. Thank you again for your guidance. Sincerely Mrs. G."
"Excellent article. Thank you."
"Just as the article mentioned, I have found that my 8th grade daughter is not as quick with the +,-.* and / facts as she needs to be and has indeed suffered some on tests and homework. So we're going back to basics and doing drills and flash cards and home to reinforce these. Also, one night when she said she didn't understand the math homework and just wanted me to sign it so the teacher would know she needed help, I sat down and began to do the problems myself without her seeing the answers. All of a sudden it became a challenge to her and we finished all 25 problems, with her correcting some of my mistakes. As her history teacher said to the parents, 'don't back off, they really do need you.'"