Five Steps to Improving Study Skills and Time Management

At a visitation day at Bryan College several years ago, we had a question and answer session set up with a panel of ten college students who were homeschooled. A parent asked, “What was the most difficult adjustment to college life and, what would you recommend to incoming students in order to be better prepared?” All ten students said that time management was the most difficult adjustment. The recommendation made by the students was for high school students to either participate in a co-op or a class where they answer to someone other than mom or, if able, to take dual enrollment classes. Unless the student is taking a class on time management, this skill is not learned through the curriculum but, rather, through the process. The flexibility that homeschooling allows, although advantageous, is often a contributing factor to poor time management. Having to complete homework, turn in assignments, take tests, and participate in group forums (or activities) with deadlines forces students to sink or swim. We don’t want them to sink, so let’s help them swim.

Although dual enrollment is a great way to introduce high school students to the rigor of college classes, your students will do better if they have learned how to manage their time beforehand. Students who are able to organize their schedules, develop good study skills, and manage their time well will have much less stress than students who fly by the seat of their pants, hoping everything will come together in the end. In several of the articles I’ve written, I point out that there are neglected subjects that may be as important, or more important, than the core classes for high school students. Time management is a skill that should be taught long before students head off to college, so let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of how to do this.

  1. Set the Environment: Because students are very diverse in how they learn, there is no black and white, one-size-fits all method, but the principles are similar. Where to begin? Let’s start with where your students study. Encourage them to prepare a study environment that works well for them. When studying, students should put their phone on silent, and put it away so they won’t be tempted to pick it up and check notifications. Create a ritual that enhances their ability to concentrate. For some, that will mean working in total silence while for others, background music may be helpful. Running a diffuser, lighting a candle, or turning on a fan are other suggestions that could be incorporated into the process. Some students can sit at a dining table with activities going on all around them and not be distracted, while others need a setting with as few distractions as possible. When I was in college I doodled while I took notes. It helped me concentrate. For others, that would be a distraction. Do not impose on your students the environment that works best for you if it does not work for them. On the other hand, if a student insists on a certain study environment, but work is not getting accomplished, then changes may need to be made. If your home does not allow for a quiet place, yet that is what your student needs, then purchase a noise blocking device such as headphones, ear muffs, or ear plugs. If you are not familiar with Cynthia Tobias and her book, The Way They Learn, I highly recommend it. This video is part 1 of a two part series that is well worth listening to when you have time. Not only does Cynthia help you understand the differences in how we learn, but she’s quite funny and entertaining too! This site contains free resources from Cynthia including multiple tips for parenting!
  2. Manage Study Periods. Making the best use of the time allotted for study is crucial to successful studying. If possible, it is helpful to schedule specific, consistent study times. One method many students have found helpful is called the Pomodoro method. This method has the student set a timer for short, intense periods of study. When the timer ends, the student takes a break and then resets the timer. According to William Wadsworth, “The benefits of working in intense, timed bursts separated by breaks includes:
  • Better motivation: bolster determination to achieve your goals by having an external motivator (the ticking clock) to get you fired up.
  • Enhance focus and concentration, encouraging you to cut out interruptions and stay on task.
  • Strengthen your determination to keep on trying even when you don’t feel like it, or the work is tough, because you can’t quit while the timer is ticking.
  • Higher levels of energy and intensity because of the mild time-pressure, with breaks serving as opportunities to pause and refresh before going again.”

The Pomodoro method may not work for everyone, but it’s worth checking out. It helped one of my sons when he began using it while in college. The article includes specifics regarding this method, so check it out.

3. Discover the Most Effective Way to Study. There are several types of learners and, for that reason, some methods of study are more effective than others, depending on the student’s learning style. Some students are visual, needing to see notes on the material being presented. Handwriting notes for review is most helpful for many. More than a few college professors do not allow students to take notes on laptops and, for that reason (among others), knowing how to take handwritten notes effectively is important. There are many articles that defend the value of handwritten notes and this article, from NPR, shares research results while giving more than a few reasons for this stance. For those who do take notes while studying, this article describes the Cornell method of notetaking. This video summarizes the Cornell method in less than a minute. Until my son told me about the Cornell method, I had never heard of it. In my opinion, the concept is simple, and brilliant!

While some students are visual learners, others are auditory learners and, for those students, dictating information that they can repeatedly listen to is beneficial.

Thanks to modern technology, studying, regardless of the type of learner, has become easier. There are free phone apps that help with a variety of study methods. When my daughter, Courtlyn, was in nursing school, needing to learn to identify parts of the body visually and by name, she used Chegg to create flashcards that included photographs as well text. She is a kinesthetic learner (absorbs information through touch, movement and motion) and she found that hand writing each slide from her professor’s powerpoint presentations helped her commit the information to memory. Quizlet is another popular app. In addition to learning tools, this app has flashcards and pre-set quizzes (which may have been added by professors or by students). Quizlet even allows professors to create in-class games. According to this article, with Quizlet you can:
– Get test-day ready with Learn
– Put your memory to the test with Write
– Race against the clock in a game of Match
– Share flashcards with classmates (if you’re a student) or your students (if you’re a teacher)
– Listen to your material pronounced correctly in 18 languages
– Enhance your studying with custom images and audio

4. Set a Schedule. If your students do not set aside specific times to study then, more than likely, time will slip by with little or no studying taking place. When setting a schedule, break up assignments into time increments that are doable and that allow for on-time (or early) completion. Be sure to highlight important deadlines and test dates. Set aside a liberal amount of time to be used exclusively for studying and for homework. The time set aside need not be one block of time. If a student has time in the morning, afternoon, and/or evening, several blocks of time can be set aside. Using a white board to write down the student’s schedule creates a visual reminder for the student while allowing the parent to be aware of whether the student is sticking to the schedule, or not. Online calendars are also great for setting up schedules because reminders and alarms can be put in place, ensuring the student’s awareness of the schedule, avoiding missed deadlines.

5. Prioritize. Students need to be intentional about scheduling time to study and time to complete assignments. If your students are not self-disciplined, then they may need to be held accountable for their time and if that is the case, withholding privileges until work is complete may be adequate motivation. Work first, then play.

With intention, good study habits can be learned, time can be managed, and as a result, stress will be lessened.

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