Your child is working hard and spending lots of time studying. But if she’s not studying the right way, she’s not learning as much as she could be. “A lot of students, and even a lot of parents and teachers, don’t really make a distinction between working hard and working smart,” says learning expert Annie Murphy Paul. “A kid who puts in hours and hours of study time may be doing that studying very inefficiently, and not end up learning or remembering that material very well at all.”
Most kids study for a test by re-reading the material they’ll be tested on. Maybe they highlight or underline the most important points in the textbook or in their notes, and re-read those. But the science of learning suggests that isn’t the best way to study for tests and commit information to memory.
What really helps the brain retain information is the act of recalling it. That means students should put away their books and notes and test themselves, recalling the information from memory. Flash cards are an easy, low-tech way to do this, and research shows this technique really works for learning information. Encourage your child to make up test questions as she learns a new concept, thinking about the types of questions that might be on the test. Then make flash cards and use them to test herself on what she’s learning.
“The more you can generate the information yourself, rather than just passively reading it over, the better you’ll remember that material when test time comes,” says Murphy Paul.
And beware of multi-tasking during study time. Kids may think they can study effectively while also browsing social media and texting with their friends, but neuroscience disagrees. The brain isn’t really focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously. Rather, it’s switching from task to task. And research shows that performance suffers as a result.