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Making the Grade: 10 Smart Study Tips for Students

When it comes to test-taking, what can you do to ensure your kids really know their stuff? (Hint: It's not helping them power through a late-night cram session.) We chatted up the experts to learn their very best tips.

By Lauren Flores

Create a Study Schedule
Putting off studying until the day before, then frantically trying to digest weeks' worth of information until midnight—or later. Is your kid's test-prep M.O. something like that? If so, it's time to shake up his routine. "Cramming is a short-term solution to passing an imminent test," says Jessica Brondo, founder of The Edge in College Prep, edgeincollegeprep.com. "But students who study over longer periods will recall material more easily come test time." Ideally, your child would keep up with his work and only review for the test. To start him on that path, suggest that he begin studying at least a week in advance and let him plan daily half-hour work sessions. Have him post the schedule where you both can see it, like on the fridge or by the family computer.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Test taking is like any other skill, so having your child run through sample exam questions—with a focus on what he struggles with—could result in better grades. "Practice tests familiarize students with the material and how it may be presented on the actual exam," says Laurie E. Rozakis, author of Test Taking Strategies & Skills for the Utterly Confused. Encourage your teen to make his own quizzes by changing the numbers in challenging math problems or reworking topic sentences from his textbooks into questions and then answering them.

Respect Your Child's Learning Style
Help your child determine how he learns best: Does he absorb the most information when someone explains it directly to him? Or grasp ideas when they're drawn out as pictures or graphs? Once he's figured that out, urge him to develop complementary study habits. An audio learner can record himself explaining difficult topics and play back his lecture when walking around the house or neighborhood. If your child is a visual learner, purchase a white board and advise him to map out information in charts with colored markers. "It's really important for parents not to force a certain style of studying onto their children because that can backfire," says Vanessa Van Petten, author and creator of radicalparenting.com. "Many students grow to hate math or science simply because they had teachers who taught in a way that was different from their learning style."

Encourage Effective Study Breaks
Learning to take breathers is just as important as learning how to hit the books. "Teenagers get burnt out with homework after two hours because they're interspersing studying with Facebook and texting 'breaks,'" Van Petten says. "This is draining because children aren't stepping away from their computers at all." Real downtime (i.e., away from cell phones and other glowing screens) helps the brain recharge. Allow your child to take time off every half-hour. Depending on how long he's studied, breaks should be between 5 and 25 minutes—anything more and he'll have a hard time getting back to work. A good respite can be eating a small, healthy snack, taking a walk around the block or listening to music.

Remind Them to Read Directions
Every teacher will tell you that students miss easy points on tests simply by not following instructions. While your teen is solving homework problems, have him explain the directions for each question set in his own words. If you put together a practice test, insert a random direction into one question, like, "write your name on the bottom left hand corner of the page."

Support Your Teen's Study Time
And ask your family to do so, too. "Make sure there are no 'rewards' that studying will cause your child to miss out on," says Van Petten. "For example, if American Idol is on that night and your child has to study, record it and wait until the next day so the whole family can watch together."

Help Kids Learn from Mistakes
"It's one thing for students to understand why they got something wrong, but a totally different thing for them to remember that and apply it to other questions," says Brondo. Help your child create a "wrong question journal" where she can record and work through concepts that give her trouble. Purchase a notebook and have her divide it into sections for each subject. After she gets back any graded work, encourage her to jot down the problems she got wrong and figure out the correct answers. Remind your child to review her notes often.

Get Creative with Flash Cards
They've been around forever, and there's a reason for that. But don't purchase pre-made packs for your kid—he'll reap more benefits if he creates his own. "Our memory function works by seeing something and then actively doing an action to help us remember it by," Brondo says. Flash cards work for virtually every subject—math equations, science concepts or vocabulary words for English and foreign languages. One side of the card should state the word or problem and the other side should include the definition or explanation. For example, one side of a geometry card could say, "Area of a triangle" and the other side would say, "A = (1/2) x Base x Height."

Let Your Child Teach You
"I like having kids explain concepts to their parents because it boosts their confidence," Brondo says. When a student is able to explain something, it shows that he knows the whys and hows of that topic rather than just memorizing facts. By voicing their thought processes, students better understand what they're studying and improve communication skills. That's a win-win combo.

Give Anxiety the Okay
Does your kid get pre-test jitters? Let him know that's fine! "If a child is too relaxed, she can't actively think about how to solve the problem," says Gary Gruber, Ph.D., author of Gruber's Essential Guide to Test Taking: Grades 6-9. "For most children, as long as they know they have prepared for the exam, the anxiety will translate to energy and they'll be more alert and ready."

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.