12 Surprising Study and Test Skills for Middle and High Schoolers 
Ugh….Study skills and test prep. I know it’s important to teach my son. Often I neglect to think about the long term effect of not teaching this life skill. To motivate me more, I like to think of the contrasting stories of Les and his twin sister Natalie on License to Drive.
Natalie was prepared for her driving test. Les reminds me of my own son: messy backpack and a wing-it attitude. As we all know, he failed the written part of the test. The contrast between these twins is stark. I don’t want my son to be uptight, but I also know that I don’t want him rationalizing bad decisions like Les or relying solely on his street smarts.
Study Skills and Test Prep = Life Skills
Studying helps your teen be a better manager of their own life. This is the perfect time to learn valuable skills like taking notes, preparing in advance, and getting adequate sleep as we know these skills easily translate into the adult world.
When I am in a meeting now, I have to take notes. I listen for the main idea and create a checklist of items that need attention. I also know that if I have a deadline for a project, I can’t start it the night before and expect it to be any good. If I’m sleep deprived, I can’t recall important information or even make sense when I speak. No one enjoys that!
There are two ways to use this post.
- Listen to the podcast. This was recorded for you and is packed with more information than we provided below.
- Let your teen read this. I address the student below as studying is your child’s responsibility.
Onto the tips!
1. Organize Classwork and Notes
Open your binder, spread all your classwork and notes out. Decide which pieces of paper are relevant to this upcoming test. DON’T throw anything away just yet. Put other classwork in a different folder or binder to hang onto it just in case your teacher loses a grade or an assignment is more important than you think.
2. Rewrite Notes
Ugh. I know, that one sounds like torture but actually can help you commit more of what you learned in class to memory. This involves the senses.
The goal while working on rewriting notes is to be able to put them into your own words. If you can’t do that, this should be a signal to you for help. Ask your teacher, parent, tutor, or educational therapist for clarification until you can write it in your own words.
Back up…Taking Notes?
It’s almost as if I could sense your mouse clicking away just then because….you. don’t. take. notes.
It’s never too late to learn how to take notes! We have several posts here on Math for Middles to help you to take those first steps to better note taking today. You can read them here and here. Reach out to your parent for help in learning how to take better notes. They may have some tips from their days back in school that are surprising helpful.
3. Vocabulary Matters
Look on your worksheets for text that is in bold or defined math vocabulary in your notes. These are important pieces that further your understanding. If you read the directions for a problem and you don’t understand the vocabulary, it may hinder your ability to do the problem correctly and to completion.
4. Go Over Quizzes
After you’ve organized all the work, you’ll need to look at quizzes closely. Your teacher doesn’t have infinite amounts of time to make problems for tests. Most likely, they’ll just reuse the same kind of problem but change out the numbers. You can do the same to practice for that upcoming test.
Look over any feedback the teacher may have given you on your quiz. If you don’t understand it, make sure to ask! I once had a student that saw little blue circles on her quiz that made her think they were zeros. This wasn’t what her teacher was trying to communicate at all. Instead, her teacher wanted her to realized she had missed a negative sign in front of a number. But the teacher didn’t convey that in her writing.
Pulling an all nighter is not going to help you do better on a test. Start preparing for tests more than one day in advance. This requires you to make time in your schedule. Add it to the calendar, ask for help to stick to your schedule from a parent or friend.
Get at least 7 hours of sleep the night before a big test.
6. Study Group
Just like rewriting your notes and putting them into your own words, you also can take advantage of a study group with the same goal. Take different parts of the previous chapter of math and divide it into sections. Assign one to each person and have them prepare it well enough to teach it to someone else.
Beware. Groups might not work for everyone.
If working in a group causes you to goof around Snapchatting a friend your Bambi face, you’ll be better off studying on your own.
7. Sacred Study Space
Seth Perler teaches teen students to create a special space in their home where nothing but studying happens there. This space should have everything you need in it to be successful. Don’t forget to keep yourself as distraction free as possible. Turn your phone on airplane mode while you work so that social media updates don’t get the best of you.
Music is more distracting than helpful.
8. Chew Gum
When tension is running high, gum can help with the senses to calm and focus the mind. Just don’t blow bubbles in your friend’s face.
9. Power Up with Protein
Choosing mostly carbs the day of a test can leave you hungry and distracted. Instead, opt for more protein in the morning or try eating a Snickers or yummy protein snacks like these.
10. Avoid Chatting with Friends About Nervousness
Before a test, it may be tempting to talk to friends about how you feel like you are going to bomb a test. Avoid this at all cost! Wait until after you’ve finished complaining about the test.
It’s simple, talking about how poorly you feel like you will do raises your anxiety level and thus makes it more likely it will happen because you are leaning into the fear monger instead of your knowledge.
11. Get Physical!
As a human, you have in your DNA the response to fight or flight upon a stressful situation. Back when we were scavenging and hunting for food, this was a helpful response. Today, it can get in the way of our performance on a test as we feel this urge to run from a test.
Doing a little bit of exercise before your test will help to focus your mind. Try doing a lap around the school building or jumping jacks in the bathroom at school, whatever you can to get rid of this primal instinct.
12. Talk It Out
I know that I mentioned don’t talk about how nervous you are to a friend about the upcoming test, but talking to your parent, teacher, or tutor about how you feel about upcoming tests can really help.
Learning to change your thinking takes time, but is worthwhile work as you learn how to frame your mind each time you approach a test. Use this free guide with a trusted adult today to help you start the conversation.
What To Do When Studying Doesn’t Seem to Help
We realize that sometimes you feel like you are spinning your wheels in a topic. There are so many options you have when you feel stuck.
Go to Class with One Goal: The Main Idea
During each class, try to think big picture. What was the main idea of this lesson? If you can’t seem to figure that out, approach your teacher after the lesson is over and ask for help. Resist the urge to start with, “I don’t get it.” Instead, start with, “What was the main idea of our lesson today?”
Compare it to what you heard during class. If they don’t match up, this is a sign to ask for more help.
Get Comfy with Questions
Approaching a teacher (especially a grouchy one) can be the worst! But remember that teaching is their job. Questions also help a teacher evaluate where they can improve. If questions never get asked, they can’t adjust their delivery of the content to help you.
Come to your teacher with a list of questions if talking to them makes you nervous.
If even the thought of that makes you break out in a sweat, take it one step back. Send questions via email. Teachers love email because they can answer questions when it is convenient for them.
Ask for More Examples
If you are stuck, ask your teacher to explain a concept in a different way. But give them a hint of how you learn best. If you grab information in a hands-on way, tell them that! Ask for a YouTube video of a real life example.
No teacher will be annoyed that you are asking questions. The perception of you will be one of a student that CARES about their results in class.
Focus on Getting Help with Executive Function
The front part of your brain is under construction. This is where all the functions to carry out one main goal, like taking a test can be troublesome for some students. Getting help with executive functioning can help you for a life time, not just in your geometry class. Hiring executive function professionals like Seth or Marydee may just do the trick.
Get a Tutor or Educational Therapist
Sometimes you just need a different approach all together! Let a parent know that you are ready for some outside help. You can definitely use our services here on Math for Middles or ask for referrals from your teacher.
These years during middle and high school are a gift as you learn how to manage topics and expectations. Remember to keep it all in perspective. Just because you feel like you can’t pass the written part of a test like Les, doesn’t mean there won’t be an application to the real world. These are skills for adulting.
Parents, ready to cut homework drama in half? Enroll in our free course to learn how.
Owner of Math for Middles
I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles. I’ve tutored students for over ten years. When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family. You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.