Learn to study

The Best Skill: Studying

One of the most important things high school can do for you is teach you to study. Whether you’re a homeschooled, public school, or private school student, high school is the time to learn to study.

There are thousands of techniques for good study, but only a few simple principles:

  1. Personal Study Space
  2. Regularity
  3. Comprehensiveness
  4. Orderliness

Personal Study Space

In order to learn to study effectively in high school you must to build a personal study space. Here are some rough guidelines:

  1. Comfortable enough to sit for extended periods
  2. Uncomfortable enough to keep you awake
  3. You need to have the right amount of noise (some people need silence to study, others need background noise), so the space should shield you/others from noise (headphones/ear plugs are your friends).
  4. It needs to be private enough to protect you from distractions.
  5. It needs to be public enough to help you feel embarrassed if you’re caught wasting your time.

Important Items include:

  1. A desk (I recommend Origami’s Folding Desk)
  2. An office chair (unless you opt for a standing desk, in which case you want a recliner/rocker for times when you’re reading and wish to sit down)
  3. A small filing cabinet for paper work, completed assignments, useful hand outs, and extra supplies
  4. A small white board for working out math problems w/out using paper
  5. A small book shelf
  6. Encouraging artwork or sayings to motivate you.

Brief, but interesting side note: research suggests that some people thrive with a messy desk and others thrive with an organized desk. Experiment with both, but no matter what, if your parents say, “Have a clean desk,” go with that option. It is doubtful they will say, “Have a messy desk.”

Regularity

You must study regularly in two ways:

  1. You have to repeat things in order to remember them in the short term.
  2. You have to remember to repeat things so that you do not lose them in the long term.

As a high school student, the most important thing to do is experiment with a few study techniques until you find a useful one and then use it regularly until you become efficient at it before trying anything else that is new.

To study regularly, I recommend writing your school schedule every Sunday evening so that you will know what time you mean to study for which subjects on which days. Get your parents’ permission for doing this sort of thing (how could they object?) because their permission also means that you have their understanding. This is important because you should never deviate from your study schedule except for emergencies. One of the most awkward binds to be in is when a chore you could do at any time comes up when you planned on studying and because your parents were not alerted in advance and because of this, they feel like you’re avoiding work.

So, study regularly in both ways in order to help your brain build a learning habit and in order to keep the information in your head where it belongs.

Comprehensiveness

This principle has its limits. But it is the principle that learning is best accomplished when it is done thoroughly. So when you sit down to study your history materials, do not just learn the dates, learn the names, look up words you do not know, and write down any questions related to the material you wish to ask the teacher or research on your own when you’re finished reading.

Comprehensiveness works similarly with mathematics and science. If you are stuck on a problem you do not understand, look up the solution reread the text book section on the portion of the solution you do not understand. Then try to make up your own problem and solve it before moving on.

The idea here is to build several maps in your mind of the material and to fill in that geography with information. As you study the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, for instance, be comprehensive. Look for Jesus’ references to the Old Testament and go read them. Look elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel for similar themes and read those. Then look in the rest of the New Testament to see if Paul, John, James or Peter bring up the same ideas. This level of comprehensiveness takes more time (though you become faster), but being so thorough helps things to stick in your mind.

Orderliness

One of the most interesting lines from the first Sherlock Holmes novel is Watson’s observation that Holmes’ knowledge of human anatomy is “accurate but unsystematic.” In other words, he knows it, but not necessarily in its connections with other aspects of human health.

The solution to this is similar to being comprehensive in your study, but taking it one step further. In order to have a systematic or orderly method of studying, I recommend using the “lecture to the wall” method of studying that was popularized in Michael Jones’ book, “The Overnight Student.” Your mission here is to read your material out loud, write down any questions you have and look them up, close your notes, and attempt to teach the material to an imaginary class room (even answering the questions that you came up with). If it is a math problem use this as an opportunity to work examples on your white board (or on a sheet of paper) and explain the steps out loud. Finally, if you must pause to look up material. Reread the section and start the lecture over. It is far better to embarrassingly forget what you want to say in front of nobody than to forget it on the test.

Your parents might think this is crazy (so tell them what you’re doing), but it will create several orderly connections between pieces of material in your mind. You’ll also improve at public speaking. The main thing to remember here is this: never be embarrassed to do what is necessary to make yourself better than you used to be.

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