Good habits start on first day of class, Set strategies to help students excel at school

Lisa Foeste

North Shore News, August 18, 2006

"A lot of students don't really know how to study."

That's why many students seem to struggle in school these days in subjects like math, science and social studies, says Terry Small, a former teacher and now a full-time speaker who helps students and parents put together strategies to help students excel in school.

What students along with their parents need to do is to set strategies to get, store and retrieve information so that they can excel throughout the school year.

"I try to give parents and kids a complete strategy to use before the first day of school and until when the learning experience (exam, project, school year) is over," Small says.

Small recommends students start off the school year on the right foot.

"Preparation for the final exam starts on the first day of classes."

On the first day of school, get to know the teacher and make a good impression as judgements are often formed during the first week.

"Make the first week so you set the tone for the entire year. Make a good impression and get on top, especially in a subject that is cumulative like math."

With math, it's easy to get behind quickly.

Small says that students need to set goals at the beginning of the school year.

"In reality, it's the single most important thing a students can do."

Take a piece of paper and at the top, label (for example) "Tom's goals."

"List your subjects and ask yourself, realistically, what is the best mark I think I can achieve on my first report card?'" for each subject, Small says.

"Stretch yourself a bit, but make it realistic."

After your goal-setting session, make copies _ one for the bedroom wall, the front of you binder, on the fridge and in the locker. All are places you will see your goals posted every day.

"Essentially, what happens when you see those goals is that those marks go up by magic."

"Why does Coca-Cola spend millions of dollars on advertising?" Small asks.

"Advertising works."

Setting your goals, writing them down and posting them up is essentially a form of advertising to yourself. "You are influencing your behaviour," says Small.

Also during the first week of school, start well by making a weekly time chart on a spreadsheet to schedule your homework or home study, which Small like to call it.

We schedule dental appointments, sports practices but often homework is left for whenever so the brain defaults it to a "B" priority, Small says.

If you are in Grade 8, about one hour per day six times a week is a reasonable amount of time for home study, says Small. One hour of study time can be broken up into two 30-minute time periods.

"Take Friday off for good behaviour."

Post the schedule on the fridge.

"It makes home study an A priority now that it is scheduled."

Having a schedule also takes the argument out among parents and students as students are held liable because they make their own schedule. If they don't like the time scheduled for a week, they can change it the following week, he says.

Home study should be the consistent systematic reviewing and previewing not only the material assigned by the teacher, Small says.

Previewing is a great way to stay ahead of the game especially in subjects that are easy to fall behind in.

For instance in math, if the teacher reviewed page 48 in class, he will most likely review page 49 the following day. Your ideal scenario would be to preview that page 49 the prior night.

Small explains that the Vancouver Canucks plan their opposition before the game. They watch videotapes and watch how the opposing team plays to help increase their chances of winning the game.

Students can do similarly in school by taking five to 10 minutes to preview pages that will likely be covered in class the following day.

While setting goals, writing them down and posting them, making a weekly home study schedule, and making a good first impression the first week of school is important to excelling in school. Other study tricks will help students do well as exam time approaches.

"One of the biggest issues facing students is diet," Small says.

Start the morning right with a healthy breakfast. Drink lots of water and drink water before feeling thirsty.

"Most students' brains are dehydrated," he says.

Set up a study area and keep the room temperature on the cool side - about 18 degrees Celsius.

Use a master binder to get you ready for studying. Take breaks every 10 to 15 minutes to keep the brain sharp. A good way to determine the amount of breaking time is to take your age and add by two minutes. After the age of 18, break intervals stay at 20 minutes, he says.

When studying, prepare questions and answers and use memory and mastery cards. Small says to use the active learning approach where you interactive with the material as opposed to passive learning where you read notes over.

"If you watch a basketball game, you do learn but by playing you learn more," says Small.

Studying out loud, writing things down as you study and adding colour to notes will help increase information retention.

Get on your feet as it will help retain information more. "When you stand up it increases the blood flow to the brain."

Small also recommends playing baroque music softly in the background while studying.

When putting together a study strategy put parents on your team. "The more the parents are involved the more the marks go up."

Decrease the amount of TV that students watch. "TV viewing goes up, marks go down," he says.

When you sit down to do homework, tackle the least favourite or hardest subject first.

Visit Small's website at for more information.

Do you or your kids make any of these mistakes?

  1. Leave studying and homework until the last minute.
  2. Get to the bottom of page and wonder what did I just read?
  3. Get marks below potential.
  4. Lack motivation.
  5. Have trouble paying attention.
  6. Spend too much time studying.
  7. Achieve grades too low for university admission.

Terry's DVD or video is based on the latest research on how your brain learns best. If you know how to study, then your marks improve!

Warm wishes for a great New Year,