Smart start to studying

Dana Gee, The Vancouver Province newspaper 

September 15, 2013

It's two weeks into the new school year and kids are officially up to their backpacks in the business of learning.

So it's the perfect time for a refresher course on how students can succeed at school - and what parents can do to help.

Vancouver-based education expert Terry Small of the Terry Small Learning Institute ( has more than three decades of experience teaching kids and adults. He favours practical strategies and relies on brain research to help people learn.

When asked for tips to help kids enjoy academic success, Small, who gives seminars around the globe, emphasizes the role that parents can play.

"The research is really clear: When the parents are involved the marks go up," Small says. When celebrating a kid's success, it's important to know what deserves the loudest applause, he adds.

"We know that when kids are praised for effort they do better, and when they are praised for being smart they often do worse," says Small.

He believes in the simple credo that "success is a skill anyone can learn."

"I taught everything from Grade 4 all the way through university for well over 30 years, and what I discovered in that time is that students who get the highest marks are very rarely the most intelligent," Small says. "Rather, they are the students with the right strategies, habits, and attitudes."

Here are Small's tips to help kids get the school year off to a strong start and improve their chances for success.


  • Limit video games and TV to a half-hour a day.
  • Tackle the least favourite subject first when doing homework.
  • Study out loud to improve retention.
  • Stand often to get more blood flow to the brain. Move around.
  • Add colour to note-taking. Studies have proven colour helps with retention, says Small. In other words, write subheads in red and underline keypoints in a different colour.
  • Give kids Friday night off for good behaviour - they still need to study some over the weekend.


  • Grades 4-7: half an hour a day
  • Junior high: one hour a day
  • Grades 11-12: Two hours a night.