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A Tutor's Easy Tips For Studytime Success

Do you have any tips or strategies that can help my child with studying?

It’s one of the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly by parents during my 10 years as a tutor (grades K-12) in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

There are lots of tips and strategies I recommend, many based on individual needs/goals and specific grade levels. But in terms of general advice, here are five that parents and students should consider:

1. Find a dedicated study space that isn’t the student’s bedroom

A few weeks into my first year of college, I went to an on-campus meeting designed to help freshman acclimate. Several senior resident advisors spoke, and among the tips was this one: Don’t study in your dorm room.

I don’t recall any of the other advice given that day, but that tip resonated. I had spent the first few weeks studying in my dorm room, where the lure of listening to music, calling my girlfriend, or taking a nap was more enticing than macro economics, Newton’s laws of motions, and John Milton’s prose. Not much studying was taking place there, so after hearing the resident advisor’s tip I decided to go the library for a few hours each after dinner. Free of distraction and reclining comfort, my focus improved and the adjustment to the sizable work load went smoother.

Although students in grades K-12 might not have a library to go to each night, they should do their homework someplace else other than their bedroom. Bedrooms are physically and psychologically linked to relaxation, video games and sleep, so it’s no surprise that homework doesn’t stand a chance.

2. Take five-minute breaks after every 30 minutes of studying

Long, uninterrupted study sessions are usually less productive than shorter ones that are more focused. A five-minute break following every 30 minutes of studying gives the brain a chance to absorb material and cool down before restarting.

3. Toughest assignment first

It’s tempting to put off studying for a test or writing an essay until other more straightforward homework is finished. It’s also a really bad idea. A much better strategy is to begin with the toughest or most important assignment first, when your brain is fresh. After that, you can tackle something easier and then do your second hardest assignment before finishing with another less demanding task.

4. Keep up with reading. Talk about it, too

One common theme that I see among students (especially boys) is that few of them enjoy reading. And many don’t just dislike reading, they loathe it. This is a big-time problem — almost every class (not just English) in every grade requires reading, and there is even more reading in college and grad school.

Students who hate reading put if off, procrastinating until they need a marathon session to read the entire book the day before a test or essay. Some reading-averse students never read any books; they head online to check out Spark Notes or another site that summarizes the text, provides character analysis, and discusses major themes. But teachers and professors are also aware of what’s online and can adjust their essay prompts and test questions accordingly.

One thing students must do is keep up with their daily reading assignments — no matter how unappealing that sounds. For many students, the best time to do that reading is in the morning before school or sometime during the day in a free period. The worst time is right before bed, when words on a page act faster than melatonin.

One thing parents can do is ask their children to talk about what they have read each day — not in a confrontational manner but in a conversational tone. Talking about what you have read is a great way to remember what you have read.

5. Extra-help can help … as long as it’s the right fit

An increase in homework and intense competition for college acceptances have led many parents to seek additional help for their children. Tutoring can make a difference, but only if you find the right tutor.

In addition to advanced understanding of subject material, the right tutor must be someone whom your child feels comfortable around. Much like the motivation a beloved and exceptional coach can instill in his or her players, the best tutors are able to inspire confidence and drive in their students. For example, tutors who translate classroom learning into real-world examples stand a better chance of making the material stick with their students.

Ask for references from other parents and check with them to find out how much their child improved and how much he or she enjoyed working with the tutor. That part is just as important.

–Written by Tim Murphy, a real life tutor, and veteran journalist.