9 Tips to Ace Your Next Test

Schools are back in session across the world.  Parents are all giving a collective sigh of relief.  Lunches are being packed, backpacks filled, and routine starting again.

Ahh!

But, along with school and routine, are tests, quizzes, and the inevitable paper.  Students across the world are giving a collective groan. 

Uhh!

Schools do not teach time management, study tips, or note-taking anymore.  These are all things that are supposed to be innate in our students these days.  I disagree.  I find these skills to be essential, not just academically, but professionally and personally as well.

Studying is an essential part of being a student in school or a student of life. These steps are used by my son at home who is reading 3 grades above grade level. These tips are especially useful for kids on the spectrum and help alleviate some of the stress that comes with school.  Here are 9 tips to help you ace that next test.

1)      Listen and pay attention: This sounds so simple.  In reality, this can easily be the hardest thing to do; especially if you have a mono-tone teacher, or find the subject taught to be boring.  Listening (not just hearing, but really taking in the information) is key to comprehension.  Pay attention is not just listening, but actively listening.  Ask questions.  Be engaged.  Be willing to learn.

2)      Make sure you understand the material: It is really easy to think you understand the material in a lecture, but then get home and realize you have no idea what happened in that class.  So, make sure you understand the material.  A great way to do this is to use elaborative integration and self-explanation.  Elaborative integration is asking how this information actually affects other areas of study or your life.  How does math affect your career choice?  How does the history of politics affect your personal life?  Self-explanation is essential.  Summarize the class to yourself.  Teach yourself.  If you cannot explain it to someone not in the class clearly, you need to study a bit more.

3)      Skim, skim, skim: This was essential to me as I got higher and higher in academics and had more to read in a shorter amount of time.  Skimming is essential to getting your brain in the right mindset to accept new material.  Skim chapter titles, headers, subheaders, fist sentences of paragraphs.  These will usually tell you the most important topics, ideas, and vocabulary likely to be on tests.  These can be the beginning of your study session notes.

4)      Take good notes: This is a hard one.  Some students want to write down everything in a lecture – word for word.  Some students only write single words.  Both are poor notetaking habits.  I recommend the Cornell Note Taking Process.   These actually allow for you the places to incorporate elaborative integration and self-explanation.  For those who are visual, this also helps for those who need academic doodling. 

5)      Distributed practice: I love this technique! Simply put, this means studying throughout the week instead of in one cram session.  The Cram Session is a technique used by students throughout the world, but it is not helpful in long term retention.  As academics (and life) build on each other like a high rise, it is essential to retain the information.  Using distributive practice to ensure retention.  Studying ten minutes a day for a subject (50 minutes a week) will ensure you retain the information and spend less time the day before a test (2 hours) trying to make sure to know the material.

6)      Interlevel practice: This practice is great to ensure recall.  This is mixing information when studying.  For example, if you have ten vocabulary words and you practice spelling them each word ten times each, you would be doing distributive practice.  If you were to practice the spelling words writing one word, then the next, then the next, and the doing this pattern ten times, you would be doing interlevel practice.  This can become a really good technique as you mix subjects as well.  We use dessert time to review grade-level material incorporating all subjects for this.  This also ensures we are out of a school setting and can be a little more silly.

7)      Create a study schedule: This sounds like a given, but it is the most forgotten part of scheduling. Most parents make sure there is time for the extracurriculars of football, soccer, dance , and music, but then forget that studying takes time too.  We have stopped holding our children accountable for studying until the day before a big test.  With a study schedule in place, there is sufficient time set for all subjects to be worked on without spending hours every evening on homework.

8)      Practice Tests: No one wants to hear more testing is needed.  This is a great way to get a feel for what you know, what you don’t know, and where you need to spend extra time.  You can create your own practice test using the keywords and questions taken in your notes.  Or you can create flashcards and practice that way.  The key is to practice. I like to start a session with a practice test early in the week, then use it at the beginning and end of every session following up to the test day.

9)      Review Often: Most students will review.  They just typically review the night before a test.  Use your downtime to review (going to and from school or practice).  I recommend reviewing the notes for the day at least 30 minutes after the class.  If you use the Cornell Note Taking System, this is a great time to pull out those headers, vocabulary, questions, and work on your summary of the notes.  This should take 5 to 10 minutes.  Review the week mid-week.  Review the material in detail the day before tests. Review of material often will ensure retention, clear focus during study sessions, and less stress the night and hours before a test.

Some of you (like most my family), naturally retain information with little work.  But, if you are like me, acing a test takes time and effort.  These simple steps can increase your retention, decrease your stress, and help you utilize your time management effectively ensuring a higher grade.

Let me know your favorite study techniques in the comments below.

10 Easy Steps to Successful Time Management – How to keep your School/Work/Home Life in Harmony

Sometimes it feels like life is a juggling act.  Juggling school and work.  Juggling play dates and cleaning.  Juggling parenting and being a spouse.  Juggling life.

How do we find peace in the chaos? Simple. Time management.

Time management is not a complex theory of life, as some may think.  Time management taking (or not taking) simple steps to make life easier. The continuous use of these simple steps will make you more productive at school, work, and life with an added benefit of decreased stress.

Here are the 10 steps of time management my family uses:

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1)      Allow time for planning and Make a List: Planning can often seem like a waste of time.  But, this small step at the beginning can save you tons of time at the end of a project.  We set a tentative plan for the month/week and modify as our needs change.  Life happens, plans change.  Planning ultimately allows for flexibility. We also use this planning time to make lists.  We love to check things off.  It gives a simple sense of accomplishment and keeps us motivated to move forward when things get complicated.  

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2)      Keep work with you: I don’t know about you, but I always seem to find downtime in my day.  Whether it be while driving or walking to an appointment, or waiting in line, or waiting for a doctor show to a scheduled appointment, I wait. Waiting is a part of life. Knowing how to use this downtime efficiently can be a huge advantage.  We have a choice. We can either scroll through a social media page or we can practice a new language or worksheet, or read a required book, or practice and review your notes for the day (study habits will be in the next blog).

3)      Be Realistic and Flexible: It is really easy to over commit.  We have to be realistic with our strengths and weakness.  We have to be honest with how long something is likely to take us.  Just as important, we have to be flexible.  Some of the most highly effective people have a “bumper” set in every schedule.  Do not schedule activities back to back.  Include a “bumper” of time to account for meetings/classes going long, traffic, accidents, forgetting your homework/assignment, and needing to head back to the house.  This will ensure you have flexibility without encroaching on others’ time.

4)      It’s OK to say NO: This took me a really long time to learn.  If I am honest, I still struggle with this. It is OK to say, “No.”  You do not have to agree to do everything everyone wants you to you.  You are only human.  Knowing your limits (time, personality, requirements for sleep), are all essential to creating quality products and lasting relationships.  If you do decline, just make sure to do it with grace, and perhaps a referral.  I like to decline with a “Thank you, but not at this time.  Perhaps you can consider So-and-so.  I think they would be very interested,” or “Thank you, but not at this time.  I would be happy to donate my time to next month’s fundraiser/money to the event/set up the flowers to be delivered/etc.”  This simple referral allows the other party to feel heard, valued, and perhaps come back to you for help at another more appropriate time.

5)      Find your productive time: I once watched an episode of Brothers and Sisters, where a political character stated, “I have done more by 8:00 am than most people do in a day.” This really stuck with me; so much so, I changed my entire schedule.  I am more productive in the wee hours of the morning than I am from noon to five.  So, I ensure my workday reflects that productive time.  I learned in grad school no one bothers me between the hours of midnight and seven in the morning.  So, I set up my focus hours then.  As a mom, I do not stay up all night but know I ensure I am at my computer no later than 6:00 am to start work.  Before work is prayer, meditation.  After work, I help with school, and then we do a workout, field trip, or fun activity to wind down for the day.

6)      Create a dedicated work/school schedule: Schedules are so important.  They help keep you organized and ensure you have set time aside to complete the required activities.  Knowing when you are required to work/school (and the prep time for each), helps to ensure you are not double booking, over-scheduling, or ignoring (for those procrastinators) an important task.  The trick is to keep the schedule flexible as needed, but it should be used in the majority of situations.

7)      Budget your time: Budget your time like you would budget your finances.  Track where you are spending time and where you are not using the time to your advantage. This will help you prioritize when is productive, what needs more focus, and where you can rearrange to have more productivity. B a clock-watcher.  If you know what time it is, you have a better grasp of your time throughout the day.

8)      Exercise to clear your mind: Physical movement is so important to both production and retention. Study after study shows a connection between physical exercise and productivity at work.  Some companies are even paying their employees to work out as it increases productivity, decreases stress, improves social connections, and oh, makes us healthier.  For students, exercising after learning a task has been shown to improve memory and retention. So, burn some calories, get stronger, and strengthen your brain and production all in one thirty-minute workout.

9)      Don’t get sidetracked: Distraction is the key to failure. My son is the king of distraction.  I can ask him to put the dishes aware and all of a sudden, I have a robot in my kitchen.  The trick to time management is not to get distracted.  We teach this to my son by using a HIIT timer.  He attaches this to his belt loop and every time it beeps it reminds him a) to be on task and b) that the allotted time to complete the task is diminishing.  To introduce this, we started it as a game.  Now, he uses it for everything from a work out to clean his room.   At work, I use the 25 minute rule. I work on a project without distraction (no emails, texts, or calls) and then can take a break between my next 25 minutes and catch up on all those things.

10)   Get a good night’s sleep: I love sleep. Good sleep.  The body was designed to do some of the most intensive work while we sleep.  Our bodies rebuild and process the day while we sleep.  Sleep is essential to process and retention, but also, for us to have the energy to complete another crazy busy day.  Sleep helps us learn, strengthen our memory, increases our creativity and insight.  Sleep does so much!   (learn more, strengthen memory, increase creativity and insight)

Now that you have some tips, take this quiz on where you are in time management to know where you might want to focus your attention in the future. Create your time-use log. Do it for at least 24 hours. The longer you do it, the more you’ll see where you lose/waste time. 

10 Steps to Teaching Responsibility and a Peaceful Household

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I had a very interesting conversation with some parents a little bit ago.  They came over for dinner and heard me ask my child to do the dishes.  Their jaws dropped! 

“You have him do the dishes?!” They asked in astonishment. 

“Yes.  He has chores around the house.” 

“Wait.  He has more than doing the dishes?  What else does he have to do?”

“Oh, clean his room and bathroom, feed the animals, pick up the dog poop, and fold and put away his laundry.”

“I think that is too much! He is a kid.  Kids should be out playing and being creative.  Their job is school and that is where it should end.”

To which I graciously responded.  “You are right.  He is a kid.  For this short time, I have him, I am responsible for teaching him how the real world works.  I have a full-time job as well.  Then I teach him home school and take care of his social and health obligations.  My house still needs cleaning, the laundry still needs to be done, and the dishes still need to be cleaned.  Simply because I have a job that does not change the responsibilities at home.  We have chosen to teach our son that as a family who resides in the same household, we all have responsibilities and must contribute.”

They sat in contemplative silence for the next five minutes and then agreed.

So, how do you teach responsibilities?  What is too much?  Where is the balance?  Here are 10 easy steps to taking the work out of teaching work responsibilities. 

1)      Whose Responsibility? It is important to not just teach how chores are done but whose responsibility things are.  For example, as a kid, I learned multiple instruments.  If I forgot my instrument for band practice, I was not allowed to call my parents to bring it for me.  They had full-time jobs as well.  I remember my mother saying to us when we forgot our homework/backpack/coat/instrument/etc. “Whose homework? Whose responsibility?”  Boy, did we hate hearing that!  She was right.  We do our children no favors when we come in to save the day every time they mess up and forget.  This does not mean never be that hero (life circumstance often teaches us we need help from others), but we should not make it the norm.  Let them learn and grow.

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2)      Chores, Chores, Chores:  No one likes chores.  Don’t fool yourself. You don’t even like chores.  They are a part of life, that also teaches us to work ethic, responsibility, and diligence.  Check out the downloadable document below on Age Appropriate Chores for Children published in 2013 for a place to start. (Thank you, Pastor Lisa for making this great resource available.).  Remember, each child is different and has different needs.  This is just a guideline. We also introduced one chore at a time so our son could perfect before he got overwhelmed.

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3)      Planning: Weekly I try to get some idea of the menu for the week.  Or at least when I get the grocery shopping done.  Sometimes, I am just out of ideas.  This is a great place to have children help and teach responsibility.  Let your kids help plan (and cook) a meal.  They will love being involved and usually will like to eat what they make (for you picky eaters out there).  Let them help at the grocery store.  Teach them how to pick produce, how to get the cheapest item or the best quality for your money.  Give them a budget for their “impulse buys” they will undoubtedly ask for it. Start the conversation on money and taking care of the groceries – a life skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

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4)      Kids Help Kids: For those with multiple children, use this opportunity to develop leadership.  Let older kids help younger kids learn things like how to tie shoes, or send them on an errand together to pick something up.  Kids learn a lot from older siblings and teammates.  Use this to teach generationally.

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5)      Play-dates: I know it is really easy to want to be present at all playdates all the time.  But this is just no necessary.  It is ok and good to leave your children with a trusted adult.  If you trust the parent, and it is age-appropriate, leave your child to have fun without you.  This helps build confidence in children.  Knowing Mom and Dad trust you to make good choices without them is empowering to them.  But more importantly, it gives them real-world experiences.  Not one house is the same, not one human is the same.  This opens the door to some really wonderful conversations.

6)      Volunteer: Generation Z is known for a passion for social justice.  But, they are also known for not following through.  They were taught the issues and a passion was ignited.  But they were not taught the practicality of the hard work, critical thinking, and diligence it takes to make a change.  Simply posting a meme on social media does not change make.  Teaching volunteering gets to the root of this problem. Volunteering showcases need, teaches work ethic, dependability, and commitment.  It also allows the first-hand experience of need, bureaucracy, and politics.  All those things play large roles in adult life.  Teaching volunteering at a young age starts a healthy foundation for these areas that can easily become toxic later if not healthy discussed.

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7)      Students keep track of their own work and test: It is great to know about your child’s schoolwork.  But their work is not your work.  You already went to school.  You already know it.  Don’t do their work for them.  Set them up to succeed.  We use this great Student Smart Planner Academic Planner (I use the Wordsworth Goal Setting Planner for myself) for our home school (it has places for long term projects, schedules, grade tracking, and monthly and weekly calendars).  For younger kids, this is a great planner as well. For those in school, we used a checklist morning and night for our son to know what was needed each morning and what was completed. 

8)      Organize your own schedule: Today in America we are socially judged by the number of activities our child is in.  We are told kids need perfect grades and extracurriculars out the ears to get to college. Our kids are tired, stressed out, and overwhelmed.  A great documentary on this is Race to Nowhere.  Let’s give our children the power to decide what extracurriculars they do – if any.  Some kids might need extra time for school.  Some kids might want three or four a week.  Some might just want to do one thing they can learn to do really well.  Let’s stop making Jack-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.

9)      Independent Thinkers: Kids need to learn how to think – not just memorize facts.  Set them to succeed in this by encouraging independent and critical thinking.  Let them learn about themselves and how they learn.  ReadTheory helps kids in reading comprehension, Learning Styles is a great place to learn about how your child learns.  When you know how you learn, you equip yourself with the ability to better learn the more difficult skills and academics.

10)   Entertain Yourself: You are a parent – not a Hollywood movie star or singer-songwriter.  You were charged with raising compassionate, intelligent children into wonderful adults.  You were not charged with being your child’s friend, entertainment, and all-around everything.  Release yourself of that stress.  Teach you, child, to entertain themselves.  This is critically important to brain development, social play, and creative and critical thinking.  It is also entertaining to you as a parent to see what they come up with.

Finding Balance: Telework and Home School

photo-of-women-using-laptops-
photo-of-women-using-laptops

In most American schools, and the average day at school is six hours.  Add in travel time, lunch, extracurriculars and this can easily become a ten-hour a day event.  This is a great balance for working parents.  Children are educated while parents bring home the bacon.

But this is no longer a reality.

With more people teleworking from home, and schools across the nation closed for the year, many are asking “How do I work full-time and teach my child?” 

As a two-income working house, and I work 40-60-hour weeks, I understand first hand the struggle of education and income.  We are a tenured homeschool family who has been schooling well before #Coronavirus or #COVID-19 were household words.  So, is it possible to do both?    

YES.  It is a combination of art and science, but completely doable.  Here is what has worked for us over the past year. 

1.       Meditation:  We are a praying house.  But not everyone is.  We have found when we start our day with prayer, mediation, and/or work out (I love Yogashred), our moods are elevated, our focus is keener and our bodies are in alignment.  The extra benefit is our health is taken care of prior to the health of our company.  Companies are only as good as the health of their talent.

grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field
grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field

2.       Start Work Early:  My work day starts well before most people are out of bed.  This allows me a solid 3 hours to get uninterrupted and focused work completed.  The earlier the start the more productive I am. 

3.       Have a set work time: Set hours of work where the school cannot interfere.  This might mean breaking your workday into 2 two-hour segments, or 4 two-hour segments.  The trick is to ensure when you focus on work, your attention is on work.  When you focus on school, your attention is at school. Closing your “office door” or taping a “Do Not Distrub” sign up can be visuals for your family to stay away while at work.

writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy
writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy

4.       Plan a Routine: We all know routine is healthy for our mentality.  That is true for children as well.  We give our son a weekly assignment list.  This includes all worksheets, lessons, quizzes, tests he will need to complete to stay on track.  This allows the kiddo to know what to expect and begin to take some independence and responsibility for their own education.

5.       Work First.  Play Later: When we present the weekly school task, we operate by a Fun Friday mentality (check out next week’s blog for more details).  If all school is completed prior to Friday, you get Friday off.  This is also beneficial for parents who work because that means Fridays your attention is not torn between work and school during “school hours.”  We operate under no games, screen time, etc. until schoolwork is complete.

woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing
woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing

6.       Turn on music:  There is tons of research on how music is both good for the soul and productivity.  We use classical music or whale sounds quietly in our home while we work.  This is an aural clue work is to be done. We leave the Anamainics and Lego Music for playtime.

Homeschooling is intimidating (we actually debated it for four years prior to taking the leap).  Homeschooling while working is even scarier.  This week, remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.  And it won’t be perfect. There will be adjustments.  There will be times of frustration. There will be times of feeling like a failure.

Find what works for you and go for it.  Be encouraged.  You are not in this alone.