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. 

Celebrate Life

Being the middle of seven children, I have seen the gambit in behaviors. Everything from stitches and fights to games of “War” and dances. I have been blessed to always have a sibling on my side when life turns a sour leaf and family around for holidays…and sometimes when I don’t want them.

But, not everyone is as blessed.

Special needs children are one of the largest groups of children in America…and unfortunately, one of the most often forgotten and ostracized. Many hear the words “special needs” or “Autism” or “Down Syndrome” and immediately think “stupid,” “hard,” and “pity.”

They could not be farther from the truth!

Our little bundle of joy was diagnosed with Autism at age three. And, like all parents who hear that, there was some fear and trepidation (a discussion for another time). At the time, and up until he was about five, our kiddo did not speak. There was loud screams, throwing, tantrums and the like because speech communication was not possible. Getting dressed was a chore as he could not put socks on by himself much less zip a zipper to his pants or button his jacket.

Hard. Yes. But, do I need to be pitied? NO!

You see when my son first started to say small sentences – PURE JOY! When he started to be able to zip his pants – JUBILATION! When he started to got straight A’s having to be pulled from class on a daily basis for doctor’s appointments – PRIDE would be an understatement. I even told my husband my kid was the smartest because he did what streamlined kids did in half the time!

What living with a special needs kid has taught me is… [Read more…]

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1. Celebrate Life

In our day and age, it is really easy to get down and out. We are inundated with negative thoughts and reality. News broadcasts deliver only negative news and life hits hard when it hits. Seeing the negative is like pouring a cup of coffee – most of us do it without even thinking.

Living with Autism teaches celebration of life. When you can constantly find growth it is easy to be optimistic. When you can see that life is not in a diagnosis but a person it is easy to enjoy the beauty of a hand-painted birdhouse or a freshly made pot of coffee.

Life is about teamwork. And when you have a great team (my husband is a rock star!) the support makes life that much more colorful and brilliant.

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2. Enjoy the Little Things

I will admit there are days when life feels like it will sucker punch me every chance it gets. But who’s life doesn’t do that? Living with special needs does not mean that life is easier or harder than for anyone else. It just means we (those of us who have special needs in our lives) face different challenges.

So, like every other family, we celebrate the little things.

We celebrate cutting a straight line. We celebrate our little one talking and playing WITH a peer. We celebrate the full sentence. We celebrate jokes.

These little celebrations may seem little but they are HUGE accomplishments. And they remind us that we are more than scary words. Doctors do not always know best. Just like with every other kid, our kid is more than the sum of his doctors’ visits and school meetings.

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3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Prior to special needs, I would sweat the small stuff. Little things like my sister not emptying the lint trap in our family dryer or how much the scale tipped when I stepped on it were heavy weights on my shoulders.

Autism taught me life is more than the small stuff. There are bigger things to worry about in life like family, doctors, and school.

If it is a choice between my son thumb sucking while focusing on homework or throwing a tantrum because he does not want to do homework, guess which one I am ignoring?

If it is a choice between not reading and reading a comic book, guess which one I am telling his teacher he gets to read?

If it is a choice between rocking in his seat and being quiet or jumping out of it screaming, “Pick me! Pick Me!”, guess which one I am telling the teacher to ignore?

There are big battles and small battles and some battles you just don’t fight. Special needs have taught me how to better see the difference.

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4. Don’t Miss Out!

I know many families in the special needs world. Many on the Autism Spectrum. A lot of families think this diagnosis is an end-all to life as a family. Many do not leave the home…ever. Vacation – thing of the past. Trips – never going to happen. Movies – dream on!

When the word “Autism” came into our lives, our son was not talking, not potty-trained, screamed 90% of the time, was very hyperactive and threw tantrums that would make The Hulk look like a mouse. But, we made the choice early on to not let the diagnosis dictate our lives. We made the choice to hold our son to the same standards as any other child and not let his diagnosis be his crutch.

(I know I hit a nerve with some of you just now. I know there is a spectrum and big trips are hard. I know about Regressive Autism. I know first hand about the challenges of tantrums, non-verbals, and the complete difficulty it is to even get childcare for a couple hours of respite. I understand the reason some families choose to stay home. No judgment. It is just not what we chose.)

We chose to take our son out in public to things like museums, theme parks, and, yes, movies.

We did not do this without a plan. We made sure to follow all applicable guidance. But we did discover, that for our kiddo, the exposure helped with social situations, speech, and relationships.

We have a don’t miss out mentality that has served us well.

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5. Make Time

It is easy to forget to set time aside for yourself in a regular run-of-the-mill-under-the-radar kind of life. But add in multiple weekly doctors appointments in different cities on different days, school IEP’s, parent-teacher conferences and regular life of working full-time and it becomes really easy to forget about yourself and your family.

I don’t mean you forget your family. What I mean is that it is easy to forget to spend quality time with them.

We have learned that time apart each day whether in a workout, reading a book or playing a video game (yes, I said it) is essential to sanity!

We have learned that game nights, arts and crafts and reading together unite us beyond diagnosis and beyond the stress of the battle.

We have learned that date night does not always (and usually doesn’t need) a sitter. We enjoy a movie night in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We enjoy reading to each other. We enjoy sitting out in the hot tub and talking about life. None of these cost a lot of money. None of these require a baby sitter. And all are an essential investment in our marriage.

More to Life

So, does special needs mean a life of hard work? Yes! But whose life is not hard? Does it mean my life is different than most? Yes, but who wants a normal life? Does it mean I am to be “pitied?” No! If nothing else, I have been blessed beyond most. I have learned more than most. I have enjoyed life more than most.

Don’t let the diagnosis stop you from loving and living life. Don’t let a diagnosis of others scare you off from participating in their life. Don’t let the social understanding of special needs (which is highly lacking and often a misrepresentation) be your understanding of them. Be open. Be honest. Be willing. Your life will never be the same again.