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What exactly are study skills? If your child has struggled in school, “study skills” is likely a catch phrase that has been bandied about by well-meaning teachers and administrators but not always fully explained. Simply, study skills are a collection of techniques that children can use to become more successful in school and, ultimately, in life. Best of all, study skills can be learned.

How? First, your child needs to get organized. For some children, organization is intuitive or quickly learned from the adults in their lives. For others—those who lose completed homework in the depths of a chaotic locker or repeatedly forget upcoming assignments—getting organized appears overwhelming.

How can parents help? Establish a daily routine for your child. And set up a dedicated work area where supplies are close at hand. These first steps can make a dramatic difference for students who have a hard time getting started.

Creating a work system is also a key component. Whether it’s a three-ring binder for homework, a calendar for upcoming tests, or a computer system with steps spelled out for projects, the system that works best is the system that fits your child.

Next, time management needs to be improved. How many of us have a child who chronically runs late, consistently underestimates the amount of time needed for everything from getting ready in the morning to walking home from a friend’s house, or who takes on so many projects or activities that they are all completed hastily—if at all?

How can parents help? Improving time management means learning two important skills: setting goals and planning ahead. Have your child set a goal, such as handing in a report one day early for extra credit. Then, help your child plan to reach this goal. Ask your child, how much work needs to be done each night to complete the task? And what happens if you have another commitment during the allotted time? Then, help your child build in fail-safe steps to avoid the all too familiar nine-o’clock-the-night-before-the-project-is-due wail: “But I need it tomorrow!”

Setting up a calendar is another easy way to keep track of goals. And posting the calendar in a highly visible spot stops procrastinators from “forgetting” about upcoming deadlines.

Finally, specialized study skills—such as effective note-taking, how to write an outline, style strategies, and reading for meaning—can all be incredibly helpful, especially as your child reaches increasingly challenging middle school-, high school-, and college-level work.

If your child is still struggling in school after improved organization and time management skills, your child should be taught very specific strategies:

• Test preparation—Well in advance of a big test, first determine the type of test (short answer, multiple choice, essay) and the material the test will cover.
Next, take steps to prepare a nightly review of outlines or notes or the formation of a study group. In addition, practice tests will help not only to develop a plan of action but also to determine how much time is needed for each question. Finally, eliminate test-taking anxiety with relaxation and visualization techniques.

• Mnemonic devices—phrases or rhymes used as a memory tool—can help students remember common lists or the order of things. An example is “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally,” which stands for the correct order that operations are taken to solve a math problem: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction.

• Graphic organizers are the perfect study tools for the visual learner. The visual display is basically a map that depicts the relationships between facts, terms, or ideas. Graphic organizers are also sometimes referred to as knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, or concept diagrams.

At the time this article was printed, Beverly Stewart, MEd, was the president and director of Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, Inc.

This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the July–September 2014 issue of the Autism DelawareSM quarterly newsletter, The Sun.

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