Sharpening Teen Study Skills

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Dear Friends,

We hope this edition of the Homeschooling Thru High School newsletter finds you gearing up for a November filled with thanksgiving and joy. In the midst of homeschooling your high schooler and the busyness of your days, we encourage you to do a little extra math: count your many blessings! Remember that blessings come in the form of both joys and trials, but all are sent to increase our faith, boost our perseverance, and mold our character.

As you seek to provide a quality education to your teens, we suggest you include time to improve your teen's study skills. Many times, parents think that good study skills are naturally acquired, but that's often not the case. Study skills such as note-taking, outlining, pacing your time, organizing study materials and schoolwork, increasing reading speed, and maintaining motivation for studying are, for the majority of teens, learned skills that must be taught. The high school years--or earlier--provide an opportune time to polish up these areas of competency.



During the high school years, many of our teens are capable of independent study. Make the most of this ability by encouraging them to take notes on the material they are studying and discovering. As an instructor, you may not do much lecturing, but your teen will benefit from learning the finer points of note-taking. In the future, whether your teen is taking a college course, listening to a sales presentation, or interviewing a prospective real estate agent regarding the purchase of his or her first home; your teen's note-taking skills will come in handy. Some practical ways to give experience in this area are to have your teen take notes during the pastor's sermon each week, or while watching a speech given by a politician in person or on TV, or during those college visits that are coming up! All of these opportunities will enable your teen to organize data, discern important points, and perhaps even come up with personal shorthand symbols and words that speed up his intake of ideas.

Use of the computer can also enable your teen to quickly note important information, since teens can often type faster than they write. Having his notes transcribed will allow him to quickly save the information in an organized fashion. Those high schoolers planning to attend college will find that many students take a laptop to class to use for note-taking.

Although not every item relates to the one-on-one teaching used in homeschooling, the College Board provides helpful note-taking ideas if your teen is tackling an outside co-op, community college, or distance learning course. Also, Cornell's Note-taking Strategies gives additional tips.



Closely aligned with note-taking is the ability to outline. Use your teen's readings in courses such as science and history to provide practice for improving outlining proficiency. This skill is important not only to organize study materials, but it is also useful when brainstorming writing ideas or compiling research for a paper or project. For a good review of the components of an outline--why and how to create an outline--as well as samples of outlines, see these websites:

Also, most high school grammar books include a section on outlining, so you may want to spend several days reviewing this information with your teen.

Remember, when outlining as a form of note-taking, it's not necessary to adhere to a formal system. Instead, a method may be developed where there is a main point followed by bullets or dashes for subpoints. The main purpose to stress is getting information down in a systematic and understandable way.


Pacing Your Time

Have you ever thought of time management as a component of study skills? It is! Much of your teen's academic success during the high school years will be related to how well he can budget the hours in his day. (A recap of general time management skills was covered in a previous high school email newsletter.)

Implementing time management in studying course material will allow your student to comprehend and retain the material. It will also prevent the need to cram for tests or quizzes. Cramming may allow your teen to score well on the test, but it will not prove effective in maintaining a good base of knowledge for future use. So, encourage your teen to come up with a plan, which will allow her to be efficient in completing assignments, regularly reviewing her notes, and closing any gaps in the time set aside for studying. Practicing these skills during high school will cause them to become good habits, , to take with her after graduation.

School calendars and assignment books are tools that your teens can
use to keep on track in meeting deadlines. Whether it's reading the
passage for a lit discussion tomorrow, the essay due next week, the
science fair project due next month, or preparation for a college
entrance test next year, having a schedule will encourage him to
complete the work within the time he has set.


Organizing School Materials

As homeschoolers, your teens have the freedom to do math at the kitchen table, study history in the family room, read literature while relaxing in the bedroom, or conduct science experiments in the basement! While this flexibility is certainly an advantage of homeschooling, it can wreak havoc when trying to keep track of and organize school supplies and materials. Therefore, assist your teen in designing a central study placd that is conducive to learning. Stock it with supplies such as pencils, paper, rulers, calculators, and reference books (such as dictionaries, thesauruses, etc.--although these days the computer may take the place of these items) within easy reach. In addition, help your teen arrange his schoolwork neatly in binders.

Think about involving your teen in the record-keeping of his high school work. Have your teen set up a file system (either in hard copy form or on the computer) that lists materials used in a course, perhaps a log of hours, and a folder that includes major tests, quizzes, papers, or projects. During our high school homeschooling years, both of us had our teens do a lot of the necessary filing and record keeping. We found that keeping up with this on a daily or weekly basis is a better approach than saving all of the filing until the end of the school year!


Increasing Reading Speed

Increasing reading speed (while at the same time retaining and improving comprehension) is important because it saves your teen time. An increase in reading speed--not only for coursework, but for pleasure reading, newspaper reading and even reading to obtain facts such as perusing directions--can add time to your day. If your teen is college-bound, she will appreciate this skill when bombarded with reading assignments. Virginia Tech and the University of Texas websites offers free information related to increasing reading speed.

As an interesting project, your teen may want to take a free speed reading test. (Please know that we are not necessarily recommending a speed reading course or class, but merely want to provide you with information that will enable you to investigate this area further if you wish. A simple internet search of speed reading courses will generate many additional resources.)


Maintaining Motivation

Your teen will more easily maintain motivation in any task if he is organized in his approach to it. The same holds true for assignments and projects. Often the most difficult part of the assignment is getting started. So suggest that your teen take a large project and break it down into doable pieces which will make it easier to tackle and complete. As he begins to see progress, he will be motivated to move to the next section until all is finished.

Boredom can be kept at bay by interspersing smaller assignments with larger ones. Checking off an assignment gives a feeling of accomplishment. It's easy though to let those shorter assignments keep your teen from addressing the longer ones. Another way to keep interested in a task is to mix up the study methods used. Your teen may spend part of his time quietly studying, but then add some time to studying out loud as if he were instructing a class. If your teen is more visual, then using diagrams or drawings will help to keep her focused and interested. The College Board has some additional innovative ideas to consider.

We trust that the tips provided above will be useful to you and your teens. Study skills practiced become habits, and habits take time to develop. So, don't expect that all of these suggestions will be incorporated at once. However, teaching them over the course of the high school years ensures that your teens will be better prepared for their post-high-school pursuits.


To end the year next month, we want to encourage you by offering you suggestions in the December newsletter to combat fears, discouragement, and exhaustion during the Christmas season.

Studying to show ourselves approved to God (2 Tim. 2:15),
Becky Cooke & Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Coordinators


This resource is an article from the Homeschooling Thru  Highschool newsletter (11/5/2009), and is provided by the Home School Legal Defense Association as a service to the homeschooling community.

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