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Understanding Study Styles and the Strategies that go with it

To determine your teens study style and the strategies to go with it chat to your teen about the following factors. Each teen’s style and strategies will be unique. By going through the following factors you can come up with the most appropriate way for your teen to tackle exam time and any other studying process.

Environment: Get your teen to describe their perfect learning environment.

Do they need a quiet environment with very little distraction or intrusions? Do they prefer quiet music or people milling around in the background. This is important to understand what they need prior to getting going. Perhaps a little brother or sister constantly comes in to talk or wants to play and your teen feels bad telling them to get out. Maybe your teen doesn’t like the isolation that comes with studying and would like to near to everyone but not interacted with directly. Perhaps they prefer sitting on the floor with cushions or a desk and proper chair. As parents you can help your teen to create the environment that is comfortable and conducive for learning.

Tools:Find out what tools your teen needs or what tools may make studying a bit more interesting and exciting.

Each teen needs a different set of tools to study.

The biggests difference is seen between boys and girls but will also depend on their learning style; visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Coloured pens, giant pieces of paper, even a glass door can be very useful when it comes to studying. Who wouldn’t want to have a try at writing on a big glass door with some white board markers? Maybe they need some kinesthetic tools such as a stress ball or fidget cube. Some people need a physical stimulus to help the brain engage with the material. This may involve pacing around the house repeating terms or dates or gently bouncing on a pilates ball. When we have the right tools we feel better prepared to take on a task. If a mechanic did not have his tool box it would be quite difficult to get the job done.

Support: What kind of support does your teen need?

When I was studying I liked to cover what I needed to cover and then ask my mom to test me on a specific topic or section. Some teens prefer to get it on their own while others need moral support throughout the process. Again, depending on their learning style, the type of support they need will vary. For the auditory learner they may need to have discussions and tell stories or have someone tell them the information. A visual learner may be fine on their own but take up all the wall space in the house with giant mind maps and time lines. Sometimes all it takes is checking in every so often to offer a cup of tea or a snack for them to feel supported. You are their cheerleader and ring side support. When you see fatigue kicking in, invite them for a walk or make something nutritious to eat. It takes effort and depending on the level of support needed by your teen it may be time consuming. You may not always be able to be there but when you can, be there wholeheartedly because it really matters.

Planning: Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now – Alan Laken

Planning is key! Without a plan of action it is easy to run into time management problems or feel lost in the process. Just like you would plan a family vacation; you know where you will fill up or take a break to stretch your legs, and you know how long it will take to get to your destination as well as, how strenuous the trip may by. The process of studying for exams should be planned as well; exam preparation.

In advance have a calm conversation with your teen about the how much work is needed this conversation is not meant to be an interrogation but rather a way to help find out what your teen needs and to show them that you are invested in helping them find the best way to tackle this stressful time. Asking them the following will be helpful:

  • Which subjects are the most demanding?

  • Which ones they feel most competent at and those which require a lot more effort? (Find out how long they feel they can dedicate to certain subjects. When your teen struggles with a subject or is disinterested etc it may be better to use shorter study intervals. Whereas, a subject they enjoy they may be able to sustain at for longer.)

  • Which subjects are content heavy and require deeper understanding vs. those that require short factual knowledge such as scientific names.

  • Find out whether they need any extra help or extra lessons with any subjects before crunch time happens.

When it comes to a study plan, I have found that each learner is different. Recently a student told me that the plan his mother had made for him was too overwhelming. She had made him a monthly plan with long hours of studying per day. He could barely look at it without starting to panic. We settled on a weekly plan and he chose 30 minute intervals with a 10 minute break. This student has ADHD, studying for hours at a time was highly unlikely.

Consider the following:

  • Would they prefer to do a day by day, weekly or monthly plan?

  • What is a reasonable amount of time to dedicate to studying before having a break (consider that the average human can only concentrate optimally for approximately 45 mins. As I rule of thumb I normally work with sets of 45 min increments with 15 min breaks).

  • Breaks must be breaks. Even if it is 15 mins of t.v or a walk, snack time. Your teen needs to move away from their work for 15 mins. The allows the brain to integrate what has been learnt before starting to fill up again.

  • Decide when the longer breaks will be. After three 45 min sessions? A longer break would be an hour or so for lunch or maybe an extra mural. Going for tea and cake at the local deli quickly or watching an episode of your favourite series.

  • Studying should never be started directly after a school day. The mind is saturated and fatigued. There is no room to shove more stuff in.

  • Be gentle with the weekends. Often the intention is to use those available hours as much as possible. This can lead to frustration, burnout and resentment. There are valuable hours yes, but let your teen also decide what feels manageable. They should still be included in family social events etc. unless they have otherwise chosen not too. Weekends are still for down time so dedicate some time for some serious self care.

  • When frustration, fatigue, anger, or tears start to creep in. STOP! Walk away and come back later when the emotion has had a chance to settle. Allow your teen to talk through what is bothering them or have a quick nap. Studying is unlikely to be successful when emotions are running high and fatigue is playing a role. Our brains can only do so much and if we keep pushing them we are wasting time and mental effort that can be best used elsewhere.

  • The schedule CAN change. Life is unpredictable. Perhaps it is a bad day, emotions are high and things are overwhelming. Perhaps your teen is ill or their baby cousin was born. Allow for flexibility and let your teen decide when and how it would be best to make up the time. Worrying about ‘messing’ up the schedule will only add to anxiety.

  • Finally, Set reasonable expectations. If you were travelling to Namibia, it would be unreasonable and place a lot of pressure on everyone to expect to be there in a day. Discuss with your teen what they aim to achieve for each subject, what is reasonable and attainable. What would they be happy with getting at the end of the day. Not what is expected in comparison to their friend or what they teacher wants. For example, if your teen is getting 50% for their second language, to get 80% may be a tad unreasonable. Anything over and above what they feel is appropriate for them is amazing!!

Discussing all of the above with your teen and helping them to come up with a plan that works for them will help them to feel empowered and more willing to tackle the exam period. They will feel more in control of the process resulting in less anxiety and stress. Creating a plan WITH them instead of for them also allows for your teen to be accountable for their studying and the subsequent outcome. We all want our teens to be responsible and successful.