The Principal’s Office

Study tips, tricks and techniques that really work


Three of four parts

In this installment, we’ll look at five more helpful hints — study tips, tricks, and techniques that really work. As I keep saying, they really do work! I said at the beginning that I’m not asking students to study more; rather, I’m asking them to study better — by making the best possible use of the time that they do put in. Let me repeat that I’m talking directly to students of all ages and grades. But I’m encouraging parents (and grandparents) to listen in and pass these pointers along to their children (and grandchildren). 

6. Rewrite class notes, even if only occasionally. I tried this in college for every course, every day. That didn’t last very long; I just couldn’t keep up — so I gave up. That was a big mistake on my part. Do it, even if only occasionally. For example, after a very complicated lecture, it will prove helpful down the road. I remember trying to reread the class notes I had taken several weeks before prior to a big exam. They looked like hieroglyphics; I could make little sense out of them.

I’ll use a concrete example to make the point: In my Radio-TV-Film class at Hofstra, I know by now that the session on the “Business of Broadcasting” is one of the most complex and technical as the students learn how money changes hands. I urge them to review and rewrite those notes as soon as they can after class.

There are, however, two compromise positions. One is to reread the notes and highlight the salient points. The other is to reread the notes and make comments in red ink in the margins. Neither of these is as effective as rewriting them — but both are satisfactory back-off positions.

7. I’ve observed a major disconnect between high school and college. Even in the twelfth grade, most high school students are used to overnight assignments due the next day. College is very different. Most professors, myself included, hand out a course outline on the first day of class. Often, the first major project or assignment isn’t due for several weeks. This gives students a false sense of security. I still remember what happened in my freshman dorms. Students coasted for the first few weeks and then were overwhelmed when several major exams or projects were due all at once. 

Not always accustomed to such long-range assignments, students will benefit from purchasing a large calendar to place over their desks or a daily planner, which they can carry with them. All due dates should be entered in red. Entering this information will provide a constant reminder of what deadlines are coming up.

8. Develop a routine. This is, perhaps, the most important advice I can give. For younger children, this is particularly critical. As I’ve already said, habit formation is the key; bad habits are hard to break. For elementary and middle school children, homework must begin immediately after school. Unless there are scheduled activities, this rule must be adhered to. Play dates, television, telephones and technology all come later. Parents have told me that this could turn into a battle royale. Stick to your guns! To repeat: habit formation. 

Just as important is the bedtime regimen. A cooldown period before lights-out is a great idea. Reading together serves two purposes: First, it’s calming; second, it promotes a love of reading. And avoid morning mayhem by organizing books and clothing the night before. Panic sets in when a matching shoe or required permission slip can’t be found.

It’s a bit different for middle and high school students; many have afterschool activities (sports and clubs), so their time has to be managed carefully. In the next column, I’ll detail how those hours can be budgeted. For now, I’ll repeat the observation I made previously: Student athletes seem to be some of the highest achievers; they learn how to “juggle” class time, studying, practices, and games. We can learn a great deal from them.

9. Plan the order in which you study subjects. It was my father who taught me this trick — and it served me well. I’ve mentioned “locking a block” of uninterrupted study time. Now go one step further and subdivide that period into time slots of 30 to 45 minutes. Plan the order in which you’ll tackle each assignment. Just when you run out of steam in one subject, go to the next. Don’t do two reading assignments in a row; separate them. Here’s what a typical study schedule would look like: English – reading a novel; Math – solving problems; Social Studies – reading a text and answering questions; Science – completing a lab report; World Language – memorizing vocabulary and idioms. Try this approach.  It works.

The tenth and final tip next time. It’s probably the most important!

Dr. Steven Kussin was a high school principal for 21 years. You can hear his “CBS on Education” reports three times a day weekdays on WCBS Newsradio 880. He is also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and an educational consultant for school districts around the country.  Contact him at

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