The Principal’s Office: Study tips and techniques that really work


Part 1 of 4

Trumpets, please! The annual back-to-campus, back-to-school columns are now behind us. School bells have rung across Long Island. It’s time for another tradition: namely, study tips, tricks and techniques that really work. This has always been one of the most popular series I’ve run; parents (and grandparents) tell me that they clip these columns and send them to their children (and grandchildren). I hope they will do it again this year.

For me, this information takes on added significance, with my granddaughter Rebecca beginning high school and her younger sister Kaylee entering second grade. I hope that our readers will find the 2017 edition of these helpful hints practical. And once again, I am presenting them in the form of one of my Top Ten lists.

Although these tips are geared for all grades and levels, kindergarten through college, I must underscore the fact that they are especially important for younger children. Habit formation is critical; bad habits are very hard to break. Establish study routines early on.

From this point on, I’m talking directly to students. But parents — you are encouraged to eavesdrop! These ten tips are presented from four different perspectives: parent, pupil, principal and professor. I’ve held all those roles. And I’ll sprinkle in some anecdotes to bring this material to life.

As I’ve said every year, I’m not asking you to study more; rather I’m asking you to study “better.” No, don’t study every conceivable minute; you’ll burn out. I’ve told the story of a college friend who did that; you’d find him reading a textbook even on the cafeteria line. During this series, I’ll be stressing how to balance work and play — how to manage time. In other words, make the most out of the time you do put in.

Before we get started, I want to share one observation. I’ve noted that student athletes are some of the highest achievers. No, not always, but usually. They learn how to manage, or I should say, juggle, time: classes, study time, games and practices. We’re going to learn from them. Let’s begin:

1. Find a pleasant workplace where you can study without distraction. Of course, a dedicated student desk is ideal, but not always practical. When I was in high school, my parents reserved a bridge table in the corner of our living room; that’s where I set up shop. In some families, it’s the kitchen table. That’s fine too, as long as it’s reserved for study time every day.

During one of my radio reports, I shared my less than auspicious start in finding that perfect place as a freshman at Cornell. The bed and floor didn’t work for obvious reasons. Nor did the dormitory or fraternity house. There were just too many distractions: the television, the refrigerator and my comfortable cot. Besides, there was always someone looking to “hang out” and practice enemy number one: avoidance.

So, I headed for the undergraduate library. But that was problematic as well. More socializing than studying was going on. As I said, this was the place to see and be seen. Yes, I would have liked to have “hung out” there — but little would have been accomplished. So, I made one of the better decisions I made during my college career. I moved across the way to the much quieter graduate library. There I found a study carrel (a desk with a shelf for books and papers above) next to a large picture window facing the main quadrangle. That became my study refuge for four years. And it worked.

In this series, I’ll be talking about the need to “lock a block” of uninterrupted study time each day or night. For me, it was 7:30 to 11, with a brief milkshake break in the middle. I did a few laps in the pool, hit the steam room and ended up at “my spot” at precisely 7:30. Whenever I return to campus, usually during the glorious fall season, I always stop by that spot in the library. It’s right where I left it, with one significant difference: There’s now a coffee shop in the library. What I would have given for that amenity back then!

2. Equally important are the necessary pieces of equipment: comfortable chair, adequate lighting and the necessary equipment (laptop, calculator, etc.) If you’re not comfortable, you’re going to look for every excuse to get up and take a break. For elementary, middle and high school students who are working at home, don’t forget some healthy snacks. I still remember how my mom had that bridge table set up for me so it was all systems go.

Two down, eight more tips to come in the next column.

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 Newsradio880. He is also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and an educational consultant for school districts around the country. Contact him at