Category Archives: Tools for student success

3 Tips for studying for finals

1. Start early

Most kids like to wait to the last minutes and cram everything in at the last moment. Current research shows that the best way to learn something is to review the material multiple times over the course of a week or two rather than all at once for many hours. So rather than planning one 3-hours study session for history, it’s more effective to set up three 1-hour sessions over the course of a week.

2. Mix it up

It’s good for the brain to review material and then practice it in random order so that you learn how to recognize the problem and pick the best solution. If you are using flashcards, mix up the order. If you are using study guides, review the information randomly rather than chronologically or the order of the guide. Also, it’s good to mix up subjects as well: rather than focusing for four hours on one topic, spend an hour each on four different topics.

3. Test yourself frequently

Rereading notes might help you familiarize yourself with material, but it doesn’t help you to retrieve that information from your brain when you need it on the test. The most effective way to learn material is to test yourself. You can do this by re-reading a section of your notes and then putting the material away and either summarizing what you reviewed outloud or writing it on a piece of paper. You can also ask friends or family to quiz you or ask you to explain what you are learning. Flashcards are also a great way to test yourself.

Another great way to learn is to apply the information you are learning to something you already know. This can be in the form of a metaphor or connecting something about the subject to something that is already familiar to you.

3a. Get Sleep (Should be #1)

Sleep is when the brain processes and prunes the information needed for the next day’s exam. It’s a necessary part of the learning process.

Teenagers need between 8-9 hours of sleep and while they are biologically drawn to going to bed after 11, during and before finals it’s key to make sure that they are getting to bed earlier than normal.

Want to learn more about what helps people learn?

Listen to this 13-minute podcast interview of Peter Brown, author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Listen to this 60-minute podcast on the “Science of Smart” to learn more about how the benefits of bilingual education, how tests are powerful learns for learning and how variation is the key to deeper learning.

Learning how to learn

I’m about to start Coursera’s “Learning How to Learn“4-week course. Already I’m excited. The introductory reading featured an excerpt from Barbara Oakley‘s A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) on the Top 10 Rules of Good (and Bad) Studying. As a seasoned educator, Barbara is spot on with her recommendations.

Here are the top 3 and if you want to see the rest check it out here.

1. Use recall. After you read a page, look away and recall the main ideas. Highlight very little, and never highlight anything you haven’t put in your mind first by recalling. Try recalling main ideas when you are walking to class or in a different room from where you originally learned it. An ability to recall—to generate the ideas from inside yourself—is one of the key indicators of good learning.

2. Test yourself. On everything. All the time. Flash cards are your friend. [This aligns with American RadioWork’s recent podcast on the “Science of Smart.”]

3. Chunk your problems. Chunking is understanding and practicing with a problem solution so that it can all come to mind in a flash. After you solve a problem, rehearse it. Make sure you can solve it cold—every step. Pretend it’s a song and learn to play it over and over again in your mind, so the information combines into one smooth chunk you can pull up whenever you want.


Set up a homework folder to keep track of daily assignments

For students who have trouble remembering what they have for homework and/or to turn in their completed work, I recommend a very simple tool: the homework folder. The homework folder is the single place a student uses to store what then need to complete (“TO DO”) and what they need to turn in (“TO TURN IN”).

Set up is easy. Buy a bright colored folder with two pockets*. Label one side “To Do” and the other “To turn in.” (I also including your child’s name on the folder in case it’s left somewhere.) Remind your child this folder goes with them to every class!

By putting all homework in one spot this helps minimize the number of places your student needs to look to find what they need to do and what they need to turn in.  The students I work with find this to be the simpliest and most effective tool for staying on top of their assignments and turning them in.

*Some students like to buy an accordian file so they can have one folder/subject.

Planner is “command center of a student’s life”

In case you missed it, there was a great article in the NYT focusing on back-to-school organization. 

My favorite excerpt:

The command center of a student’s academic life is the planbook. Kids need one place to record all their assignments, deadlines, appointments and checklists. Some schools provide customized planbooks, but if your child’s school does not, purchase one. Kids need to have everything in one location, and, I promise, this will save you from innumerable headaches a month from now. Besides, the act of writing assignments down can be a powerful memory enhancer, and most kids need all the help they can get in that department.

Providing students with the right tools to help them stay organized and help them manage their lives contributes to their long term success in high school and beyond. I just got an email from a customer whose son is starting at Caltech.  She wrote, “He couldn’t have made it [though high school] without your planner.”

The portable desk


I’m a huge fan of the what I’ve coined as the “portable desk.” Most kids don’t really like to work at a desk so having an easy way to bring the contents of a desk to any place in the house – the kitchen table, the sofa, the floor, etc – is key to making sure your kids have what they need to get their work done, no matter where they are working. And the best thing about a portable desk is that when your kids are done, they can load everything back in it and your kitchen table is cleared for breakfast the next morning.

Think of the portable desk as vehicle for transporting everything your kid needs get work done  – pens, pencils, erasers, ruler, tape, glue stick, post-its, highlighters, colored pencils or pens, a hole punch, stapler and extra binder and graph paper to and from a work space. I recommend the Snapware Snap ‘N Stack Portable Organizer, 14.1″x10.5″x3.7″ Rectangle found on Amazon or at Target. What I like about this particular container is that is has two different compartments. You can use the top for storing pens and supplies and the bottom for paper. And the handle makes it easy to move to and from one study space to another.


Designing for students

Organizing and prioritizing can be two of the most challenging tasks faced by today’s teenagers. A teenager who masters these skills is well on their way to achieve success both in school and in life. My goal is to offer students the tools and the tricks that will get them there.

In the course of developing ClassTracker® Planners, I recognized that there were many gaps in what students needed to help them become better organized and what they were being offered in the marketplace. Most books on this topic were, in fact, written for parents. I visualized ClassTracker as an opportunity for me to create a calendaring system for students that is not only approachable and interesting for teens but also works in consort with their individual/specific classes and scheduling.

Books geared towards high school success have traditionally been written more like textbooks, rather than designed for a teen reader. In Make the Grade, I worked with the publisher to develop both content and a design that will have great appeal to a teen reader, peppering the book with short sidebars filled with digestible quick tips. I share strategies about how to learn and make the most out of school, including how to manage stress, set goals, and how to learn how to study. In Where’s My Stuff, we went further, describing tips and tricks for organizing school stuff, managing time and activities and setting up your room by engaging the students with graphics, quizzes and step-by-step directions.


Tools to help students succeed

When I started tutoring I realized that students had to be masters of time management, organization and self-advocacy skills to keep up with the demands of seven different classes, extra-curricular activities and family life. Through each of these experiences, I increasingly recognized the ways in which I could help students unlock their potential for success.

I drew upon these collective experiences and expertise I had developed to create something that could benefit students beyond my classroom or my private tutoring sessions. I wanted to develop educational products, informed by what I learned from working with students in these contexts, to share with students far and wide. Much of my tutoring focused on helping students to develop better time management skills. I realized they needed a better tool than what the schools were providing them. Specifically, the planners that the students used to record and manage their homework did not reflect the way that students viewed their days. Using my graphic design background (I worked as a production artist right out of college) and lots of student input, I created the first prototype of a ClassTracker customized planner and I gave to one to each of my clients. Seven years and many prototypes later, ClassTracker planners are now distributed by schools to over 7,500 students in the Bay Area.

Since not all students are provided ClassTrackers, I wanted to find a way to offer students and their families to create their own customized planner. At My ClassTracker™, Students design their own planner by selecting a weekly layout that best matches their own school’s schedule, adding in important dates and birthdays and choosing a cover design.