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Supercharge Your Study Session

Study Tools and Tips for Teens and Kids


-Create a study space:

It is helpful to communicate to your brain that you are in study mode if you have a space that says study. Doing homework on your bed sends the brain mixed signals, but sitting at a desk or table with a light and a jar of pens primes the brain to be in the right frame of mind. If you don’t have space to have a desk or full set up, get creative. You can make a partition with a sheet to block off a part of your room temporarily. You can signal to your body a shift from living space to working space in other ways too. Putting on a specific jacket and hat when you study builds up an association in your brain so that when you do it repeatedly, your brain will shift modes more easily when you throw it on. You can get creative with ways to shift to get in the zone.

-Find a study space:

Sometimes there are too many convenient distractions at home. If you work in a library, on a park bench, or at coffee shop you may get more done. If you plan to do it right after school, you might avoid the temptation to skip the study space and just do it at home.


Some people study better with music or a familiar tv show on in the background, others find it too distracting. Know yourself.


People have different attention spans, but you can only focus for so long before you become far less effective. Taking a short break and coming back can actually make you more productive in the long run than powering through. People vary, so learn how you work, but an average for most people is 45min focus, 15min break. You might be less or more. Play with it to find what works best for you. Ideal breaks are different enough from what you are doing to shift out of working space, but not something that draws you in too much. Sitting at your desk scrolling on a phone doesn’t give your brain/body enough separation, and isn’t as effective as getting up and getting a glass of water, playing with a pet, or stretching.

Something the gets the blood pumping, or is sensory, like eating ice cubes or smelling fresh air, can increase focus for some.



The Pomodoro Technique is a way of scheduling blocks of break and study blocks. The structure may seem a little forced, but for many that actually leads to better outcomes after you get used to it. The body begins to anticipate the transitions, and flows more naturally between the two states. There are timers online, but you can also use a kitchen timer or your watch/phone. You can vary the length of the period, but a typical sequence is 25 min on task, followed by a 5 min break. You would take a longer 15min break every 2hrs.

Something that can also be helpful is youtube videos that have background music that have timers built in:



-If the teacher gives you sample essays or examples of other people’s work make sure you read them. It is often a teacher’s way of letting you know what they are looking for.


-Teachers often find subtle ways to help you out if you pay attention. They may use certain key words or phrases that will be helpful on tests. They often say them year after year, so it will sound different from their normal discussion/lecture if you can pick up on it. What it is differs for each teacher, so it can often be helpful to know them and how they talk, but generally your ears might perk up with certain words or phrases that seem very deliberate, specific, or emphasized. Sometimes they will slow down on those words, or repeat them in a set way multiple times. If you train your ears to be on the lookout, over time you will start to notice them. Sometimes it’s deliberate, other times it is just teaching the course so many times it is habit that they have to remember to say this one thing, that is more important than the rest of the lecture because it will be on the test and they need to make sure they say it.

If this is confusing to you, just imagine a situation where you have to remember to tell a friend something specific. When you think to tell them the thing, there might be a pause as you remember you need to say something and then you might say something that has been rehearsed. That pattern may be something you can learn to recognize.

In a similar way, it can be helpful to come to the right answer on multiple choice questions by getting in the mind of the person writing the questions. If I have to write a test question, I will have to come up with a correct answer and several wrong ones. I have a bunch to write, so I’m likely not going to want to spend too much time making them all equal. I might make one quick obviously wrong one, spend a little time trying to make one that is close to being right, but is not correct to fool some people. To make it just a little wrong, I’ll likely think of the right thing but change one part. So something might be flipped, or mostly right except for one term. This process of starting with a correct thing and flipping one part of it can leave a fingerprint. The word I choose could be more extreme, so if you see a sentence that seems like it might be correct but one word seems a little too much, that could be a flag. Words like always and never should raise a little flag in your brain to investigate. Once you develop the ability to notice signs of manipulation, they begin to become more obvious. Another flag could be when a specific word or term could be interpreted different ways, or is ambiguous. If I am creating a wrong answer, I might want to trip people up who read it in one way, where if a test taker sees the squishiness and thinks of the different interpretations they will know it is wrong because of that other meaning. Words like sometimes, usually, or other nebulous terms might be a flag to check more for these traps.

If you know the person writing the test, you will often get to know what strategies they often use. Some like to be tricky, others make it more clear if you do things in a certain way you will come to a specific result. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the person writing the answers, and see what tactics they might use to mislead or reveal critical parts. Another common trait is that longer answers are often the correct one if they require a lot of specific parts to be absolutely correct. Because there will be deliberately wrong answers that are close, often the correct answer needs to be worded very specifically. Otherwise you may end up having two answers that could both be right or wrong because they aren’t worded exactly. Overly specific answers sometimes require extra context, which makes the sentence(s) longer for that one. Don’t just always pick the longer sentence answer just because, but this can be a way to hone in on the right answer sooner.

I don’t see the above as cheating, because it can actually teach you more to be able to think like this. You develop a sense of knowing why things are correct or wrong, which can add another layer to the fact/information itself.



Most works should roughly follow a typical structure. Knowing that can help you get what you need from it more quickly and efficiently. Generally a piece of writing will start with an overview of a concept or make a claim, then there will be examples or explanations of why it is that way or why it matters, and then it will tie the concepts together or develop a point based on what came before.

‘This is a thing.’

‘This is a thing because of A.’

‘This is a thing because of B.’

‘This is a thing because of C.’

‘This is a thing because of A, B, and C, and therefore bam.’


More complex topics may stack these sets into larger sets that are nested, but follow a similar structure expanded out one level.

Some things are things, some things are not things.

Things that are things

‘This is a thing.’

‘This is a thing because of A.’

‘This is a thing because of B.’

‘This is a thing because of C.’

‘This is a thing because of A, B, and C, and therefore bam.’

Things that are NOT things

‘This is NOT a thing.’

‘This is NOT a thing because of A.’

‘This is NOT a thing because of B.’

‘This is NOT a thing because of C.’

‘This is NOT a thing because of A, B, and C, and therefore whoosh.’

So as you can see, sometimes things are things, and sometimes they are not things, so both and stuff.


The reason this is helpful to know is if you need examples to explain something, you know where you need to look. If you need an overview, or a conclusion, you also know where to look. This format has variations, and some works don’t do this, but if you are reading and you recognize it, you can make a mental note for later that may save you time.



You can use highlighters, tape flags/stickies, or underline important parts. If you underlined everything, though, it would be the opposite of helpful. So, logically, there is a sweet spot of enough to give you what you need, but not so much that it just becomes noise. That sweet spot will vary between people, and subjects. One way to modify that can be to use different colors for different types of information. It could be one color for super important, and another for generally good to know. You could just use different colors to make it more fun/interesting than a sea of black white and yellow.

For certain people, adding color or creativity can help, even just a little bit, to make it more interesting, which will make it stick a bit more or allow focus for longer. Doodling or making drawings as bullet points add some life to the process.


Study Sheet

The act of reading, highlighting, and then going back over to find key concepts to create a study guide can improve learning and retention. When your brain has to pull apart the material, pick out some and discard other bits, and then reassemble into a condensed form, that process builds more connections in your brain to the material, making it stick better, and giving more avenues to recall later. It may seem like an extra step that is not necessary, but making a study sheet/guide of the themes, facts, reason why they want me to know this, will cement it in your brain so much better than just reading and trying to remember.

For an extra boost, teach it to someone afterwards. There is a saying: Learn one, do one, teach one. Each of those uses different parts of your brain, and adds layers, because to be able to do it, you need to learn it, and to be able to teach it to someone else you need to understand it well enough to communicate it to someone else so they get it as well. If you don’t have a person, teaching it to a pet can still be helpful. The act of talking it out can reveal blind-spots to go back and learn more in those areas.



Making things more rich can give them more weight in your brain. Highlighting in different colors gives the memory another factor to make it more full. Reading aloud can be another way to add value as now not only are you visually reading it, but the part of your brain involved in speech is laying down links in the brain. Handwriting can be better than typing. Walking or pacing can be helpful for some people. You might be able to come up with other ways to put more spice on the learning to make it more appetizing to the mind. For really boring things, you could sing it. Use the melody of a song you like, or just talk in a sing song voice. Accents can be another modification to make it more fun.

Some people like mnemonics. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos is a way to remember the order of the planets. My (Mercury) Very (Venus) Educated (Earth) Mother (Mars) Just (Jupiter) Served (Saturn) Us (Uranus) Nachos (Neptune). This may not work for some, unless they find the specific one that works for them. Some will be more sticky for different people. If you come up with your own, that could be the thing that does it for you.


Sensory confusion

Our brains like shortcuts. You tie your shoes so fast you don’t think about the steps, but there was a time where it was harder for each of us. When the skill was new, our brains had to think about the steps one by one. Over time, it just became second nature. This can be helpful information if you are getting stuck, because sometimes you want to slow things down. For instance if you find you are having a hard time taking in information, you may have developed a pattern you aren’t aware of. Staring out the window when you start to get a little bored, repeated over time can make it become its own thing that just plays out automatically. If you notice you are getting in a rut, changing something up can put your brain back in that beginner’s mind space where it is forced to focus on the steps, rather than zooming through the process. Look for ways to change something up. It could be as small as wearing a pair of shoes you normally don’t. The physical sensation could be enough to make your brain have to pay more attention because it notices something is different, and can’t just go on autopilot. What to shake up, or how much will vary by person and situation. It could be studying in a new place, or writing with your non-dominant hand. Novelty could help it stick instead of just get washed away because the brain is on autopilot.

Flash cards can be a way to do both the study guide practice and the novelty tool. Because you will be flipping over cards as you guess answers, your brain can’t prepare for the order, and has to pay more attention in the moment, rather than guess what should come next.


Another tool is gamification. The idea is that tasks are boring, so we want to avoid them. Making them a game can give it that little extra interest to motivate. There are lots of different ways to do this. A low effort way is by calling them missions or quests instead of tasks. You can also think of yourself like a character. You might not want to do the dishes, but it might be easier to make the 4th level knight have to clean the inn keeper's dishes as a side quest. You could count to see if there are more forks or spoons as you go, with a condition that happens if there ends up being more forks.

There are apps that help, and plenty of examples. You can even create point systems and rewards for completing any kind of thing you want in your life.


This is a productivity tool. You can give it a task, and it can break it down into smaller tasks if you want: That can be helpful to have it not seem overwhelming by focusing on one small thing. It also has a thing that can help you word things to sound more formal, like if you need to communicate with a teacher. Other tools as well.

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