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How to Be a Smart Student

Four Parts:Setting Yourself Up for SuccessStaying on Top Every DayAcing Tests and ProjectsBeing an Ideal Student

It's easy to fall behind in school whether you're smart or not – it's a lot of work! To be a smart student – a student who knows how to study and how to succeed – you've got to start from day one. With the right studying tactics and a few tricks up your sleeve, this student will be you.

Part 1
Setting Yourself Up for Success

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    Organize all your school materials. Whether it's two weeks before school or two weeks before school ends, organize your materials. This means your folders, your binders, all your papers, and everything you need for every class. Being organized makes the actual work so much easier. Here are a few ideas:
    • Buy small binders for every class. On the inner flap, put the syllabus. Then start organizing your homework and the sheets your teacher gives you in chronological order, if possible.
    • Keep specific materials you need (markers, scissors, etc.) organized by class. Every binder should have a pen and a highlighter, too.
    • Throw some stuff out! If your locker looks like a paper hurricane just hit it, clean it out! The less stuff you have to sort through to get to what you want, the more time you save to do other, more important, things.
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    Make yourself a "study space." You know how they say never to work in bed? That's because if you work in bed, it suddenly becomes a place for work and not for sleep – we associate activities with where we do them. To take advantage of this, make a place at home just for studying. When you get there, your mind will go into the studying zone automatically, because it's the only association it has with that place.
    • Have you ever heard of context-dependent memory? That's when your memory finds it easier to recall things in the place where it learned them.[1] So if you study there one night, studying there the next will make it easier to recall what you studied before!
    • If you can, have more than one study space – the library, at a friend's house, etc. Research says that the more places you study, the more connections your brain has and the easier it is to remember the facts you study.[2]
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    Get your textbooks early. Most teachers (from 6th grade to college) will supply you with a list of books needed for the year before the school year starts, or at least at the very beginning. Get this list and get on getting your textbooks. Then, ruffle through them and get familiar with how they're set up. Start reading the first chapters as soon as possible, whether it's assigned or not.
    • If your teacher doesn't give you this list, ask! He or she will be very impressed with the initiative you took and how seriously you're taking their class. You may become a favorite!
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    Ask about supplementary readings, too. Your teacher probably has a book or two he or she didn't put on the list, but almost did. This book can make for good supplemental reading, which will help you understand whatever it is you're studying and give you a fuller picture.
    • This is true for everything from math to history to art. There's always more reading you can do to wrap your mind around a topic, regardless of what it is.
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    Talk to your teachers about what they're looking for. Start a conversation with your teachers about their class. What do they emphasize (participation, originality, reading, etc.)? What will make it easiest to succeed? Do they do extra credit? Do they do a lot of group work? Will there be a lot of writing in class? Knowing these things can help you understand what's expected of you.
    • This also establishes a relationship with your teacher from early on. You'll be the one who cares about their grade and is trying their best. When grading time rolls around and you're at an A- on the edge of an A, your teacher may give you the benefit of the doubt because you're a good student and bump you up to an A!

Part 2
Staying on Top Every Day

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    Make note-taking fun and memorable. If you're writing down every single word your teacher says, A) you're going to get so bored and B) you're going to have far too many notes to go over at home. Instead, stick to the important stuff and make it fun! Here are a few ideas:
    • Turn sentences into charts or pictures. Germany in 1941 was 60% Jewish? Turn it into a pie chart. It'll be easier to see in your notes, too.
    • Use mnemonics to help you remember. What are the colors of the rainbow? Why, Roy G. Biv of course! (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain)
    • Use highlighters. The more color your notes have, the more fun they'll be to read. Develop a color-coding system to help you find stuff quicker, too.
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    Do the reading the night before. Most students seem to either not do the readings at all or sort of skim them during class while the teacher is talking about them. Don't be that student! Whether it seems important or not, always do the reading before class. In class you'll know exactly what's going on for when your teacher ends up calling your name.
    • If you don't know what the reading was, look at your syllabus. There's a reason it should be in the front flap of your binder – it should have listed every piece of homework or reading and when it's going to be talked about. A quick look at that piece of paper and you'll know exactly what to do.
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    Don't put off your homework! If you want to actually understand your homework, do it thoroughly, and get the best grade on it possible, you can't do it on the ride to school the morning of. When you get home that night, sit down and get it over with. Then you can go watch TV, play video games, and not worry about it the next morning.
    • If you have a long time to do a certain piece of homework, that means it's probably bigger than usual and important. Do a bit each day after you get it – that way the work is spread out and you don't feel swamped.
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    Go to class every day – and pay attention, too. Lots of teachers give points just for showing up. Why give those points up when all you have to do is walk in the door? But beyond that, lots of teachers give participation points, too. Raise your hand even if you don't know the answer – your teacher will appreciate you trying your hardest.
    • Besides, if the teacher thinks you're not paying attention, she might ask you a question and you might not know how to answer because you have not been paying attention! The less you embarrass yourself, the better!
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    Set yourself goals. Everybody needs something to work towards. If you don't have goals, you won't know what it is you want to get done. To motivate yourself, make concrete goals you can reach for. Straight As? An hour of studying each night? X number of pages read throughout the week? They can be whatever you think would keep you going.
    • Talk to your parents about how they can help or reward you. If you get all straight As, could you get that video game you've been hoping for? Extended curfew? You need all the motivation you can get!
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    Get a tutor if need be. School is hard, especially when you have other things to balance in your life, too. Sometimes even smart kids need a tutor. Talk to your teacher, counselor, or parents about getting a tutor to help you get awesome grades and focus. Sometimes older students do it for their school credit for free, too.
    • You can also ask your older siblings or parents to help you, too, if they're good at a certain subject. Just make sure they wouldn't distract you and can actually help you get work done.

Part 3
Acing Tests and Projects

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    Work in a study group. Studies have shown that students that work in groups of 3-4 (no more) get better test results than those who study alone or in large groups.[3] So grab 2-3 friends and make plans for studying. It'll be more fun than studying alone, anyway!
    • Make sure the people you're studying with are good students that care. You don't want to be working with a few people who just want to mess around during your "study group" time.
    • Have everyone bring snacks and think of a few things to talk about. Make a rough schedule of what you're going to cover and delegate a person as that week's group leader, so they can help keep everyone on track.
    • If it's a Friday night and you have a test in a class on the following Monday, gather up 2-3 of your friends that are in your class and quiz each other. If a person gets a correct answer, then they get 2 points, if they get a wrong answer, they get 1 point taken away. Whoever gets the most points at the end of the study session get to pick a movie to watch!
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    Start studying or working well beforehand. Whether it's a big test or project, the last thing you want is to have to do it all in the 1 or 2 days before its due. Start on it a week or two beforehand to make sure you have plenty of time in case things were to go wrong. Better safe than sorry!
    • When it comes to tests, you should be studying a little bit every day about a week or so beforehand. The more days you spend studying, the more times your brain has to recall it, making the connections in your brain stronger and more reliable.
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    Ask about extra credit. Some teachers have great extra credit policies, where you can do a little extra work that can get tacked onto your test or project score. If you're looking for a little extra nudge in the right direction, talk to your teacher about doing extra credit. It can't hurt!
    • And other times this extra credit will just be tacked onto your year-end score. That's good, too! With extra-credit, you really can't go wrong.
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    Don't bother cramming! The verdict is in: cramming for tests makes your scores worse.[4] Why? Your brain can't function on little to no sleep, making it impossible to remember what you've studied all night for. So don't do it! You can study a bit in the morning if you absolutely have to.
    • Your body needs sleep (7-9 hours, depending on your specific preferences). A lot of being a good student is about taking care of yourself, too! So skip the cramming, go to sleep, and eat a healthy breakfast. Studies show eating a good breakfast can power your brain and get you better grades, too![5]
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    Take breaks more often than you think. If you want to learn something, it makes sense to think, "study, study, and study some more until you have it down." In actuality, that's not how it works – our brains literally fry. If you take breaks (10 minutes every hour), your attention and memory is improved.[6] So when you're studying for that big exam, take breaks! You'll actually be doing your grades a favor!
    • During your break, grab a handful of blueberries, nuts, broccoli, or even dark chocolate for a brain boost.[7] Snacking can give you more energy if you're feeling a little fatigued, too.
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    Keep your materials with you wherever you go. You know those 10 minutes you spent today waiting for the bus? The few minutes you had before each class yesterday? Those are all little opportunities you could be using to study. And it all adds up! So keep materials like flashcards with you that you can bust out at any given time.
    • This is especially good if you have a friend with you during this time you can study with. You can each give each other a few flash cards and quiz each other. When you're reading and talking about the information, it becomes more solidified in your mind.

Part 4
Being an Ideal Student

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    Volunteer in your free time. To be a "smart" student, that means you'll be smart about college and your resume, too! In today's day and age, you've got to have it all, and a great way to do that is to volunteer. It shows prospective colleges and employers that you're not only smart, but you're a good person, too! Here's a few places to consider:
    • Hospitals
    • Nursing homes
    • Homeless, battered women's, or children's shelters
    • Animal shelters
    • Soup kitchens
    • Churches
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    Participate in athletics and drama, music, or art. On top of having great grades and volunteering, the ideal student is involved in extra-curriculars – both athletics and drama, music or art. This shows that you're well-balanced and can do it all. Most kids can't!
    • No one said you had to be good at these things. If you're a star basketball player, take an art class or try out for the school play. If you're in the school choir and can't throw a ball to save your life, try out for the soccer team. It's only for a season!
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    Join a group or club. On top of everything else, consider joining a group or club that speaks to something you care about. Does your school have an environmental club? LGTBAU group? A creative writer's group? Join! This shows you take an active part in your school when it comes to things you care about.
    • What's more, these are some of the easiest organizations to find leadership roles. Saying you're the "president' of something is pretty impressive!
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    Take different kinds of classes. Not only does taking different kinds of classes show the world that you have many interests and are good at lots of things, it's a load off on you, too! Imagine taking 8 math classes and nothing else – you'd be pretty fried. So mix it up with your core classes like English and math, and then add in some interesting ones like history or robotics, and some fun ones, like cooking or woodshop, too.
    • If your school doesn't have a class you want to take, a lot of schools have partnership programs where you can take the class at a different school or local community college. And if you're in high school, you may even be able to get college credit!
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    If your school doesn't have an activity, start it! Plenty of small schools (and some large ones) are lacking in certain activities. Either the funding has been cut or the draw just wasn't there before. If you see a hole in your school's extra-curricular offerings that could be filled, talk to your principal about starting something. The fact that you started an entire organization on your own is incredibly impressive! Here are a few ideas:
    • A school-wide recycling program
    • A thespian, chess, or writer's club
    • LGTBAU group
    • Pre-SAT or ACT study organization
    • Technology club
    • Whatever you can think of!


  • If you think you have some extra time in your hand, don't waste it. Study ahead so you know what's going on in class.
  • Before studying, do meditation to keep a free mind.
  • If you're really struggling in a certain subject, get a tutor!
  • Don't forget to rest for a while between study time.
  • Don't get distracted in class. Keep Focus.
  • If you didn't understand anything just ask your parents or teacher.


  • Don't give out answers when having a quiz or an exam.
  • Don't cheat.

Article Info

Categories: Learning Techniques and Student Skills