10 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Study

Study Skills, Study Tips, Teaching
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Are you having trouble finding motivation to study?  Are the old tried and true pieces of advice – think about your future!  You should do your best! – not resonating with you?  Do you find what you are doing in school to be pointless?  Do you know that you need to change your study habits, i.e. you just can’t make yourself sit down and do it?  Here are ten suggestions I have for getting yourself motivated to study. 

1. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  So often, we set ourselves up to fail by telling ourselves that we must do everything we can to get a perfect on the test or we may as well not even try.  Procrastination is sometimes a defense mechanism against  the possibility of failure – if you put things off, you’ll at least have an excuse as to why you didn’t succeed, whereas if you try and fail, you have no one to blame but yourself.  Don’t fall into this mindset.  Classes in school are very rarely pass and fail.  If you can put in 30 minutes and it can help you earn a B but it would take you 2 hours to earn an A, at least put in some time so that you can have a decent result. 

2. Studying doesn’t have to be miserable.  Ask yourself what you can do to make your studying experience more pleasant.  Do you like having music on in the background?  Is there a favorite food or beverage that you can reserve for study times?  Is there a relaxing place that you can go?  Figure out what is within your control to make the studying experience more tolerable. 

3. Schedule a clear beginning and end to your studying.  If you have a giant chunk of time when you will be “studying” but will spend most of your time being distracted, you won’t get much done at all.  Start with a clear beginning and a clear end to your studying and even though it seems like you won’t have enough time to finish things, you will be far more efficient and focused this way.    

4.  Ask for structure if you can’t get it from within.  If you know that you are unable to create a structured study plan for yourself, enlist the help of others to make it happen.  It’s just like having a personal trainer to help you get in shape!  Some ideas: 

  • Ask a teacher if you can come into their room to study so you won’t be distracted by others in study hall. 
  • Ask a friend or parent to hold your cell phone or video games for you until you get what you need done. 
  • Go to your parent’s place of work to get things done and then come home when you are ready to have fun.    

5.  Get the studying over with so you can enjoy uninterrupted fun.  Realize that you will enjoy watching TV, hanging out with your friends and playing video games much, much more if you do not have any homework or tests hanging over your head.  Don’t try to multitask by studying a little and having fun a little.  Focus 100% on studying and you will be much more efficient and effective.  Then you can focus 100% on enjoying yourself. 

6.  Get big picture perspective from others on how studying affects things long term.  If you talk to your classmates about studying, they will probably just enable you by telling you how little they care about studying as well.  Instead, gain valuable perspective and motivation by talking to those who are older than you.  Ask them what knowledge and skills they wish they had later in life.  What you will probably find is that they wish they would have learned the stuff that is much more difficult to learn later on:  math and science concepts, foreign languages, better writing and communication skills, etc.  If you chat with people who are further along life’s journey, they may help you see the path you should take. 

7.  Remember that you are learning SKILLS.  The actual content of what you learn will not be nearly as important as your ability to learn.  Will you have to compute the area of a circle every day of your professional life?  No, but you will have to do analytical problem solving.  Will you need to know the cultures and histories of different countries to make more money?  Probably not, but you will benefit from being able to put yourself in the shoes of others.  Does it really matter whether you have a good essay on a novel you read in English?  Long term, it probably won’t, but it will be extremely valuable to know how to communicate effectively.  Whenever you feel that what you are learning is pointless, realize that as long as you are learning how to think, read, write and problem solve, you are indeed preparing yourself for the future.      

8.  Surround yourself with good people.  If your friends keep you from achieving your goals and want to bring you down to their level, maybe it’s time to find some new friends.  It is very hard to overcome the influence of friends who will pressure you into not caring about things – they will make you feel like a nerd and an outcast if you care too much.  Keep your focus on your long-term goals and surround yourself with people who will help you become the best person you can be.   

9.  Use your boredom to find more efficient methods!  Look at being bored as a good thing!  If someone had not been bored at having to ride a horse from one town to another, we would have never bothered to invent canals, railroads and cars!  Use your laziness as motivation to find the most efficient method you can to learn what you need in the shortest time possible.  For example, if you can’t stand filling out a review sheet, make a study group with your friends and divide up the review sheet among yourselves and share the answers with one another.  If you hate learning flashcards, use a site like to make your own.  If you hate taking notes while you read, use a site like to supplement your understanding of the text.  Learning what works best for you will help you as you go on to college and professional life, because you will have much greater control over how you structure your studying. 

10.  Learn GRIT.  No matter what you do in life, there will be times when you need to do something that is not all that enjoyable to do.  The better that you can become mentally tough by having a great deal of personal grit,  they more likely you can overcome obstacles that stand in your way.  Grit is arguably one of the most important life skills that doing homework can teach you. 

I hope you found these ideas helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

When is it Better to Study in Groups or Study by Yourself?

High School, Study Skills, Study Tips, Teaching
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When does it make the most sense to study with your peers and on your own?  Here is what I have found to be most helpful for students:

  • If you are working on memorizing information, studying on your own is usually a better bet.  It is possible that you could be productive in working on memorization while in the company of your friends, but it is far more likely that you will become too easily distracted and end up wasting lots of time. 
  • If you are working on understanding concepts, studying with other people can be quite helpful.  Teachers who have taught the same topic many, many times may skip over problem solving steps that you don’t fully understand.  Tackling conceptual issues with your friends can help you (1) see each and every step of solving a problem and (2) be comfortable asking questions that you wouldn’t want to ask in front of a class of 25-30 students. 

Technology has made it possible to do a hybrid of individual and group that is extremely effective.  If you have a massive exam coming up for which your teacher has given you a review sheet, divide and conquer using google docs.  For example, if you have 4 friends with whom you are studying, divide the review sheet into fourths.  Then, each of you can write detailed summaries of your part of it and share it on google docs with the other people in your group.  You can find google docs here:

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks!

10 Great Study Resources to Prepare for Tests in School

High School, Study Skills, Study Tips, Teaching
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Here are 10 great places you can go to get extra help in studying for your upcoming tests in school: 

1.       Online Textbook Resources.  Virtually every major textbook has a companion website complete with practice quizzes, chapter summaries and multimedia learning tools.  Strangely, most teachers never have their students use these resources.  So, use them yourself!   Here are a couple of great examples:

If you can’t find the exact companion website for your particular textbook, make sure you have googled it.  If that fails, try to find a textbook that covers the same topic of your class, but actually has a good companion website that you can use. 

2.       Khan Academy.  Wonderful website that has inspired much of what we have created here.  Particularly with Math and Science, this can give you in-depth instruction on topics that are giving you difficulty:

3.       Youtube.   You will find tutorials on virtually any subject – when I taught high school, some of the “philosophy in 30 seconds” videos were remarkable in helping students quickly grasp a difficult concept.  Search for yourself:

4.       School Resources.  Your library may have access to fantastic subscription databases and study tools that you can use.  They probably paid hundreds or thousands  of dollars for these, so put them to use!  If your school library doesn’t have them, check with your public library.  For an article detailing some of the changes that school libraries have made, please see here:

5.  Past Tests.  Talk to your teacher about using past tests for practice, or try to borrow them from other students (without cheating of course!).  Using these will help you see how the teacher generally asks questions so that you will know how to focus your studying. 

6.  They have a great collection of subject notes, particularly for AP exams.  Great to use as a supplement to your textbook:

7.  Powerpoint Search.  There is no need for you to learn from a terrible powerpoint in class – there are PLENTY of powerpoints out there that you can use free of charge.  Simply go to google, type in term for which you want a powerpoint, and then type in “ filetype:ppt ”.  When I taught high school, I often used this to save time in making lecture notes for my classes.  

8.  College Help Sites for THEIR students, with writing especially.  Many top-notch colleges have compiled outstanding resources for their struggling students, and you can access them for yourself!  Here are two of my favorites:

9.  Ask students in same class at OTHER SCHOOLS to share what THEIR teacher has done.  If you are in an Advanced Placement or Honors Course, reach out to your friends who attend a school where the teacher of the same course you are in is doing a much better job than your teacher.  See what resources, notes and old tests you can check out from them. 

10.  Purchase the teacher editions and AP resources yourself.  As long as you are not cheating by looking at a test bank that you know a teacher is using to generate test questions, I see nothing wrong with supplementing your learning by acquiring the textbook teacher editions and resources for yourself.  If several of your peers are in a similar situation, pool your money and purchase the book together.  You can find the teacher editions for most any textbook on  If you would like access to teacher resources for AP courses, here is where you can find them:

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Why We Should Avoid Wordiness in our Writing

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Writing, College Application Essays, High School, SAT Essay, SAT Prep, SAT Writing, Study Tips, Teaching, Tutoring
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One of the worst habits that students develop in their high school classes is that of writing in a wordy fashion.   Students find that if they write longer and longer papers, their grades often get better and better.  They also discover that in classroom discussions and Socratic Seminars, the more they monopolize the discussion, the higher their “participation” grade.  Our grading system has a built-in tendency to inflate grades for those who inflate the length of what they create.    

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to ignore the length of a student’s response when evaluating it.  It is much easier to justify a higher grade for a student who has put in more time to write an extended response than someone who has created a relatively brief analysis.  Why?  You can say that “Johnny put in so much more work into writing his essay than you did because his essay is twice the length.”  When grading a massive stack of papers, the tendency to start “scanning” the papers rather than reading them super-carefully is a temptation to which quite a few teachers will succumb.  Not to scare any teachers, but I have known of a case where a student put swear words in the middle of his essay to see if his teacher would actually catch them.  The teacher did not, and the student shared this episode with all his friends, significantly damaging the teacher’s reputation. 

Both students and teachers can change the expectations of the school grading process if they are aware of 5 ways that wordy writing will cause problems on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, during the college admissions process, and in the workforce:

1.       You Won’t Develop Your Ideas on the SAT or ACT Essays.  The SAT only gives you two pages and 25 minutes for its essay, and the ACT only provides you 4 pages and 30 minutes.  If you are accustomed to writing in a wordy way, you will spend forever introducing your topic and not enough time developing your ideas and examples. 

2.       On the SAT and ACT Grammar Questions, You Will Consistently Pick the Wordy Answers.  Don’t get me wrong  – often, being more descriptive is exactly what is called for.  However, if you have it ingrained into your mind that the more you write, the better your writing is, you will pick the longest, most complex answers, even when they are not appropriate. 

3.       Your College Essays Will Be Pure Fluff.  When you write your Common Application Essay, you will be limited to 500 words.  If you are not used to packing a big punch in a short essay, you will not stand out among the thousands of applicants. 

4.       Job Applications.  For the foreseeable future, the job market will be extraordinarily competitive.  You will only have one chance to impress a potential employer with a fantastic cover letter.  It is critical that you are able to succinctly convey what makes you an incredible applicant. 

5.       Business Communications.  Whether in business meetings, conference calls or company-wide emails, no one wants to listen to someone blab on and on.  Your bosses and coworkers will respect you if they know that when you speak, you will immediately convey something of substance and value. 

So what can teachers and students do to avoid wordy writing?  First of all, if you are aware of a tendency to write wordily, that is half the battle.  You’ll recognize when you’re doing it and that will empower you to stop it.  Second, I would like to see more school assignments that require word maximums instead of word minimums.  Word minimums are the norm, and they encourage students to be verbose.  By requiring word maximums, students will learn to be more concise and precise in their writing, and teachers will be able to evaluate much more thoroughly since they won’t be overwhelmed with endless piles of grading.  This paradigm shift will help students do better on standardized tests, their college applications, and in the real world. 

I hope you found this piece helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart


12 Ways that Teachers Can Make Sure All Student Questions are Answered and Avoid Mock Participation

Teaching, Tutoring
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Is there such a thing as a stupid question?  As a professional educator, here are my two cents on this topic.  I believe there is no such thing as a stupid question – only a bad time or place to ask such a question.  What do I mean by this?  In a group setting, questions that can benefit the learning of the group as a whole, or at least some portion of the group, are perfectly fine.  Questions that only to pertain to one person’s personal situation are best asked at a later place and time.  The problem with classroom teaching is that it is very difficult to give students the opportunity to ask their “stupid questions” in a way that is emotionally safe for them.  The result is what we call “mock participation” – students pretend to learn when in fact they are understanding nothing.  As an educator in the private sector, if my students don’t learn, I will have no students.  I have had to find ways to be certain that my students are getting what I am teaching, and here are some ideas I’d like to share: 

1.  Happy/Sad Face Index Cards.  The idea is very simple.  Give every student an index card.  On one side, they draw a happy face, and on the other, they draw a sad face.  When you, as the instructor, need to see if students are understanding an explanation, simply ask students to “show their cards”!  Students are unable to see whether other students are having issues since the instructor is the only one who can see the face of the cards.  As a result, students will be comfortable sharing whether they understood a concept.  If you notice that many students don’t get something, take some time to go over the idea again.  If only one or two students are having trouble with it, chat with them at an appropriate time to address their individual concerns.   

2.  Teaching Assistant.  Last Spring I had my biggest class ever – 75 high school students.  I knew that there was no way I could answer all of their individual questions in order to provide a high quality instructional experience.  As a result, I hired a teaching assistant to go around the class to answer any individual questions.  This enabled me to keep the class moving along while ensuring that no student was left behind.  If you are a teacher in a regular classroom setting at a private or public school, recruit student volunteers to be student assistants to serve this role.  Any high-powered student who has a study hall during your class would likely be willing to help you with this.  My Mom, who teaches high school Spanish, has been able to find a student assistant for every one of her class periods.   

3.  Grade via Individual Conference.  Instead of simply giving students their graded essays back, I have found it far more effective to do mini-conferences with each student individually to go over their writing and address their issues and clarify my comments.  So many students simply take one look at their score and throw a graded essay away afterwards – by doing individual conferences, you can be certain that the students fully understand what they need to work on.  It is easy to do these individual conferences while another activity is taking place – a test or a video for example. 

4.  Social Media Interaction.  If you make yourself available to student via social media, they may feel much more comfortable asking questions.  Online discussion boards, twitter and moodle are great ways to do this.  Texting, phone calls and facebook are more problematic, since they may cross the boundaries between the proper student/teacher professional relationship.  You will want to see what your district policy is on this before you do anything. 

5.  Go around during class and ASK if they are getting it.  Instead of asking the class as a whole if something is clear, go around and ask each student individually.  It is remarkable how much more forthcoming students will be about their questions when you approach them this way.  Asking like this does not need to add several minutes on to a lesson – you can do it as another activity is taking place.    

6.  Ask “What Questions” instead of  “Any Questions”.  The way that we ask does so much to elicit solid student responses.  My wife, who is an occupational therapist, shared this idea with me; she has found it to be very effective in her interactions with special-needs students.  “What questions?” implies that the students should have questions.  “Any questions?” implies that the students should not have any questions, and they may feel much less reluctant to seek clarification as a result. 

7.  Plenty of Wait Time.  This is one of the most helpful general teaching strategies imaginable.  Allow a few seconds of time after you’ve asked students a question before you begin calling on kids or before you move onto covering the next concept.  Many students require more time to digest an idea before they can determine what questions they may have about it. 

8.  Praise those who ask good questions.  Foster a safe and welcoming environment for students by giving genuine praise to students who ask quality questions.  Never dismiss a student’s question as absurd – do your best to clarify and restate what the student is asking so that he or she may save face. 

9.  Allow time before and after class to answer questions.  Whether it is making yourself available in the five minutes between classes to answer student questions or conducting a voluntary study session for students before, during or after school, every little bit makes a difference. 

10.  Have them write down questions on index cards and you answer them in front of everyone without saying who asked what.  At the end of a major conceptual review, I find this to be a great way to determine what open-ended questions students still have.  An added bonus of this is that students tend to think of questions that other students also have, but didn’t think to ask! 

11.  Online Education.  Many critics of online education see it as a passive approach to learning in which students just mindlessly sit on their laptops viewing lectures.  The way I have crafted my practice section allows for considerable personalization in the learning process, despite the fact that it is online.  Students can work at their own pace and go over the video explanations to missed questions as many times as they need.  Online learning done right has the potential to give students who would never ask a question otherwise the anonymity they need in order to feel comfortable building on their weak areas.  You can see my questions & explanations here:

12.  Have the students get to know one another.  When I teach an ACT or SAT group class, it never fails to amaze me how quiet and reserved students are at the beginning of a class.  Why?  They don’t know one another and they don’t want to be the “idiot” who is asking stupid questions.  In a long-term class, if you can do icebreakers and create a safe, respectful learning environment, it will pay tremendous dividends throughout the school year. 

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends and colleagues.  Thanks!  –Brian Stewart

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