Study Skills: How to Get the Most from Middle School

study skills


Irony being that anyone who actually watched Boy Meets World hasn't been in middle school for a long time

As a parent, you can’t help but notice that middle school brings a lot of changes. Students enter as kids, and leave as teenagers. They get taller, smarter, and socially savvier; in New York they often start riding the subway alone. But middle school isn’t just a social and physical transformation—it’s also an important academic one.

How so? Parents know that elementary school is the place to build fundamentals, and high school is the place to prepare for college, but with so much to worry about—Common Core or college applications anyone?—it’s easy to forget about what happens in between. But middle school matters for one very important reason: it’s where your child learns to be a student.

Learning How to Learn

Middle school teaches many different subjects, but the most important lessons are not about the what, but the how: how to take notes, and how to study. Students come to middle school with varying degrees of experience with both, but they’ll quickly need to be able to take comprehensive notes in class, and to know how to use those notes later to study for longer tests on significantly more complex material. This is where they take all of the basic math skills of elementary school to learn multi-step algebra, or learn to write in-class essays for English and history tests.

The consequence of this jump from simple to complex material, from short to long tests, is that students need a new set of study skills—but almost no one teaches them. My middle school students frequently confess that while they tell they’re parents they’re studying, they don’t actually know how to study, because no one has ever taught them what that means. Even if they think that they’re prepared, they’re often using the same strategies they used in elementary school, which are no longer enough. Is your child studying, feeling prepared, and then still struggling on homework and tests? This misunderstanding of how to study may explain why.

Middle School in New York City

Middle school academics are particularly important in New York City, where students must navigate a confusing application process to get into high school. Your student’s middle school grades and New York State test scores impact regular public high school admissions, as well as his or her ability to study for the tests for admission to specialized public or private schools (with the SHSAT or SSAT/ISEE, respectively). Writing skills in and out of class are also an important part of high school admissions: public high schools like Beacon, Bard, and Millennium ask students to write essays both in an application and/or on the spot, and private schools have essays on both applications and tests.

How to Study

So what should you tell your middle school student about how to study? Here are some important tips to get started:

1) Be Active

Be an active reader! In other words, don’t just read the book. If your main study strategy is to read over your notes and/or the book, you don’t actually know if you’re retaining the information. To be active, underline, take margin notes, and write summaries! Even if your teacher doesn’t ask for one, you can create your own study guide for big tests—the act of creating it is what will help you.

2) Practice

Reading your notes isn’t enough—you also want to be sure you can do the work again on your own. It is very easy to read through a math problem and think you know what to do, but the only want to make sure you know why you did every step is to do it again by yourself!
Math & science: redo old quiz or test problems, and example problems from class. Cover up the answers and see if you can do the problems on your own. If you get stuck, you can check the solution from your class notes and see where you went wrong.
English and history: Many teachers give potential essay questions ahead of time. If your teacher doesn’t give you any, see if you can come up with the biggest questions yourself! Once you have some questions, think about how you would answer them. Practice making quick outlines on your own, which will help with both these specific essay questions and brainstorming on the spot.

Middle school students also need help building subject-specific study skills, and note-taking skills. If your middle school student needs help any of these skills, homework, or tests, contact Cambridge Coaching. We have expert middle school tutors in New York, Boston, or online!

Sign up for a free Study Skills Consultation!

Claire graduated with a BA in History and minor in Mathematics from Barnard College, where she won the the Ellen Davis Goldwater prize for excellence in History. Currently, she is a Graduate Writing Fellow at Barnard.


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