My son studies hard. He is in high school now and I am amazed at how much he has to learn. He is very motivated and spends hours taking notes and learning them. I ask him questions from his notes and he does very well. But then he gets to his tests and he makes the silliest mistakes, especially on multiple choice questions. In history, the choices could all be true or there is one best response. My son says he gets all mixed up. How can I help him? What I’m doing isn’t working.
Many students give in to the ideas that studying and learning are one in the same, but studying is the road and learning is the destination. Simply put: studying and learning are not the same thing.
All too many children study under the mistaken belief that by simply going through the motions, they have learned the content. Some may succeed in this haphazard manner, but, for most, it’s by no means certain that they have learned to use or apply the material the way their teachers consider acceptable.
The proper way to study is determined by the content to be learned and the competence the teacher expects the student to show. The content may be divided into three main categories: data, information and knowledge. It’s important for students to discern the differences between these so they can adjust their study “route” accordingly and study smart rather than just hard.
WHAT TO DO
Before your son can study effectively, he must know what he is studying FOR. Help him discern between data, information and knowledge and adjust his study techniques accordingly.
• Data - such as dates, names, places, titles, authors, math facts, parts of speech, etc. - are considered unchangeable and are expected to be learned and recalled exactly as presented. They are learned through methods that ensure accurate and speedy recall: Memorizing from visual stimuli, such as notes, listening to a tape recording and following along, or drilling the students until the “perfect” answer is mastered, as many parents do with spelling lists.
• Information is data summarized with interpretation added, or altered by new scientific findings. In many cases, information is sought through essay questions that require support for multiple views, such as, “Do you believe the theme of the poem is love or friendship? Justify your choice.”
Occasionally, teachers treat information as if it were data and search for the one “right” answer. For example, the major causes of the civil war are debatable, but certain teachers may phrase test questions to look for one particular cause. Learning for test taking in that classroom requires students to treat such information as factual data, even if they disagree. Armed with discernment, a student can know what to learn by rote and what to study from a perspective of multiple interpretations.
• Knowledge is a new thought developed by using the data and information at hand, plus any other associations or constructs we feel fit the situation. For example, an article may quote several economists who disagree about whether the market is bullish, and people should not fear investing or whether a downturn is predicted. A teacher may ask students to compare these conclusions using their own evaluative judgments.
Help your son assess which type of content is required in his different classes. Ask the teachers for copies of previous tests and analyze the format. Instead of studying from notes for every test, help your son learn to make his own practice tests that reflect both the content and the format the teacher expects.
By taking and grading his own practice test, he is learning the data, information or knowledge required and applying the material in a way his teachers consider acceptable.
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Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at email@example.com.