Deanna Kim is an educational therapist at Summit Center Walnut Creek and at the Athenian School in Danville, where she coaches students in executive functioning to improve T.O.P. skills (Time Management, Organization, and Planning). Deanna is offering a Summit Center webinar on Time Management on August 30. Register Here If you would like more in-depth and personalized coaching with Deanna, please call (925) 939-7500 or email to schedule an appointment.

Have you ever crammed the day before seeing a dental hygienist? Most people dread going to the dentist’s office. I was not the exception. Two days before the cleaning, I would start having flashbacks of poking and prodding. I would floss multiple times, hoping that my dental hygienist would not notice that I did not floss every day. To no avail, my poor dental habits were discovered five minutes after the cleaning started. I would walk out of the dental office with a lecture in my ears and a bad taste in my mouth, vowing to floss every day from now on.

Most students would agree on the importance of studying for tests. No matter how creative you are and how high your IQ is, I have never met one single student who had stellar performance on tests at school consistently. These tests are not meant to reflect your creativity or intelligence. In fact, it is about how well you are prepared for the particular test. It is more about your academic habits and self-discipline.

So why do many students find studying so difficult even though they see the value of studying to be a successful student? Have you said one of these regretful remarks like “Only if the teacher gave me more advance notice…”, “I wish I had studied a little more…” or “I know exactly where the information is.”

Studying is challenging because of its intangible nature. It is not like a project we produce or a homework worksheet we turn in to the teacher. It also lacks immediate feedback. No one notices that you have studied three times this week and gives you points for that. Plus, people assume that we should automatically know how to study if we are a student. At most schools, this skill has not been explicitly taught to students.

Going back to my flossing story, now I get a compliment after the cleaning that I am an excellent patient. How did this happen? It did not happen just over night. It did not happen by myself. Well, I met a new dental hygienist, Mike. He did not just give me a guilt trip about flossing every day. He took the time to explain to me what flossing does to my gums and that it is more than just getting the food scraps out — which I rarely get because of the structure of my teeth. He helped me find the best floss and also scheduled one extra session of cleaning each year to help keep me accountable. Now Mike likes to joke that if every patient has dental habits like me that dental offices would go out of business because no one would get cavities or gum problems.

Here are five tips on how to refine your current study habits:

1. Make the study session a part of your life’s routine. I tried flossing at 9 o’clock every day. But this failed even with an alarm. Decide on an associating cue that will remind you about the study session rather than a specific time. It will be more likely to happen if it is paired up with another activity. For example, studying before starting on homework or right after dinner might be a better plan than studying at 8 o’clock.

2. Keep your goal intentional and intense. Don’t start out studying for every single class when you are used to cramming the night before the test. Identify one subject that you struggle with the most and study every day even if it is for 10 minutes. Your brain will get a chance to consolidate the information in the long term memory if it is spread out 10 minutes a day for five days instead of one fifty minute session.

3. Log in every study session and treat it like an appointment. If you intended for a 10 minute session, honor the appointment and stop when the timer beeps. A timer can help you if you struggle with task initiation. Logging in how long and what you studied for will give you valuable information when you analyze whether the amount of studying time is enough for a particular test and whether you had effective study sessions.

4. Begin with the expressive mode before receptive. When you try writing the new vocabulary words for Spanish class or a paragraph for an in-class essay on World War II for history class, you’ll realize how much you do not know. This will guide you to which part of the notes you need to read more.

5. Recruit a cheerleader who can keep you motivated and accountable. One of my students enjoys having a study session with her dad on Sunday night for one of the five sessions. She gets to “teach” him about mitosis. Having a cheerleader brings in the element of fun and it could turn into bonding time with your family member.

You can try with one of the tips or all five. I would love to hear your feedback and success stories on your upgraded study habits. Having sophisticated study habits not only boosts your test scores but reduces unnecessary stress and test anxiety. Plus, you will be proud of yourself for adding another great habit to your habit box.