“I don’t understand it. She was all prepared. We went over all the questions. But
then she only got a C on the test.”
If you’ve encountered an experience like this despite your child’s regular study habits, you’re not
alone. It’s an unpleasant and disappointing situation, one that is encountered by many families.
Of course, if this is a rare occurrence, the low grade is not significant. It’s easy and appropriate
to dismiss the results with rational explanations such as “my child didn’t get enough sleep,” “she
was getting sick and should never have gone to school that day.” But when the “studying-low
grades” combination occurs regularly, there is a justifiable cause for concern. Poor grades are
always demoralizing. But when you’ve studied and still get those grades, you begin to question
your skills and abilities. Despite the best efforts of parents to provide reassurance, the children
“don’t buy it.” They are sure that if they were really smart, this never would have happened.
Ultimately, this starts to affect their self-esteem.
There can many possible reasons behind the behavior. One of the most common rests with the
study methods that are used with school material. Often they are based on what is termed “rote
learning”—in other words, memorization by repetition.
There are situations where rote skills are fine; in fact, desirable. For example imagine you are
doing simple mathematics and you are either not permitted, or do not have a calculator. In that
case, you really should know the facts “by heart.” It’s painful and inefficient if you have to
“figure out” each calculation.
But rote learning is automatic and unthinking. That’s its goal. You just want the answer and you
do not want to think about how you got there. For lots of material, that is not what you want.
Language and reading comprehension represent such material. Questions such as “who was the
main character …?”, “give three examples of …”, “what is the meaning of ….”
In studying for this type of content, you can often achieve good results by reworking the
Here are some study suggestions:
1. Preface the question with a statement that sets up a fuller, clearer context.
For example, in asking about the main character you might say, “This story was about someone
being very brave. That was certainly true of the main character. Who was the main character?”
2. Restate the question in a different form.
For example, in restating the main character, you might say, “one of the persons was the most
important? Who was it?”
3. Ensure that your child answers in full sentences.
Often, it’s possible to answer –correctly–with a word or phrase. But more attention and focus are
required if you have to answer in a full sentence. Commonly, when faced with having to produce
full sentences, a child will use the words of the question. (e.g., “Ben was the main character in
the story.”) That’s fine—but when that happens, it can be productive for you to move on to the
4. Take the sentence your child has used and reformulate it so that the idea has some
different words and a. different organization.
For the Ben example, you might construct the sentence, “The story focused on Ben.” Then you
offer only the beginning part of the sentence you have come up with (e.g., “The story focused
on..”) and wait for your child to complete it. Once the fill in has been provided, you then say,
“Now tell me the whole thing.” At this point, your child is repeating the new, full sentence that
It takes a bit of time to get accustomed to these techniques. But once you do, they actually cut
down study time. Even more importantly, they can yield powerful results where success, not
failure, becomes the name of the game.
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