Maria Yagoda

For students, going to class is the easy part. Retaining the information they learn, especially around test time, can be more challenging. Now we know that many students are going at it wrong.

Reviewing course notes is the most popular study approach (in a Student Health 101 survey, 80 percent of respondents said they do this). But research shows this doesn’t necessarily work—unless they’re reviewing those notes the right way.

Fortunately, a vast field of science devoted to memory and retaining information has given us more effective strategies for academic success. The best learning methods are active, such as taking practice tests, sketching diagrams, and asking oneself questions about the material. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables seems to help, and good sleep is important for the consolidation of all that information.

Have your student try these research-backed study methods for improving cognitive performance:

  • Ask themselves questions about the material.
  • Sketch out diagrams and flowcharts.
  • Use flashcards.
  • Take frequent practice tests.
  • Avoid cramming.
  • Switch up their studying location.
  • Eat veggies and nutritious food.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Practice a musical instrument.

How you can help your student perform at their best

You may not be able to take their exams for them (nor would you want to), but you can help them be in the best position to perform well. Here’s how.

  • Help your student eat a balanced diet: Cook simple, high-fiber meals with them, keep nutritious snacks handy, and help them pack healthy lunches.
  • REM sleep is crucial for solidifying memory. For better sleep, encourage your student to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
  • Regular exercise boosts cognitive function. Send your student out on errands—without car keys.
  • Make sure your student has a quiet and comfortable place to study, preferably at a table or desk. (Beds should only be used for sleeping and relaxing.)