This article was written by a teen reporter from The Mash, a weekly publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
By Rachel Holderman Bartlett
As teens, it sometimes feels like the world is against us. It’s easy to believe your friends, family and teachers are going out of their way to make your life difficult. When you think a teacher is out to get you, it can feel like a personal attack.
Communication is key, says Jim English, an English teacher at Whitney Young in Chicago. Sometimes teachers say or do things that are taken the wrong way, but it can easily be resolved through a discussion.
“In all cases, I think the students are mistaken, and I would suggest they talk to the teacher,” English said. “And if they are too nervous talking to the teacher (by themselves), they should bring the counselor in.”
If a student doesn’t talk to the teacher or an administrator, they may be able talk to a fellow student who can help them get through the class.
Rick Cazzato, a junior at Bartlett, suggests building a bond with your teacher by breaking the ice with a joke. If you’re still wary of talking to a particular teacher, Cazzato suggests interacting with that teacher only during class when you’re surrounded by other students.
“Students could also ask questions during class to have a more friendlier atmosphere than having the fear of having an individual appointment to ask questions,” he said.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to get over whatever prevents you from doing your best in class.
“If students can’t fix it, they should ignore it and do their work,” English said, “because it’s that old cliché that nobody has to like you, and I guess that’s true.”
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Handwrite It On Paper
Instead of typing out your notes, write them down on paper for better retention. <a href="http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=177291" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that the act of holding a pen and creating shapes on paper sends feedback signals to the brain, leaving a "motor memory" which makes it easier to later recall the information. Typing or digitally recording did not have the same cognitive effect. So although it may take you longer, hand-writing notes could pay off in the long run.
Switch It Up
Moving locations can help refresh your studying when your mind starts to lag. If you've been studying in your room, try moving to the kitchen table or going to the library when you start to lose motivation. It can help bring a wandering mind back to the task at hand, and also potentially improve your memory of the material. "When the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/health/views/07mind.html?bl" target="_blank">psychologist Dr. Robert Bjork told the New York Times</a>.
Meditation has been shown to boost focus and improve test scores. A recent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mindfulness-testing-focus-reading-comprehension_n_2957146.html" target="_blank">University of California at Santa Barbara study </a>found that mindfulness meditation improved college students' testing ability, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/20/meditation-better-grades_n_3053719.html" target="_blank">another study</a> found that students who meditated before a lecture got better scores on a post-lecture quiz than students who didn't meditate. In the weeks leading up to your big exam, try sitting quietly and focusing on the breath for just five minutes twice a day, in the morning and evening, to improve focus and mental clarity.
Take A Breather
Studying for longer isn't always better: Studies have found that taking a <a href="http://www.csulb.edu/~thayer/SugarSnackVsWalk.pdf" target="_blank">10-minute walking break</a> can help improve your focus for up to two hours afterwards.
Giving yourself a practice test can be an effective way to ease pre-exam jitters and identify gaps in your knowledge. <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5975203/improve-your-learning-with-practice-tests-and-skip-less-effective-techniques-like-highlighting" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that active study methods, like taking practice tests, are more effective than other strategies, like highlighting or summarizing. With enough practice, you'll feel like an old pro by the time you sit down for your ACT or calc final.
Drink Lots Of Water
This is especially true if you've been relying on coffee or energy drinks, which can have a dehydrating effect, to get you through long study sessions. Even mild dehydration can <a href="http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v57/n2s/full/1601898a.html" target="_blank">impair cognitive functioning and mental performance</a> -- so make sure to keep a bottle of water next to you at all times when you're studying.
Cramming may seem like the best way to make sure you've got everything covered right before the exam, but it's actually counterproductive. Not only will you be exhausted the morning of exam, but your fatigued brain won't be able to recall information as well as if you were well-rested. Trust us: There's no quick fix. Start studying around a month before your exams, pace yourself, and get some sleep the night before.
Make It A Group Effort
Studying in a group can be helpful, if you choose the right group and stay focused on the material so that your studying doesn't veer off-course. Try limiting your group to three or four members (all of whom are serious about getting work done), appoint a group leader, and make an agenda of everything you need to get through and how much time each item will take.
Divide And Conquer
Not all exams are created equal, so don't feel the need to divide your studying equally between different subjects. Assess each exam in terms of difficulty and your own level of knowledge, and spend more time on the sections that you know will be more challenging for you.
Listen To Relaxing Music
Listening to soothing classical or instrumental music can help a wandering mind stay focused. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/jobs/how-music-can-improve-worker-productivity-workstation.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Research has found</a> that workers who listened to music completed their tasks more efficiently and came up with better ideas than those who didn't.