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Student’s Don’t Know What They Don’t Know – And It Causes Stress

As high school gets more serious and college admissions become more competitive, it’s not a surprise that there’s an increasing prevalence of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, among high school students. In fact, new research has found that students in high performing schools have the same risk for serious mental illness as students growing up in poverty, foster care, or with an incarcerated parent. 

A well known study found that students— regardless of their ability levels— are terrible at estimating their own capabilities. This lack of self-awareness, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, undoubtedly leads to lots of undue stress. 

Top students slightly underestimate their knowledge and tend to overstudy. Meanwhile, less capable students wildly overestimate their knowledge and tend to understudy by quite a large margin.

Because “over studying” tends to produce good results, students don’t realize they are doing it. Highly capable students are losing countless hours of sleep, taking time from hobbies or other things that they enjoy, for no good reason.

On the contrary, less capable students tend to overestimate their abilities; they take tests and think they did well. Then, they get their score back and they’re surprised. They felt good when studying, so they don’t know what they did wrong. Even worse, they don’t know how to prepare for the next one.

On both sides of the spectrum, the results are the same. High performing students feel immense pressure and stress; low performing students have low self-esteem. Both can lead to unhappiness. 

How can we get students to better understand their abilities? How can we show students how to develop healthy study habits that will lead to long term success? Learning how to study is an important skills a student can develop, but it often gets glossed over in the classroom. 

For students on either side of the spectrum, academic coaching can be helpful in preparing students for college level classes. That said, we’ve also put together a short list of tips so students can maximize the effectiveness of their studying, while minimizing stress!

  1. Space out your studying- starting to study a week before a test instead of the night before can really reduce the stress you feel. Not only that, but spacing out, or chunking, the material ensures information is stored into your long-term memory instead of your short term memory.
  2. Ask your teacher to provide you with practice tests or practice problems. Take these like they are true assessments (phone away, no googling), but leave ample time to thoroughly review missed questions. 
  3. Create checklists and calendars for your studying plans. Make sure they detail everything you must have memorized prior to the exam. Convert the material into flashcards, Quizlets, or Cornell-style notes! Read, re-read and re-write anything that needs to be memorized. Have a friend or parent quiz you (this is even better than Quizlet, because it can hold you accountable!).
  4. Take time to reflect on your grades when you get them back. How long did you study? How did you feel about the material when you were preparing? Did you get the grade you expected? What do you think you could have done differently? Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to sit down with you to discuss the best method to prepare and get her feedback on what you might be doing wrong.

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