Lesson 1: Why Don’t Students Study Effectively?

Welcome! Yay!! If you’ve clicked through to here, you must be SO READY to de-stressify school, for yourself (if you’re a student) or for students you know and love (if you’re a parent or educator. I’m glad you’re here.

In this lesson, I’m going to introduce you to:

  • The biggest reason students don’t study well (hint: it’s not because they’re “lazy”)
  • The story of how my teen clients helped me create a new model for studying
  • How I define the word “study” and the 3 keys to studying “strategically”

You can watch the video OR keep scrolling to read the text, depending on which you way you like to gobble up your learning. It should take you around 15 minutes.

At the end, you’ll find a link which will take you to the NEXT lesson.

In this lesson, I’m going to introduce you to:

  • The biggest reason students don’t study well (hint: it’s not because they’re “lazy”)
  • The story of how my teen clients (and some evidence-based brain theory) helped me create a new model for studying
  • How I define the word “study” and the 3 keys to studying “strategically”

At the end, you’ll find a link which will take you to the NEXT lesson.

Several years ago, I ran across this quote that struck me to my core:

“To me, doing schoolwork was like dying for a short time.”

The author was describing what schoolwork felt like to him when he was a boy, and it occurs to me that most students resonate with the feeling of “dying for a short time” when they do school work.
For so many students, school is overwhelming and stressful. Doing homework and studying is so boring, it’s hard for students to motivate themselves.

Parents and educators watch – often helplessly! – as students get sucked into a procrastination wormhole in frankly understandable attempts to stop feeling like they’re dying and to start feeling like they’re living!

Parents worry that for some students, work never gets done or turned in; others suffer through studying but test grades remain frustratingly low; yet others work overtime and get good grades but have no life.

For educators this can be frustrating, right?

“They’re just not studying enough,” I hear from countless teachers. “I’ve given them strategies for what to do to prepare for tests, but they’re just not doing it.” Or, “How are they supposed to do well on tests if they don’t do their homework? There’s nothing I can do to make them follow through.”

Some blame laziness. Some blame the contemporary distractions – social media, computer games, and more. In fact, students often blame themselves, too. “I’m just lazy” I often hear them say. Or “I’m just not good at school.”

There are countless factors that contribute to students’ struggles with school. I want to talk about one that I rarely hear anyone talk about.

Few people actually TEACH students HOW to study!

When I was a teacher I actually thought I was teaching students how to study.

As a middle school world history teacher, I taught all kinds of crazy strategies for studying – my kiddos could be seen drawing pictures of vocabulary words, creating skits with their friends that included important facts that might be on the history test, creating flashcards and re-writing their notes. My students knew how to prepare for my tests, but they usually couldn’t transfer those skills to other subject matter and classrooms.


When I became an academic life coach, I loved helping them identify their learning styles and then using this information to help them find fun, Anti-Boring study techniques that I hoped would be effective. Clients certainly felt more confident about their test preparation, but as I watched them hone their study processes, something seemed missing. Students still seemed to be spending too much time studying, with results that remained lackluster, while grades on tests did not improve as fast as I’d hoped.

This frustrated me to no end (and it frustrated my clients too!).

But what if I told you, there’s is a surprisingly simple formula based on brain science to help student, parents and teachers move from helpless and powerful?

See, it turns out that after I attended a few Learning and the Brain conferences as a new academic life coach — I started learning some basic brain facts that I had not been taught as a teacher. These facts changed my entire approach working with students.

I realized that there’s a surprisingly simple formula based on brain science that you can teach students —
and when they get it, they move from helpless to powerful!

And it’s this brain-based formula for how to STUDY STRATEGICALLY that I want to teach you today!

Before we get much further, though, let’s define a keyword. What does it mean to “Study”?

In my course the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying, I define studying as “the art of teaching yourself information and skills.”

I explain that studying is a DIFFERENT activity than  classroom learning or even homework.

Those are activities designed by the TEACHER to have you:

  • Practice something you have just learned, or
  • Begin learning something that the teacher is going to build on the next day.

Studying, on the other hand, is an activity designed by you, the student, with the purpose of:

  • Practicing or reviewing the skills and content your teacher is teaching, or
  • Checking your own learning, to see how well you’ve mastered the skills and content, so that you’re ready for an assessment.

Here’s the kicker: Although you are not in charge of the content or skills that are being taught, you are in charge of how you choose to study that content.

Distasteful as studying may be to you, it’s one of the only places in many schools and universities in which students are in charge of how they learn. That’s actually pretty cool.

Except…study time is wasted if we don’t teach students how to take advantage of this incredible opportunity!

Here’s the ugly truth about studying:

According to one of my favorite education thinkers, Daniel Willingham:

“Most students have never been taught how to study, and the strategies they devise on their own don’t work.

In other words, educators are complicit in the problem of student’s ineffective independent learning because we simply don’t teach students to study (on the scale that we could be, that is).

Most students have an empty toolbox when it comes to independent study tools.

Let’s face it — most EDUCATORS and PARENTS have an empty toolbox too. Or a toolbox with one or two tools in it.

Students, do you agree? Can you remember a time recently when anyone at a school taught you:

  1. the BRAIN SCIENCE behind effective studying,
  2. What EXACT TOOLS to use when studying to put that brain science into effective action, and
  3. HOW TO APPLY the tools so that they are most effective.

As I say this, I can imagine some of the teachers (and maybe even the parents out there!) are thinking,

“Hold up! I teach MY students to study.”

And this is true. MANY conscientious teachers provide students suggestions for how to prepare for tests.

For example, a few years ago I was talking to a new friend who is a teacher. He told me that he certainly teaches students to study. When I asked for examples, he said that he always always always teaches students Mnemonics as a fun way to learn difficult-to-memorize information.

For those of you who don’t know, Mnemonics are simple memory tricks that help you memorize stuff.

A common Mnemonic  is the phrase “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” which stands for the following order of operations in math: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiple, Divide, Add, and Subtract.

So yes — it’s true!

This friend teaches his students specific strategies for remembering information in his class. Other attentive teachers pass out study guides or ask students to create flashcards. Well meaning parents try to offer strategies that worked for them when they were in high school and college. All this is super helpful!

The problem is that students end up following those instructions passively, doing (or resisting!) what teachers and parents tell them, but….they don’t understand these three CRUCIAL things:

  1. WHY those strategies might work
  2. What CONDITIONS help them work, and
  3. What conditions get in the WAY of them working

For example, Mnemonics are a great study tool when you are struggling to remember key information

But if it’s the ONLY strategy you use for everything you have to learn, you’re going to be wasting time memorizing cute acronyms rather than actually learning the information and skills.

Do you see how this teacher actually wasn’t teaching his students the big picture of how to study?


It turns out that for my entire teaching and coaching career, I’d been making a similar mistake. Then, in 2013 I attended a conference that changed my life – and started completely transforming my students’ ability to study more strategically…and land the grades they were hoping for.

I learned a ton of complex brain science that explained EXACTLY how to study effectively and efficiently. As soon as I got back to my office, I began experimenting on my clients, teaching them what I’d learned in small, bite-size nuggets (that I now call “mini-lectures”), and applying it to their school work.

As I got better at communicating the brain science in simple ways, I watched students’  eyes light up with understanding.

It turns out that buried within all the complexity was a surprisingly simple formula that helped students (and parents! And teachers!) move from feeling helpless to powerful.

The Anti-Boring Approach and the 3-Step Study Cycle was born.

My student clients and I were able to make much more strategic, effective study plans because we followed my consolidation of tons of brain theory into 3 simple steps: The Study Cycle.

Grades started rising, and along with those grades, students’ confidence rose too.

In the next video, I’m actually going to teach you the study cycle EXACTLY how I teach it to my student clients.

  • If you are a student, you will be able to apply it immediately to rock your next test.
  • If you are a parent, you can watch this with your student and know exactly how to support your teen in studying effectively.
  • If you are an educator, I’ll follow up with an additional video just for you, so that you’ll get exact instructions for how to teach it in your next class, or tutoring or coaching session.

The 3 Step Study Cycle is the missing link that turns students from passive directions followers (memorizing a Mnemonic because their teacher told them to, for example) to active, agile learners (who know how to study smarter, not harder).

It’s based on cutting edge brain science, so you know you can trust it.

It’s simple, so you can remember it.

It’s straightforward, so it’s easy to teach and learn.

Okeydoke. I think it’s time we learn the Study Cycle already, don’t you think?

    Student Coaching

    Do you have a student in need of academic coaching? Click here to apply to work directly with Gretchen or one of her trained Academic Life Coaches. All coaching is virtual!


    Educator Training

    If you’re an educator or parent who wants to become an Academic Life Coach or wants to learn how to grow their own business, click here to learn all about Gretchen’s training programs.