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The smart but scattered student

If you are parenting a bright but disorganized student, you may feel frustrated by this obstacle between your student’s potential and actual achievement. If you are disorganized, you may even feel hopeless. But no matter what their age, there is no reason to feel stuck. As organizing expert Donna Goldberg reminds: “If you and your child invest the time it takes to organize supplies, homework and a study schedule, you can create the structure that they need to succeed.”

Scattered students

Does your student need help in the area of organization? Donna outlines a snapshot of disorganization in The Organized Student (2007):

  1. Frequently loses papers.
    2. Doesn’t hand in assignments on time or at all.
    3. Has a backpack full of crumpled papers and random objects.
    4. Can’t break down long-term projects and misses deadlines.
    5. Leaves everything for the last minute.
    6. Disrupts home life with frantic searches, urgent requests for late-night help and anxiety-ridden meltdowns.

Organization’s payoff

It’s clear to most parents and students how disorganization leads to lower achievement and grades, but it is also worth noting what is to be immediately gained from investing the time to become organized. Author of Where’s My Stuff (2010), Samantha Moss, identifies five important reasons for adolescents to get organized:

  1. Score bonus time. “Getting organized frees you from this frenzy, leaving you more time for the luxurious things in life. Like sleep.”
    2. More cash. “One side effect of being disorganized is that things get ruined or lost all the time.”
    3. More chill. “Being surrounded by turmoil keeps your mind in permanent panic mode, with no chance to rest.”
    4. Improve relationships. “When serenity rules, there’s more time and energy for the people you care about - and when you’re more relaxed, they’re more relaxed, too.”
    5. Greater independence. “Earning your parent's trust will mean earning the right to make more decisions for yourself.”

Ten organization habits

You know the basics. Your child needs proper school supplies, a planner, a comfortable place to do work and study at home and a consistent study routine. Your student needs plenty of sleep and healthy foods. Beyond the obvious, educator Grace Fleming advises incorporating these ten habits into the daily routine to improve performance:

  1. Write down every assignment (due date, test date and task).
    2. Remember to bring homework to school (develop a habit of placing finished work in your backpack immediately).
    3. Communicate effectively with your teacher (ask lots of questions).
    4. Organize with color coding (a different color for each subject).
    5. Establish a study zone at home (a quiet room free of distractions).
    6. Prepare yourself for test days (think about the room’s temperature and choose the proper clothing).
    7. Know your dominant learning style (Visual? Auditory? Tactile?) and tap into your strengths.
    8. Take fabulous notes.
    9. Conquer procrastination.
    10. Take care of yourself (take better care of your mind and body).

Smart studying for tests

Grace also has advice for students to improve study habits:

  1. Don’t take linear notes. Instead, right before every new lecture, review notes from days past and predict the next day’s material. Reflect and make relationships between key concepts before you sit down for a new lecture. Prepare for your exams by creating a fill-in-the-blank test from your notes.
  2. Take practice exams. Instead of re-writing notes, switch your notes with a classmate and create a practice exam. Exchange practice exams to test each other. Repeat this process a few times until you are comfortable with the material.
  3. Go beyond flash cards. Just memorizing vocabulary words is not enough after middle school. Learn to memorize a definition, then define the significance of the new vocabulary terms you encounter.

    In Studying Smarter, Not Harder (2009) Kevin Paul discusses the inhibiting role of stress and anxiety upon studying and learning. Since daily life for most students includes stressors and numerous distractions, it is important to learn skills to calm themselves.

“Stress is normal but so is the receding of that stress so we can rest, relax and recover.” He suggests breathing and muscle relaxation to achieve a ‘relaxed alertness’ before attempting to learn anything new.

Michele has a husband, two children and a master’s in counseling. For more information, visit and


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