Making the Grade: Study Habits

Good study habits

EPISODE 143 SEASON 4 | As homeschoolers, the idea of cramming for a test may be slightly foreign but as your student grows and contemplates college or a form of higher education you want them to have the strongest skill set available to help them succeed. Part of that skill set needs to be studying. But how to study without cramming? How can you help your student best retain all the information your student needs without stressing about their grade?

Find out some tips and techniques your student can use to create positive study habits on this episode of Homeschool Your Way. Listen in as Janna is joined by Mark Pruitt, creator of Making the Grade as they discuss all things related to studying and being successful academically.

ABOUT OUR GUEST | Mark Pruitt (aka: Captain College) is Assoc. Director of Admissions for Harding University and has been on a college campus for over twenty years. Mark developed a study strategy that helped him earn 95% or higher in every college class! Being super successful in school does not have to be hard, so let Mark - the author and producer of the college prep curriculum Making the Grade - help you become a student of Excellence so you can master the material quickly and effectively, have a ton of fun, and enjoy the best years of your life! 

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Podcast Transcript

Janna  00:00 Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookShark’s Community Manager. In this episode, I'm joined by Mark Pruitt. He is the Associate Director of Admissions at Harding University and the author and producer of Making the Grade. We're going to be talking about how you as a homeschool family can set your students up for success and preparation for college. Mark, thanks so much for being here. 

Mark  00:26 Hey, thank you, Janna. It's my pleasure.

Janna  00:30 Let's jump right in what is Making the Grade and why did you decide to create it?

Mark  00:35 Well, when I was in school years ago, back in the 1900s, you know, I was in schooling. And when I came to college, no one taught us how to study I never learned in high school. Basically, in high school, all I did was stay up late the night before, cram everything in, and take the test the next day. And a lot of times, I got an A on that test. But that's, that's what I did. And that's all I knew. So when I went off to college, I stayed up super late every night, super late, probably two or three in the morning, just trying to get things done. I didn't use my time very well. And I mean, I still got decent grades. But if you were to give me the exact same test, just one week later, I'd have to do all that cramming all over again, because I never truly learned the material effectively. But my junior year, here at Harding University, I was taking a class called International Relations. And in that class, the professor offered 1000 points total. And if you got to a 900 to 1000, you got an A if you got what was it 800 to 899, you got a B, 700 to 799, you got to a C and those are the typical, you know, 70% 80% 90% grading scale, which is fine. But when the dust settled at the end of that final exam in that class, my score was just one point from an A. And I thought, oh, frustrating, I was so mad at myself, I was mad at the professor, I was just frustrated all over the place. And I went home over Christmas break just fuming thinking, we were close and I realized an A- versus a B is not the end of the world. But being so frustrated, I thought, man, things gotta change. 

And so when I came back over Christmas break, I was super motivated, I thought man, things are gonna be different this semester, I'm gonna go to class, I always went to class. So that wasn't anything different. But I thought you know what, I'm going to start taking better notes. And I'm going to start getting to my reading assignments a little bit sooner, instead of waiting till the night before, I'm gonna get to them sooner. And so I started trying to, you know, a new scenario, I tried a little bit of this,  a little bit of that, those little things along the way, that early in that semester. And I got a little system going. And when I got to my first test of that spring semester, I was nervous, but I got an A on that test. And I got to my second test that semester, and I got another A. And when I got to my third test that semester, I was saying Bring it on, buddy, I'm gonna blow this baby out of the water. I did end up getting a 95% or higher in all my harder classes and even got 107% in my business law class. And it's not like I got super smart over Christmas break, I just learned how to do things a little bit differently. And it's not like you have to be super smart to do well in school. But you do have to use your time just a little bit differently. And that little system I developed was called The Four Study Steps, four steps that I simply did every single day. And it made a world of difference. And I love taking tests. And because I was extremely prepared. And I like I said nobody teaches this stuff. And so I thought you know what, I wonder since this isn't taught in college or high school, maybe I can help some other students get some success in their education. 

And so that's what started Making the Grade so I wrote the book. And then after the book got started, I got invited to speak at several different places. I actually went to several homeschool conventions. There was one in Kansas City that I went to and after my my little session, this mom came up to me she said, ‘Mark, That was great. Can you come to my house and talk to my son? And we kind of laughed a little bit and then she goes well do you have a DVD? And I said well no, but that's a good idea. So I got a DVD, got several videos on there. And then a couple of years later, I got in touch with some homeschool moms. And we sat down and we and they helped me develop the Making the Grade college prep course, it was just 10 days. It's just about an hour a day, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. So it's not a whole semester it’s 10 days that can change their academic future forever. And it teaches students how to take notes, how to read their textbooks and articles, effectively, how to write papers, how to use time strategically, and a bunch of other stuff. But that's got me excited to see, hey, I want to help other people not have to go through the same learning curve that the rest of us had to go through. And that's what started Making the Grade. So I'm pretty excited about it.

Janna  05:54 Well, we can definitely feel your passion for the Four Steps that you created all those years ago, I will say when I was in college, I would see everyone scrambling. And I would be like, What are you guys doing? And they're like, Well, we're for cramming, and I was like, they're like, and they were confused. They were like Janna, why you can't be with us? And I said, because if I don't know what by now I shouldn't pass the test anyways. 

Yeah, but I was a homeschooler. And so my perspective, and my education prior to going to college were completely different. Now, I'm not saying I aced the test, by any means I certainly could have used this program. But I do like the premise that it's not about getting it right so that you can make you know that you're getting a grade, it's actually processing the information in a way that your learning and your output match that knowledge. 

Mark  06:45 Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, Janna because it's exactly right. This is not how to get an A in a course. This is about learning the classroom materials. So effectively, you can't help but get an A right? And there's a huge difference. It's not just to how to get an A but it's learning the material. So effectively. And that's that's the the crux of the matter. And I'm glad you brought that up. 

Janna  07:09  I think a lot of parents whether they themselves went to college, and even for those of us who have it's changed drastically in the decades that we have been removed from it. And this whole push to learn. For the love of learning, right? Are homeschooling families really wanting to see their children just have a passion for knowledge and go deeper and go further? And so sometimes I would say even as I had my girls, they're getting ready to finish up high school. They've been doing some college courses. I don't think I knew what to teach them to look for, you know, I was just happy they liked to read, I was just happy that they were enjoying the curriculum that we were providing for BookShark, I wasn't really focused on like, Oh, this is a technique. This is a style. So tell me a little bit more about how this is going to help a homeschooled family really prepare for what's coming up in the future. 

Mark  08:07 Yes, so what I really appreciate about homeschool students, as I've been working with Homeschool families for probably eight or nine years, I've noticed that they really love to learn. They want it's not just like I said, just trying to get a good grade in the class. I just know I sense that they really want to delve in, they want to get to the truth. And that is such a powerful thing to search for. And I realize not everybody's the same, right? We all have different strengths. We have different interests, we have different personalities, we have different learning styles, and those are pretty well documented. So we're not all the same in how we interact and how we learn things. But there are some fundamental techniques, I don't want to use that word. But there are certain things that we can all use that will help no matter what your learning style may be. I mean, you know, some people are kinetic learners, their auditory learners, they read by just simply learning by reading or whatever. But the neat thing about this course is it takes all of those aspects into consideration and helps students learn to a deeper level. Like I said, it doesn't have to be hard, but I love how homeschooled students really want to learn, and that I mean, can't make students do things. I mean, just because you hear me or hear you, you know, we can't force people to learn. It's got to be self-generated. But I think when students have gone through my course and done so I get comments from parents all the time saying, ‘My son loves to learn now.’ They loved gettinginto the reading. And maybe they were struggling students. They love getting into that and it lights up, it lights them up, and gets them excited. And even students who are super smart may think, well, this is I don't need this. 

I'll tell you that I've been on a college campus for over 20 years, and I have seen hundreds and hundreds of bright students, students with high ACT, SATs, CLT(Classic Learning Test) scores, and of course high GPAs. And they come to college. And they can't even keep a 3.0. And they lose their scholarship. And it's heartbreaking. And I hate that. Because if they don't know how to stay, it's not that they're ignorant. It's just, that they don't know how to study at the college level because college is so much different than high school and the homeschool system that they're doing. And I just don't want students to have to go through two years, and then figure it out. By their third year like I did, I was almost done before I figured this out, I just want them to have the tools, the techniques, so they can go to college, and they just gotta put the time in. But college is so much more than just an academic education. It's not just going to class college is such an amazing experience to learn about life. And you don't get that in a classroom or a textbook, you have to get out and meet the people down the hall go on trips, and experience life. And that's what's so cool about a college education, and I want them to have it all. And that's what I love about this is they get they can learn the academics, and they still have time to get totally involved in a college experience and grow as a person. And that's what I want every student to have.

Janna  11:42 And I think we all could probably name people that we knew that were nosing the books, no, I don't have time for that. Their whole college experience was just getting that information, soaking up the information so they could pass the test and get the degree and I am with you, Mark, I loved college, and I love doing all the things. I also love that I didn't have to cram because I did have an obviously some type of technique that helps me probably more than anything I have great recall. And so that, you know, that's just innate. But I am so excited about going through this course. Now, I was a little surprised when you said anyone over around seventh grade and higher. So explain that to me, because I think a lot of parents are, you know, clicking on this and listening to it and going okay, well, I have an 11-year-old. So this doesn't really apply to me. But you would argue with that? 

Mark  12:38 Well, I would say I say age 13 on up because, from a college perspective, their high school grades start to matter, right for scholarships, as the big thing. Everybody wants money, they want scholarships, they want to make college as cheap as possible. And scholarships are one way to get that. But a lot of that is dependent on their high school GPA from ninth grade on up. And so now is the time at that age level to really start developing the habits, that's really all it is. It's how you use your time again, just using your time just a little bit differently. And the sooner a student can have that be a part of their system, the sooner they can really enjoy their whole academic experience because they get it, they know I can do this. And then they can have time for all the fun stuff that they want to do. So I love the fact that as soon as we start at eighth grade, you know, from a homeschool perspective, that could be 12, 13, 14. But in that timeframe, that's the time to start developing the habits, and again, doesn't have to be hard. But the sooner they learn it, their world is just going to explode with all good things. 

Janna  13:54 Well, as a homeschool parent, I love that we could learn it ourselves and demonstrate it to our children even if they are younger, right? We could be showing like these are things that you know, I didn't necessarily know or even aware that I was doing some of the techniques. But if I can demonstrate and point out to my child, it's going to become so natural that it's not like okay, now we got to buckle down. Now you guys have to figure this out. It just becomes part of how they learn. And it's not one more thing they have to do.

Mark  14:28 Right. And the nice thing about the force study steps is it gives students structure so when they sit down to study, they're not spinning their wheels saying Where do I start, you know, and that's that that's a huge time waster right there because they don't have a lot of time especially when they get to the college level. Your time is super short. And there's a ton of reading a ton of outside homework to do and it's a lot tougher and you just don't have much time. So what the nice thing about my system is it just gives you structure so you can sit down you know exactly what You need to do next. And and I mean, that's not going to take all night, I would say at the college level, you need to be setting aside probably three or four hours a day. But if you get to it sooner, obviously in the day, all the fun stuff happens in the evenings, you'll have time for all that. And you can still do extremely well in all your classes. 

Janna  15:20 All right, devil's advocate, I was a procrastinator, well, a recovering procrastinator, I still fall off the wagon now. Right. And I see I see my children kind of following in that one in particular, kind of falling in that same, same vein. And I could say, Mark, listen, this is great. But I managed to get through, I managed to get through with procrastinating and my grades were decent. And I have a degree now. Like, tell me why that mindset is not helpful. 

Mark  15:51 Well, the and I understand I was before I knew how to study, I waited till the last minute just like you and I had fun, and I still got decent grades. But when I finally figured out how to really do it correctly, it I actually had so much more fun. Because I didn't have the stress of oh man, I need to be doing that right now I need to be studying right now, all my friends were at this event, but man, I really need back be back in my room going over my stuff. I didn't have any of that. All my things were guilt free. And I could have a lot more fun. And I actually did a lot better in on my tests than I did cramming by far. But I would just say, I think you're you'll find if you do it correctly, you will enjoy your grades will be higher, you'll enjoy all the events just to a much deeper degree. 


Janna  16:45 And I think doing anything guilt-free, is so much more pleasurable. 

Mark  16:49 Hey, you know, we had a speaker yesterday on campus, and he was talking about how anxious people are anxiety levels are through the roof. There are more people, seeing counselors and mental health professionals that are on medication than in the history of the world. And what breaks my heart is that that's what student that's what's going through a student, every single day, most every student has stress levels, through the roof. And I want to eliminate that I want to help students be super successful and reduce that stress level. Because when you're super stressed and anxious, you get anxiety, coming from different directions, and it's hard to enjoy the day. And, that's all we have today. We don't. We can't, and we think oh we'll have all these years or the rest of the semester. But really all we have is today. And how we live our lives is a reflection of our Creator. It's a reflection of who we are and how we serve others. And I just this is not just about getting an A like I said, this is about your whole person, your whole, your whole being going after truth and excellence. And that's what the is the gist of Making the Grade. It's about being a student of excellence, so you can serve others and enjoy your time at school, whether it be high school or college. Now, I mean, the sooner the better. Obviously, it's never too late to learn how to learn because we're always learning right, even after school, even after you get out. And so learning is a lifetime experience I just want students to be students of excellence and pursue truth with all their being. 

Janna  18:31 I would agree and I think that they're starting to see what we had experienced in college, some of that stress, they're now starting to see it in younger years in high school. Yes, they know now what high school means for the next steps of their life. So, my one daughter who loves to procrastinate, I'll get it done. I always get it done. I think I know. But how do you feel when you're getting it done? Like how in that moment you don't have to operate in that feeling. If you were to manage a little bit better your time before this, you could do the same thing in excellence and not have that feeling of I know that feeling Mark it's like a blanket and it just pulls you down and makes it hard to think through it. It clouds your thinking. It's hard to have linear thought when you have that added stress. And so I think for parents listening, just to know that you can give something to your children to help alleviate some of that the world is already going to pressure us and our children with massive amounts of things is one thing that we could take off their plate and say, hey, you know, we already know this is going to be different, not necessarily difficult, but it's going to be a challenge as it should be. How can we make this challenge more enjoyable and sensible? 

Mark  19:51 Agree that okay, so I realize college is not for everybody. But then if you do go to the military or you go to trade school some sort, here's the thing, there are still going to be classes that you're going to take, there are still manuals, you're going to need to learn, why not put yourself in the best position possible to be the best at what you do. And so this material, these study skills are still applicable. If you go to college, or if you go to trade school or the military, this is still powerful information that you can use. And so I would recommend it to anybody. You mentioned earlier that the school is different than when we were going to college, and a lot of them are online now versus in person. And even if it's an online class, these techniques, these tips, and these study skills still apply and can help make the student learn, and edit, effectively and quickly. So they can still enjoy the rest of their day and the rest of their time on campus or trade school. 

Janna  20:58 We had a close friend of our daughter who just went into the military, I was shocked at how many certifications she had to do, and how many classes she had to keep moving in her program. I was like, Oh my gosh, that's like, and it was an It was intense. It was only like six-week classes, and then you better have mastered it, and they have to push you to the next thing.

Mark  21:18 That's right, there are several classes that people don't realize that they're gonna have to take.

Janna  21:23 Do you have a homeschool hack that you could share with our listeners something that they could just take away and be like, alright, you know what, maybe I'm not ready to purchase Mark’s program. And maybe this just isn't for our family. But this definitely made a difference. 

Mark  21:37 All right, well, if I'm gonna do that, I got put on my superhero costume here. Jana, this is Captain College here with my superhero costume on. And okay, so I'm gonna think about two off the top of my head that I could share. One of them is about note-taking. Wherever I speak a lot. My note-taking seminar seems to be the most popular one. And when you're taking it, mostly, they don't teach you how to take notes. And my professor friends tell me that students don't take notes anymore. They don't read their textbooks anymore. But Note-taking is the backbone of your success in any class, you've got to be taking notes, even though it sounds like oh, this makes sense. I'll remember it, I'm telling you. You won't remember you're going to go out the door, you got two or three other classes. And this information is just going to leave your head. So you've got to learn how to take great notes. So a couple there are several pieces of information to you know, to go through. But the first thing is, whatever you find that is important to the professor needs to be in your notebook. And that could be anything that they're discussing anything that's on the board or screen, if you're on an online class, you know, you've got screens, you know, each slide whatever presentation it's on there on your computer that needs to be in your notebook. It's easy to read things, it's difficult to write them down. But the thing is easier is not necessarily better when it comes to your learning, that extra effort will really pay off and lock that information in your head better than anything else. So I encourage you to write what is important to the professor. Honestly, the best rule of thumb is to write as much as you can because the more you're writing in your notebook, the more you're focused on the professor, the more you're focused on the flow of discussion and the more you're listening. If you're not taking notes, it's easier to get it's easy to get distracted, right, but when you're focused on writing your notes with pen and paper, the more locked you are into the discussion, the easier is going to be for you later on. So that's that's a neat tip. On note taking. There are several other things. But that's the best rule of thumb, just write as much as you can. Because you can't write everything. But you need to just keep writing as much as you can. And after class, you go through and you can figure out what was maybe fluff or wasn't important. But most everything that's that's being discussed needs to be found in your notebooks. So that's one good thing that I would recommend. And the other thing is when it comes to reading, you know, textbooks Janah aren't the most enjoyable thing to read, right? They're not your favorite novel, you're not going to curl up on the couch in your pajamas with you know, the 16th edition of advanced accounting or something like that just doesn't happen. So the volume of reading in college is enormous, but you have to get through it. And so one of the neatest tips that I learned about reading textbook material is to read it at least twice. The first time is the hardest, right? It's new information. It's up here it's hard to get through. But by the second time, it won't take nearly as long. And that information will, it'll make sense. It's like, Oh, I get it. But it takes the second time learning it takes work and you're not going to get it the first time, maybe not even the second or third time through. But eventually, you keep plugging away, you do it again and again. And after a while, it's going to get up there. So I encourage students don't just give up, don't give up after the first time, don't get discouraged. Just go over it again. When it comes to reading, I said at least read it twice. And you'll be amazed at how much it makes a bit more and better sense to you. 

Janna  25:38 I would add that I think one of the reasons I didn't have to cram when I was in college is because I did take the time to read the material once and then look over there again. And so I immediately hear in my mind, oh my gosh, I don't have time for that. Who has time to read through it twice? But if you're not spending hours, you know, the night before trying to cram, because you had spent maybe an hour and then another hour previously in the week, it just, it's just a different mindset. And I think that's what a lot of people need to hear it again, applicable to high school students, especially with a curriculum like BookShark, when you are there's people are like, Oh my gosh, there's so much reading, right. But that is actually the learning process, it is through the reading it is through the discussion, you don't have to then turn around and quiz yourself and cram because you actually understood what you were processing. While you gotta go.

Mark  26:34 And it goes back to that stress factor we talked about, you wait until the end, or your time's real short, you're going to have all that added stress and you're not going to be able to focus, you're not going to be able to learn what you're reading simply because you have that added anxiety in the back of your mind. But if you do it, the way you encourage students to do it, then you'll have you'll do it in a structured time. And it'll be you'll be relaxed, it'll input, you'll learn the material just a lot easier and a lot quicker than waiting until the last minute. 

Janna  27:04 Now I haven't gotten to the time management module yet in your course that I am going through before I bring my daughters in on it, I am excited to see it because I know when I say to my girls, I'm like, set a timer. You know, some people think like, oh, I don't have four hours to block out to do this. It's like you don't need four hours, set the type 30 minutes if that's all you have, and then you walk away and come back to and do another 30 minutes if you can, like, it's amazing how just the little shift in perspective really opens up so much more time for students than they would ever even imagine.

Mark  27:38 Yeah, here's the thing is, even as adults, we went out, we do something that we don't like to do, and oh man, I gotta go do this, I gotta go do that. And I go use the restroom guy gets him to drink, or I gotta watch this reply to this text or whatever. And we ran and we just left. But you're right, send the time. But that's one of my tips, you'll find as you go through the course it's in there. And I even say 15 minutes, especially for the really yucky things. I call them the dreaded projects. And if you do it for just 15 minutes, you can feel great because getting started is always the hardest part. And once you can break those walls of discouragement and stress by getting started, it's amazing. And you'll say well, I can do it. Maybe I'll do 20 minutes or 30 minutes. And after a while, you've done it for 45 minutes straight. And you said you kick yourself out. I could have easily done this two days ago. But I got so stressed and scared of the project. And I just kept putting it off and putting it off. But you're exactly right. It's so hard, but you just have to use your trial time just change it a little bit. And you know, it's amazing what you can what you can accomplish.

Janna  28:44 Well, Mark, I wish you had been around when I was in college 20-plus years ago because I think it would have eliminated a lot of stress in my college years. Getting through all of those courses and managing clubs then work and friends and all those things. So I'm excited to be going through this with my girl now. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and explain a little bit about your program. What are ways that our listeners can find you?

Mark  29:10 It is at The number four is not spelled out. The number and Janna, I'm running a special for your listeners. Normally the 10-day course is $179. However, if they will order by October 15, it's only $149. I'll give him a $30 discount. All they have to do is type in Janna as the promo code, J-A-N-N-A and they'll get $30 off for being one of your listeners and fans. And so I just wanted to help students out as much as possible and I'm grateful for this opportunity to talk about making the grade talk about helping students just have a better life and that's my whole goal.

Janna  30:01 Oh well, thank you so much for that discount. And I hope that our listeners take it an opportunity to look at Marks program and see if it is a good fit for you. I think that it truly is beneficial to anybody, regardless of age, if you're thinking about college, or you just want your student to have better study habits, or you're looking to be a little bit better at time management if there's a little bit in there for everybody. So thank you so much Mark for being here today. And we'll put all of your information in the show notes so our listeners can go back and get access to your information.

Mark  30:33 Thank you so much.

Janna  30:35 Thank you, guys. Until next time, bye-bye