Cincinnati Family Magazine

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September 27, 2022

Secrets of Top Students

The contribution of parents is crucial to a top performing kid: set high standards and hold your kids to them. Encourage, but let them do their own work. Impress upon them the responsibility ... and watch them deliver.

It’s possible for all kids to do well in school if they have the right support network in place. Of course, that’s not always possible for kids coming from all kinds of different backgrounds, but there are certain things that kids who perform consistently at the top cite as their success tips. Read on!


More than just paying attention, top students are aware that teachers factor participation into their grading (some more than others). Participating in class shows that you’re paying attention and it helps the teacher know who you are more than he might if you simply sit and never answer or try to add to the conversation. Whether your child is shy or outgoing, you can encourage him to ask questions. Help him learn how to ask questions at home by play acting, suggests the book School-Family Partnerships for Children’s Success (Teachers College Press; 2005). And let your child know it is OK to be wrong! Being wrong is another way of learning. Tell him there are no dumb questions and keep on working with him at home to get comfortable with seeking answers to his questions.


Successful kids learn early on how to keep on top of their things. If your child is digging hopelessly through his backpack in search of homework, more support is needed. To help him be organized, YOU have to teach it so he can do it on his own at school. Put a big wall calendar on a wall just for him. Together, write down important test, assignment and project dates. Discuss homework plans: what time of day should it be done? Put it on the calendar. Put “Library” on the calendar so he can keep up with his books and any other “specials” he has like a music lesson or soccer practice. Get him in the habit of checking the calendar daily. Also, be sure he has a binder or folder where he can place each day’s academic work. Set aside time at home so you can review his papers with him, ask questions, discover any issues and praise his successes.


Teach your child that as soon as he gets an assignment he should start working on it so he’ll have plenty of time to get it done without having to cram everything in the day or two before it’s due. Studying for tests can be done in 15 minute increments for several days over a period of time. Many educators encourage kids to make flashcards for tests. Simply writing something down helps to embed an idea. Teach your child about setting goals for himself, and encourage him to let you know if he’s having difficulty understanding a subject or concept so you can help him or find him help.


Top students keep up with what’s happening in class by doing a little studying every day whether it’s assigned or not. If your child consistently comes home saying “No homework!”, at least have him do some pleasure reading for 20 minutes or so. Plenty of kids say they do their homework during study hall or “lab” or some such. Make it clear to your child that if that’s the case you want to see it to be sure he has mastered the work.


Remember the days when a teacher assigned the class 10 pages of reading in one subject or another? Plenty of kids went home and said, no homework! But the top students went home, read the material and were ready to answer questions the next day. Kids who think the teacher can’t tell if they read the work or not are setting themselves up for failure. If you have a reluctant reader, it may be best to read the material with him. Eventually your child will learn that it’s so much better to be ready than it is to slink down in the chair and hope not to be noticed. In his book Getting Straight A’s (Lyle Stuart; 2000) Gordon W. Green, Jr., says the secret of good reading is to be “an active reader — one who continually asks questions that lead to a full understanding.”


It may be his room, at the kitchen table, or on his lap on the way to a soccer tournament in the car, but the work gets done somehow no matter how busy a child is. At home, make sure you have the supplies your child needs for wherever he’s going to be working. And, if your child has a particularly grueling load of homework when you’re at home, try the 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off routine so the work load doesn’t start to get him down. In the book Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework (Advantage; 2010), you can find simple strategies such as mounting a dry erase board next to the bathroom mirror so your child can study his spelling words while he brushes his teeth! You get the idea.


Top students allow no intrusions on study time. Once the books are open or the computer is booted up, the cell phone gets switched off. Study is business and business comes before recreation.


Neat papers are likely to get higher grades than sloppy ones. The student who turns in neat papers with his name legible at the top is already on the way to an A. For a teacher, a child’s work is like being served a meal: No matter how good it really is, you can’t believe it tastes good if it’s presented on a messy plate.


On a special project, for instance, if the required number of facts is 5, a top student will turn in 10. If the teacher asks the class to try and read ahead, the top students will do it and move ahead in the class dynamic.


• Get hands on the study guide as soon as possible.
Almost all teachers provide a study guide when it’s test time although sometimes they can come late. If your child’s missing a study guide, shoot an e-mail over to his teacher.
Have your child do a little work every day from the time you have the guide: Get your child flash cards and have him write something on one side and the answer on the other.

• Talk about the subject at the table.
When the rest of the family’s interested in what’s being studied, it reinforces it in the child’s mind and makes for interesting conversations.

• Talk about how to take tests.
Teach your kids how to read over all of the multiple choice answers before picking one. Show them how to cross out the answers they know are wrong right away, and then how to use the knowledge they have to decide upon what the right answer may be.

• Get extra sleep the night before and have a good breakfast.

About the Author

Susan Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief of Cincinnati Family Magazine and a mother of four.