It’s beginning all over again. Books. Homework. Essays. The cold lump in your stomach after you glance at your report card, knowing you’re going to hear all about that brilliant kid down the street when you get home. Once again you’ll jam the carbony mess of your report card into a pocket, muttering excuses to yourself, while the kid down the block passes by waving his grades triumphantly over his head.

But perhaps if you begin a little differently this September, things won’t end so drearily at the end of the term. Forget any apple-polishing scheme or surefire teacher’s pet routine; they won’t work. Like the kid down the street, you’ve got to learn the rules of the game.

School is a lot like a game, but it’s not a game of chance. Like playing chess, a successful student knows the correct moves and plans when to take them. Sadly, many students have never been taught the rules of the game. The following suggestions might be called A Manual of School Gamesmanship. Whatever they are called, they will help you get a lot more out of your studies. Remember that especially in the school game, winning or getting the grade, although important, is not as important as how you play the game.

Rule One: You’ve got to do it yourself

Today’s youth have demanded and have been given more freedom, more self-determination. Junior high school and high school curricula are becoming more and more university-like. There aren’t as many prerequisites, and a student has to decide where he is heading.

Of course, with this increased agency comes a lot more responsibility. Today there aren’t as many teachers hovering about making sure assignments are started, and there are not as many requirements telling you what you have to do. Today you’re often on your own to establish your study behavior and decide whether to go to class or not.

That means it’s up to you. You’ve got to decide to read and study; you’ve got to decide what classes to take; you’ve got to decide whether you’ll put in the effort to get something out of a class. Mom, Dad, your best friends, the teacher—they can’t decide these things for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.

Rule Two: Find out the course requirements

Soon after a class begins, you should list all the course requirements. Will there be lectures? What kind? Are there attendance requirements? Will there be quizzes? Find out at the beginning of the term what reading assignments and class discussions you will need to know for tests, and what papers or projects are required. It never hurts to ask teachers about these matters.

Rule Three: Pace yourself

Now that you know the requirements, you should estimate the time you will need to complete them. With reading assignments, a simple graph can help you pace yourself to keep from falling behind. The graph is made by noting the number of pages you have to read on the vertical axis, and the days you have to read them on the horizontal axis. With these numbers filled in, the diagonal line indicates an average reading rate toward completion of the assignment. The graph is completed weekly by putting a dot where the appropriate date corresponds to the number of pages read. Dots above the line indicate you are ahead of schedule, dots below the line indicate you’d better push ahead a little harder.

In pacing your reading don’t try to get too far ahead, but never fall behind.

Rule Four: Set up your own study area

Recent research shows that you’ll study better if you study consistently in the same place. Behavioral scientists believe that everything in an area becomes associated with studying if the area is used only for studying. You will be able to get into your studies with fewer distractions if you study in an established study area.

Areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and restaurants all have a specific purpose, and people act certain ways in each place. Any of these places would be a poor place to study.

The study area shouldn’t contain things that tempt you to do other things than study. Telephones and TV’s urge you away from your books to talk, listen, or watch. They shouldn’t be in your study area. On the other hand, snack food and beverages help some people to study because they make study time more pleasurable. But if you have a weight problem or spend more time crunching than cogitating, forget the food too.

Rule Five: Set aside a specific time to study

Just as it’s important to set up a regular place to study, it’s important to choose a regular time to study each day. If your regular daily study hours become a habit, you will less likely be distracted by other activities, and you’ll skip the painful “Boy, I need to study today, but when?” decision.

Rule Six: Break it up

Have you ever stayed awake all night typing a paper that was due the next morning? Nocturnal assignment finishers usually fall behind because they associate the assignment with the due date. Because the assignment isn’t due for two months, they put off starting it while having no real idea of how long the assignment will take. All-night typists start the task too late, and either fail to finish on time or produce an unsatisfactory result.

Avoiding the all-night grind is simple. Break up each assignment into smaller mini-assignments. A research paper can be broken down into mini-assignments of researching, note taking, organizing, outline writing, writing a rough draft, rewriting, and writing a final draft. Most any assignment can be broken down into smaller units.

Rule Seven: Set deadlines

Now that you have broken down your assignment into steps, you should set up deadlines to finish each of these steps. If your research paper is due in two months, you might want to give yourself two weeks for researching and a week each for the other six mini-assignments.

A calendar is useful in setting up your deadlines. It is a good idea to note on your calendar upcoming events that might interfere with studying. If you use a calendar and stick to your deadlines, the night before the due date can be spent blissfully in bed instead of at the typewriter with a backache.

Rule Eight: Study your study habits

Keeping a daily record of your study time will help you estimate the time needed to complete a required task. Soon you will discover what study patterns work best for you. Are you a morning person? Perhaps you study best at night. This record will help you decide.

If you find your study time fluctuating greatly from day to day, it would be wise to work until you have a more constant amount of study each day. Fairly constant study time usually indicates you’ve broken down the week’s studying into a specified amount of study each day toward a definite goal.

Rule Nine: Reward yourself

Don’t ever complete a study period without taking some type of rewarding break. Behavioral research suggests that you are more likely to complete an entire task if you specify an interesting activity to enjoy immediately after finishing the task.

If you enjoy playing the guitar, you might allow yourself 30 minutes of guitar playing after two hours of study. Almost anything you enjoy can be used as a rewarding activity: talking on the telephone, bicycling, eating ice cream, swimming, working on your car. The important thing is to require a specified amount of study before you can reward yourself—then reward yourself!

Rule Ten: Make a contract with yourself

After you have learned the first nine rules of school gamesmanship, combine them all into a contract. This self-made contract commits you to play the school game correctly. The contract summarizes your classes, assignments, mini-assignments, and deadlines. It outlines your study hours and days, and lists the rewarding activities you may enjoy after your studies are completed. Below is a sample contract.

The ten rules explained here are just a basic introduction to school gamesmanship. Perhaps you won’t need to use all ten rules, but do use the ones that will help you improve your “game.” At report card time, it really pays to be a pro, and honestly winning the school game pays eternal dividends.

Study Contract

I, ________________________, contract with myself to do the following:

1. Complete the following mini-assignments by their assigned deadlines.

Course Title



A. ________________________________________________________________________________

B. ________________________________________________________________________________

C. ________________________________________________________________________________

D. ________________________________________________________________________________

E. ________________________________________________________________________________

F. ________________________________________________________________________________

2. Study daily during the following periods:

___________ to ___________ ___________ to ___________

3. Record honestly the amount of studying accomplished per day.

4. Study on the following days:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

5. Reward myself with the following activities after each study period.

A. ________________________________________________________________________________

B. ________________________________________________________________________________

C. ________________________________________________________________________________

D. ________________________________________________________________________________

E. ________________________________________________________________________________

F. ________________________________________________________________________________

Signed: _________________________ Date: __________

Reading Rate Graph

Reading Rate Graph

Illustrated by Julie Fuhriman