Four Steps to Prepare for a Successful School Year

The start of the school year can be tough on students of any age. Transitioning from the free time and relaxed schedule of summer to the required tasks and structure of the school year can be difficult. It takes our minds time to adjust. It’s tempting to prioritize getting in the last last drops of summer fun, but the best way to ensure a successful academic year is to start early. Give yourself or your child time to make that transition.

A few simple steps to preparedness go a long way in making the difference between a relaxed, productive year, and one filled with stress and scrambling to get caught up.


Create a smooth transition

Adjust your routine. In the weeks prior to school starting, create structure— mealtimes, bedtimes, routines. Add more structure the closer you get to the first day. Remove the shock and adjustment of going from “do as I want” to a schedule set for you. 

A valuable piece of advice? Get enough sleep. Tired minds aren’t a student’s best friend!

Get organized. A big misstep for many students is a failure to keep track of everything required of them. Most students are more than capable of turning in good work on time, but the issue becomes remembering what is due and when. Writing assignments have very different outcomes when the student has time to think, research, write, and edit. A last-minute realization that an informative essay is due in two days leads to rushed work and quality suffers. 

I love lists. Plus, they’re great for getting into the habit of creating outlines for writing assignments. 


EXTRA! EXTRA!  Read All About It. 

Students–anyone, everyone–should always be reading. 

Research has shown that reading improves your memory and greatly decreases the chance for cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's. It also helps slow down your cognitive decline with age. #Reading is the workout for your brain.Click To Tweet



The reality is that most of us don’t read routinely. If you haven’t been, start now. Pick up something simple, fun…a book you want to read to create the habit. Follow it up with something more challenging.

If you are reading to or with a younger student, pick something just beyond their level. Work on new words and focus on comprehension. Pick a subject they have expressed an interest in to hold their attention. Don’t be afraid to shift between books and even the internet to look up more facts. It’s about reading, not finishing a book.

For older students, grab something from the 1800’s. Novels from this period require extra effort to read. The writing is very different from today’s books, and, in some ways, it’s like learning a foreign language. It takes time to read and understand, but it develops critical thinking skills–invaluable when it comes to taking the SAT or ACT. One or more of the test passages will be from this period, or even earlier, and having developed a comfort level prior to sitting down to the test removes the stress of reading something ‘foreign’ and decoding it under a time constraint.


“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” – Lisa See


“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”

– Paul Simon

We should be writing daily. While reading develops critical skills for following and understanding what others are trying to communicate, writing develops our ability to communicate with others.Click To Tweet


Older students will be tasked with writing more during the year as they progress from middle school to high school and college. Practice now transforms later writing assignments from a panicky chore to something comfortable and routine…perhaps even enjoyable.

For middle school students

The priority is in developing the writing habit. Create a daily routine. Task them with writing something. It doesn’t need to be long. It’s about getting them putting pen to paper. They can write about anything: their day, a dream they had, a place they’d like to visit. 

For high school students

The daily routine still applies. The emphasis now includes writing quality – punctuation, word choice, grammar, and sentence structure. 

  • Start with a writing prompt. A simple internet search will pull hundreds of ideas. 
  • Determine the type of writing. Informational, persuasive, creative, non-fiction.
  • Create an outline. This is where good writing starts, and the process is made easier if the student has structure and notes prior to starting. It breaks down the process into two parts, so the student can focus separately on how and what to write. 
  • Write!

This is a routine assignment I provide my students. Once completed, we work together to edit their writing. As they progress, I have them edit it themselves, then we move on to find more opportunities for improvement.

For younger children

I focus less on actual writing and more on spelling. Nothing ruins a good story like spelling mistakes. Now is the best time to start. Working on spelling by sounding out words will further improve reading skills. 

  • For writing practice, have them tell you a short story. As they do, have them write it. This exercise naturally improves penmanship and spelling. Encourage them to add details. Rather than “the horse ran on the road,” provide prompts to help them add adjectives or choose better, more descriptive words: “The proud horse galloped down the path.”

Work on typing. Use the same writing exercise, having your child type instead of write the story. Penmanship will always be important, yet schools are less likely to teach typing. It’s a vital skill best learned early.


Take practice tests.

“I am not good at taking tests” is a familiar refrain. And it’s likely true. We’re not inherently born with the ability to sit still and quiet under a time constraint with the pressure of getting something done correctly. Test-taking, like other skills, needs to be learned and practiced. 

For younger children

Practice tests can be short, even as little as five minutes (longer as they get older or progress). A simple worksheet printed off the internet will work. 

For middle school students

A number of websites offer practice tests similar to what they will see in class. You can skip the cost by creating your own. Choose a chapter from a book to “assign.” Create a series of 3-5 questions for them to answer based on the passage. These can be questions whose answers are found in the text, questions where they need to use what they read to address hypothetical situations (or predict what has will happen), or a combination.

For high school students 

I highly recommend taking ACT and SAT practice tests, even if they will not be required or used for admissions purposes. It can be daunting taking one for the first time. They carry weight with respect to college admissions. That stress combined with the timed aspect and unfamiliar passages or question types can affect the outcome even for the best minds. 

A number of resources are available in the form of workbooks and online practice tests. 

It’s important to remember that the practice test isn’t only about being familiar with content and what will be asked. It’s about helping them ace the test. That means working with them on the questions answered incorrectly. As an SAT and ACT test prep tutor, this is my core focus. By learning why they were incorrect, students get a better handle on how to read the questions and how to choose the right answer. In every case, this corrective process, combined with increased familiarity, improves test scores.


Start the school year right

Starting off on the right academic foot sets a solid tone for the year. It can make or break your long-term performance and will bring peace of mind if done correctly and consistently. If you’re looking for support on that strong start for yourself or your child, contact me for more information and a strategy tailored to you.

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