Tips for Teens: Changing your Study Mindset

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

You’ve got a big test coming up at the end of the week, and you’re dreading it. You know you should start studying now so that you’ll be well prepared, but whenever you think about studying your mind gets flooded with negative thoughts: There’s so much material to study for this test, where will I even start? What if I can’t find my notes? What if my notes aren’t good enough and they don’t make any sense to me now? What if I put all of this time into studying and then fail the test anyway? All of these thoughts can quickly send you into avoidance mode. Before you know it, it’s the evening before the test and you haven’t studied at all.

Studying tips for teens

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all dependent on each other. If we want to change the way we behave or act, and the way we feel about the things that we have to do, then we can start by changing the way that we think. So, if you want to develop study habits that will allow you to put your best foot forward, then challenge the negative thoughts that might be getting in your way.

There are common negative thought patterns that everyone experiences sometimes. These thoughts are more likely to come up when we’re faced with something that makes us nervous, stressed, or overwhelmed – like studying for a big exam!

All or Nothing Thoughts. With these types of thoughts, you’re either great at something or terrible at something. You need to do things perfectly, or not at all. When it comes to studying, this kind of thinking can cause you to set an impossibly high standard for yourself. If you think that you need to study perfectly and get a top score on the exam, then you’ll quickly become overwhelmed and anxious when you think about all of the work you need to do. On top of that, the possibility of failure seems very high since anything less than a perfect grade will be a disappointment.

All or Nothing Reframe: Remind yourself that you won’t get a top score on every test, and that is okay. No single test is going to make or break your final grade. If you study and prepare for the test then you’ll have worked hard in order to do your personal best.

Turning Small Problems into Catastrophes (Catastrophizing). When people catastrophize they take one small incident and allow it to grow larger and larger in their mind until it’s been built up to be a complete disaster. For example, if you get one bad grade on a math quiz, you think that this just proves that you’re terrible at math. You’ll probably fail every quiz and test for the rest of this year. This will show up on your college applications and now there is no way you’ll ever get into your first-choice school!

Catastrophizing Reframe: Remind yourself that this is just one small problem, and that you don’t know what it means for the future. You’re not a fortune teller! Try to put the problem out of your mind. Learn from any mistakes that were made, and start fresh today.

“Should” Thoughts. When you have a long list of rigid rules about things you “should do” in order to study effectively, you set yourself up for guilt and regret when you’re not able to follow through. This is especially true when you’re lists of “shoulds” is impossibly long, impossibly challenging, or simply not a good fit for your personality or study style. So, if you thought that you “should have” started studying on Monday, but you didn’t start until Thursday, then you’ll feel very guilty and defeated before you even sit down to study.

“Should” Reframe: Try not to think about what you “should have done” and instead think about where you are at right now. Make a plan based on the amount of time that you have available and do your best right now. Then, when you’re getting ready to study for another test in the future, think about the lists of rigid “shoulds” that you have in your mind. Ask yourself:  Are they are realistic? Are they a good fit for you?  Are they helping you move forward or just making you feel guilty and holding you back? Talk to a teacher or tutor about finding new strategies that will work for you.

Challenging these three common negative thought patterns will go a long way in helping you change your study mindset. You’ll feel less stressed when it’s time to start studying, and you’ll tackle your study plan more effectively. You’ll shift from avoidance mode to action mode, and before you know it you’ll be well on your way to achieving your best on that test!  You’ve got this!!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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