The Pros and Cons of Study Guides

Dear Dr. Linda,

My ninth-grade son gets study guides from some teachers, but not from all of them. He doesn’t know what to study from—his textbook, his class notes (which neither of us can read) or his homework.

I emailed the teachers who don’t give out study guides to ask why. One teacher responded by telling me that he will not give out study guides because they limit students’ learning. I think that’s just an excuse, that he’s just too lazy to put a guide together. What should I do to get them to do their job?

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Dear Krissy,

First of all, preparing study guides is not part of a teacher’s job. Study guides are a rather recent phenomenon that began with your generation. They became popular in the late 1970s—those who graduated from high school before then wouldn’t recognize the term.

As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons to the use of study guides. If the teacher gives you exactly what will be on a test and you memorize it, you’re likely to get a high grade. But, since many middle- and high-school students haven’t yet fully developed the skill of identifying the most important ideas, concepts, skills and information a teacher wants them to learn and know, study guides for some kids are much better than relying on notes. Some students are good at taking notes; some aren’t. Some students comprehend what they read more easily than others. Study guides give everyone in the class the same opportunity to do well on tests.

With this said, however, there are many cons. To begin with, many students become dependent on them. They zone out during class and learn little, if anything, from homework assignments. I can’t count the number of students I’ve worked with who told me, “I don’t have to know this. I’m getting a study guide before the test.”

Most teenagers don’t yet connect the dots. They see trees, but not the forest. They get the individual facts, but don’t understand the context. When the teacher said study guides “limit students’ learning,” that’s probably what he was talking about. It can become far too easy to rely only on a study guide, make good grades on tests, and learn absolutely nothing.

Teachers who provide study guides are generally trying to kill two birds with one stone—to help students develop higher-order thinking skills in class and use the guides to remind them what facts and concepts are important to review for a test.

Before attacking the teachers for not doing their job, observe your son. Talk to him about the topics he’s studying. Find out if he’s come to rely on the study guides just to make good grades or if he’s seeing the forest as well as the trees. Either way, your focus should be on learning what you can do to help your son grow cognitively as well as focusing on the test next week.

Dr. Linda

For information on a wide range of educational topics, visit

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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