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23 Things Top Students Do

23 Things Top Students Do

They are the ones you catch out of the corner of your eye. They get their exam back, calmly flip through the few (if any) errors they made, and swiftly place their 94% into their bag.

That’s right, I’m talking about the top students who make it look so easy.

What we don’t realize is that under the surface there is a collection of positive habits and mindsets that make that person so successful in class. Not just a few, but an accumulation of many habits that combine to produce high-level academic performance.

Here are 23 habits of top students that you can use as tips to do better in school:

1. They don’t always do all of their homework.

In college, homework assignments generally make up 5-20% of your grade, but can be the biggest time-suck for most students. Yes, working problems is one of the best ways to turn new concepts into working knowledge, but a large majority of those problems that take you hours and hours to work through, you’ll never see on an exam.

2. They never “read through” the textbook.

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    Per time spent, reading the textbook is one of the least effective methods for learning new material. Top students use the examples and practice problems, but otherwise use Google, lecture notes, and old exams for study materials.

    3. They Google EVERYTHING.

    It’s like an automatic reaction. New concept = go to Google for a quick explanation. Don’t think just because your professor gives you a textbook and some examples on the blackboard that you’re limited to that information. You have a massive free search engine at your fingertips, so make use of it.

    4. They test themselves frequently.

    Testing yourself strengthens your brain’s connections to new material, and gives you immediate and clear feedback on whether you know something or not. Bottom line, repeated self-testing significantly improves long-term retention of new material. 

    5. They study in short bursts, not long marathons.

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    150128-cheezburger.com-IntenseFocus

      Studying in short bursts tends to help you focus intensely because you know there is at least a short break coming.

      This also fits in nicely with our Ultradian Rhythm, the natural activity/rest cycle of our bodies, which makes studying continuously for multiple hours on end counterproductive.

      6. They reverse-engineer solved problems.

      It’s one thing to follow and memorize a set of steps to solve a calculus problem. It’s an entirely different thing to understand what a derivative is, be able to take derivates of complex functions, know when to use the chain rule vs. the product rule, etc. The problem with simply following the steps the professor provided, or the textbook outlines, is that you’re only achieving a surface-level knowledge of the problem. Top students, instead, take solved problems and work backwards, from solution to question, asking “why.”

      Why did this get this value?
      Why did they simplify this expression?
      Why did they use that type of derivative rule?

      By following this process, you begin to understand the interconnections of the concept, and how to directly apply that to a problem. This “working knowledge” of a concept is key to performing well on exams, especially on problems that you haven’t seen before.

      7. They don’t own a highlighter.

      150128-lolsheaven.com-highlighting

        Highlighting anything = unengaged reading. If you want to note something that stands out, underline and write a corresponding note to go along with it. Or better yet, write yourself a note summarizing the item in your own words.

        8. They sleep–a lot.

        The daily routines of top performers, in any field, are characterized by periods of intense work (4-6 hours per day) followed by significant quantities of high-quality sleep (9 hours per night). You see this trend in top violin prodigies and chess champions, as well as elite athletes. The idea is to alternate periods of intense work with rest, so that you create tons of new connections in your nervous system, and then allow adequate time to assimilate those gains.

        9. They engage themselves by asking questions.

        What happens if I tell you, “Thomas Jefferson almost single-handedly drafted the Delcaration of Independence in 1776.”?

        You might say “Hmm.. that’s interesting”, try to remember it for later, maybe even write down a note or two.

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        But what if I ask you, “Who was Thomas Jefferson?” What changes?

        You start searching your memory, sifting through images of old guys, founding fathers, thinking about the Declaration of Independence. You come up with your own narrative, and then realize that you have gaps.

        When was he around again?
        And why was he so important?

        You’ll probably find yourself going to Google to fill in the gaps. Through that process your learning will be much more deeply seated in your brain than anything your history teacher ever told you about him. That’s the power of asking questions.

        10. They make the best out of lecture.

        150128-lolsheaven-boringlecture-spongebob

          Yes, your professor sucks. Yes, lectures are boring. Yes, it’s either too fast so you can’t keep up and miss all the important stuff, or it’s way too slow and you start zoning out because you already understand everything.

          The best students look at this this way: I’m going to be there no matter what, so what’s the best use of my time while I’m in the classroom? Ask questions, bring the textbook and look stuff up, focus on the important practice problems to copy down in your notes, try to anticipate what the professor is going to say, make note of anything they put emphasis on as a potential exam topic. All of these things make the time you have to spend in lecture more productive and engaging. And that’s less time you have to spend studying later on.

          11. They over-learn.

          School is hard enough, with the amount of studying and homework you have to do. And on top of all of that Facebooking you have to get done? It might seem ridiculous to suggest learning more than you have to.

          What!? Are you insane!?

          But this is precisely what top students do. And paradoxically, they end up spending less time trying to understand how to do homework problems, and less time studying for exams because of it. Because when you “over-learn” past what’s presented in class, you build a better framework for the subject.

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          Think of trying to remember some details about Abraham Lincoln’s life. You try to remember the dates of the Civil War, or what he said in the Emancipation Proclamation. You study the same facts over and over and over again… but it’s just boring, and you quickly forget. But what if you knew his whole life’s story? About how Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression, and his relationship with his wife suffered? You start to learn that the dude was human, and you start to relate to the things he did and the struggles he went through. Now you’ve constructed a story in your head. And studies show that humans learn best through stories. So yes, it’s more information, but your brain knows what to do with it now that all those random facts are linked together. More learning, but less rote memorization and struggling to remember random facts.

          12. They immediately study their exam mistakes.

          feels-bad-man_o_4130797

            Most students get their exam grade back, flip through to see if the professor made any mistakes they can argue about, and then promptly shove it into their notebook, never to be seen again until the mad scramble at the end of the semester to study for the final.

            Instead, top students ignore what they got right, and use their mistakes as an indicator of what to improve on.

            13. They’re busy with work and side projects.

            Yes, to do well in a course, you need to focus and put in the hours. But like many geniuses throughout history have shown, involvement in a diverse set of subjects, activities, and skill sets keeps you active, and provides you with a rich and diverse set of mental models to pull from.

            Also, as they say, “If you need to get something done, give it to the busy person.” If you stay active in multiple areas, you don’t have time to procrastinate, and are forced to be efficient with your study time. This generally translates into quicker learning and better performance throughout the semester.

            14. They use lecture as a detective mission.

            Though completely unaware of this fact, your professor has tells. Yes, like in poker. Tells during lecture will hint at particular types of concepts and problems that will be emphasized on the midterm or final exam. The best students pay attention to topics professors spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time on and make note. Chances are you’ll see something related on the final.

            15. They don’t wait for motivation to strike.

            Motivation comes and goes, but studying for a degree requires persistence and consistency. Just like Olympic athletes train even on their worst days, the best students figure out how to get their coursework done when it’s the last thing they want to do.

            16. They practice under test conditions.

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              The old adage “practice makes perfect” isn’t totally true. Deliberate practice under the right conditions, with the correct mindset, is more like it. Instead of reading through all of the lecture notes and redoing old homework problems, top students make themselves practice exams, and rehearse their exam performance, under time pressure and in similar conditions (no notes, uncomfortable chair, quiet room, etc.) to what they’ll see on test day.

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              17. They use old exams.

              Professors aren’t the most inventive folk. Along with coming up with lecture material and departmental responsibilities, they’re also primarily concerned with research. So typically midterms and final exams more or less look alike for similar courses year-to-year and even across universities. Because of this, old exams are a gold mine of opportunity for figuring out what problems you should be able to solve and study from.

              18. They make their own study guides.

              150128-memegenerator.net-studyguide

                The best students don’t simply use the study guide the teacher provides, they create their own.

                Creating the study guide is half the battle, requiring you to go through your notes, consolidate them, and organize them in a way that you understand–all valuable study activities. You’ll also be able to use your equations sheet much more effectively on the exam itself (if allowed) because you know exactly where everything is.

                19. They actually write on paper.

                Writing out notes on a laptop is efficient. Too efficient. Because it’s so easy to quickly type out exactly what the professor is saying, you don’t have to do the work of trying to figure out how to consolidate the information into your own shorthand. Some also believe that the act of writing helps retain more information.

                20. They use the 80/20 rule.

                Yes, some students who get good grades do every reading assignment, finish every practice problem, and attend every study session they can get their hands on. But these students are missing the point. There will always be an endless amount of information you could learn given the time and effort, but having the ability to discern what is worth learning will truly set you apart.

                Top students identify the 20% of concepts they need to learn deeply, in order to determine 80% of their final grade. They focus intently on those few things, and simply ignore the rest. This is a formula for high performance, without hours and hours of busywork. And it translates seamlessly into the real world too.

                21. They don’t complain.

                whenever-sombody-complains-about-the-zoo_o_1073996

                  Complaining simply has no place in the smart student’s repertoire. If something sucks, change it or ignore it, but don’t waste your time, energy, and mental state talking about it. Got a crappy professor? Either switch class sections or focus on teaching yourself. Horrible textbook? Find alternate resources (Google is free in case you hadn’t heard).

                  22. They learn by doing.

                  Any technical subject can only truly be internalized through use. Just like learning a new language, learning to be fluent in algebra or calculus requires active application of rules and formulas. Top students know there is a big difference between knowledge, and applied knowledge.

                  23. They take personal responsibility for learning the material.

                  The best students understand that they, and only they are truly responsible for their own education. So waiting to be spoon-fed by your professor and doing the homework assignments will never be enough. Despite your school’s best intentions, they’ll never be as committed to your academic success as you can be.

                  Featured photo credit: IMG_8744/TechCrunch via flickr.com

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                  Last Updated on March 23, 2021

                  Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

                  Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

                  One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

                  The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

                  You need more than time management. You need energy management

                  1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

                  How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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                  I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

                  I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

                  2. Determine your “peak hours”

                  Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

                  Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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                  My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

                  In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

                  Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

                  3. Block those high-energy hours

                  Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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                  Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

                  If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

                  That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

                  There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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                  Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

                  Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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