Advertising
Advertising

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.

150128-themetapicture.com-MathNotebook

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

        Advertising

        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.

          Advertising

          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.

            150128-themetapicture.com-last5minsofexam

              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.

              Advertising

              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

                  More by this author

                  7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It The 3 Things Elon Musk Knows About School That All Students Should Copy 10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester 20 Funny Things Everyone Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter 10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

                  Trending in Productivity

                  1 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 2 What Is the Purpose of Life and What Should You Live For? 3 How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life 4 7 Strategies to Keep Employee Motivation High 5 How to Do What You Love Successfully

                  Read Next

                  Advertising
                  Advertising
                  Advertising

                  Last Updated on December 10, 2019

                  How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                  How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

                  It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

                  So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

                  1. Find Your Good Reasons

                  Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

                  You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

                  If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

                  Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

                  Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

                  • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
                  • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
                  • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
                  • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

                  2. Make It Fun

                  When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

                  Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

                  Advertising

                  Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

                  They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

                  Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

                  A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

                  • How can I enjoy this task?
                  • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
                  • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

                  As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

                  Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

                  However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

                  3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

                  When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

                  You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

                  Advertising

                  That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

                  If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

                  Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

                  My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

                  4. Recognize Your Progress

                  Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

                  We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

                  Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

                  Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

                  For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

                  Advertising

                  You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

                  Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

                  For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

                  5. Reward Yourself

                  This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

                  Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

                  Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

                  For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

                  For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

                  For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

                  Advertising

                  Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

                  The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

                  Mix and Match

                  Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

                  Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

                  Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

                  Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

                  More to Boost Your Motivation

                  Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

                  Read Next