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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.

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            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 October 22, 2020

                  2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                  2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                  Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

                  Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

                  Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

                  Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

                  Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

                  By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

                  The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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                  1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

                  Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

                  Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

                  Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

                  When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

                  The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

                  Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

                  To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

                  Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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                  We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

                  It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

                  After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

                  Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

                  Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

                  To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

                  Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

                  Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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                  When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

                  Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

                  We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

                  When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

                  Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

                  2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

                  If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

                  The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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                  To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

                  With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

                  So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

                  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
                  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
                  • Say no to all else.
                  • Say no again.
                  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
                  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
                  • Meditate.
                  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
                  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
                  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
                  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
                  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
                  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

                  Final Thoughts

                  These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

                  Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

                  More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

                  Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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