There are lots of good students. They are the “A” students, “B” students, and they can even be “A+” students. But, then there are those few who score above their entire class, and for whom everything appears to come easily. It’s as if they already know everything. Those are the great students, and that is what I want to try to help you become.
I am sure you know who I am referring to – every program in every college has a few of them. But what you might not know is that these great students aren’t any more gifted or talented than anyone else, they simply rely on different study skills.
When I started college, I came in with the mindset of a typical good student: I was going to work hard for those high marks. I took notes. I studied around the clock. I stayed up all night to finish assignments. And it worked, I was a good student. But, there were these few students who did better by doing less.
One day, I had a crazy idea. Why don’t I try to do what they do? Within a few short months, I absolutely could not believe the results. My free time shot up – and so did my marks! Knowing these study skills has also been a lifesaver throughout graduate school – I raised a small child while doing a PhD without any real difficulty.
I will now share with you the study skills of great students.
1. WHEN STUDYING, CHOOSE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
This is one of the most important lessons I learned in college. When it comes to studying, quality counts for more than quantity. When I am well rested, relaxed, and alert I can do in half-an-hour what would take three hours when I’m tired.
When you study, don’t do anything else. Don’t chat with your friends. Don’t watch a video. Concentrate on what you are doing. But if you are tired, or you just don’t feel like studying any more, then don’t! Chat with your friends, watch that video. Get proper rest, and return to studying when you can give it your full attention. You are not getting paid per hour to study.
Nobody cares how much time you spend sitting over your books. By studying when are you alert and well-rested, and able to give it 100%, you will achieve better results a lot faster, and you’ll have a lot more free time left over!
2. Put Your Pen Down and Pay Attention
One thing that struck me most about great students is that many of them didn’t take notes. It made them look like geniuses. Some of them would walk into a classroom without so much as a pen. Are they so smart that they don’t even need to take notes?
The truth is that by not taking notes they were actually learning more. Imagine you had to take notes while speaking with a friend. It would slow the conversation down to a halt. This is because writing things down takes time and concentration. So, while your mind may be less likely to wander to last night’s baseball game, you also don’t have the mental resources to process the information being taught.
Now, I am not here to claim that taking notes is always a bad thing. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that it helps improve recall. But, when it comes to processing information, I find it to be nothing but a deterrent. When I don’t take notes, I can really pay attention. I have time to think about the lecture when the professor takes a pause. I have time to come up with a question if something doesn’t make sense. I have time to connect the ideas covered in the lecture with concepts that I already know.
The first few times I attended lectures without taking notes, I was so nervous that I promptly photocopied some from a friend. Then an amazing thing happened: I hardly looked at them. When I didn’t take notes, I remembered a lot more of the material!
Not taking notes is definitely worth a shot. You will know quickly whether this works for you – and if it does, it can work wonders. If it doesn’t work for you, you might consider learning short-hand for note taking to speed up taking notes so that you can spend the extra time processing the information being taught. Or, as another alternative, try swapping note taking duties with fellow classmates and then sharing notes. Last week, I heard that some professors are comfortable with students taking pictures of the board with their phones, how wonderful!
Finally, there is no risk. If after trying not taking notes, you find that note-taking worked better for you, you can always go back.
3. Raise Your Hand and Participate
Many great students actively participate during lecture. They take the lecture very personally, as if the professor is there especially for them. In fact, they often get into long conversations with the teacher while the rest of the class just sits there. You don’t need to overdo it, but some level of participation can greatly boost your learning.
Exceptional students often treasure their time. Think about it. If you are coming to class anyway, you might at well make the most of it. So, if something is unclear, then you might as well get the professor to clarify it right there and then. And remember, if you have a question, then chances are that many other students are wondering the same thing.
The same goes for answering questions. If you think you have the answer, go ahead and raise your hand. The worst thing that can happen is you get it wrong – and trust me, if you give the wrong answer during class, you will never make that same mistake on a test. More importantly, you’ll learn the right answer! The more you participate, the more you get from the lecture, and less time you need to spend studying at home.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Health
OK, so you’ve heard it a thousand times. But, for some reason, when it comes to school, most students forget this basic principle – and so did I, for many years. The important thing to remember is that your brain is part of your body. It works a lot better when you get enough sleep and proper nutrition. Don’t stay up all night to study. Get some sleep instead so that your memory will function well on the day of the test. Eat a good meal so that you feel energetic and alert. This doesn’t just apply for the day of the test, either. Putting your health first will improve your overall learning ability, making it a lot easier to get those As.
5. Follow Your Heart
Great students study what they love.
Maybe you can fool your teachers, your parents, and maybe even your friends, but you cannot fool yourself. You know whether you like what you’re studying. You know exactly how much you like it. If you aren’t in love with what you do, it becomes very difficult to be great at it. The energy and focus required for excellence are extremely difficult to summon when, deep down, you just don’t care.
Why torture yourself? Choose something you love to do. Study something that makes you come alive. Go for something that excites you. Not only will you enjoy your life a lot more, but it will also be a lot easier to reach true excellence.