Do you think of yourself as a smart student?
If you’re like most students, you probably feel as if you take a while to grasp new concepts.
Or that you don’t perform up to expectations because of exam stress.
I know… It seems as if successful students are born smart. No matter what else is going on in their personal lives or extracurricular activities, they always get good grades.
I was a straight-A student throughout my academic career, but I’ll be the first to declare that grades aren’t everything. Grades are only one part of your education.
I’ve come to realise that successful students aren’t more intelligent than other students.
They are just more disciplined and focused, and they have developed winning habits.
So even if you don’t feel as if you’re a smart student, don’t worry.
In this article, I’m going to share with you how to be successful in school, even if you don’t think of yourself as a good student. (Download the free bonus below to learn 10 bonus tips too!)
1. Rely on systems, not motivation
Students who do well in school don’t wait until they’re in the mood to study before they get down to work.
Neither do they wait until they feel motivated before they start preparing for an exam.
Instead, successful students rely on systems to ensure that they get the work done, even when they don’t feel like it.
(Keep on reading to find out what some of these systems are.)
2. Review any new information you’ve learned on the same day
This daily review won’t take long to complete, but it’s a vital step that ensures you stay on top of the material.
Applying this tip will also help you to move the information to your long-term memory more quickly.
3. Write everything down
To be an effective student, write everything down.
This includes homework to be completed, test and exam dates, project deadlines, competition dates, school and family events, etc.
Don’t assume that you’ll be able to remember anything; write it all down to stay organised.
This tip might sound extreme, but life only gets busier as you get older. So this tip will serve you well for the rest of your life.
4. Create a rough weekly schedule
It’s impossible to follow a schedule down to the minute, but it’s still helpful to create a schedule.
Write down your rough weekly schedule based on your recurring commitments, e.g. school, extracurricular actitivies, family and social events, religious activities.
Then block out regular time each week for homework and studying.
For example, your rough weekly schedule might state that you’ll do work on:
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 7pm to 9:30pm
- Tuesday and Thursday: 4pm to 7pm
- Saturday and Sunday: 2pm to 5pm
5. Get rid of distractions before they become distractions
The biggest obstacle to doing well in school is distractions.
To overcome distractions, you can’t depend on willpower. Few of us have the willpower necessary to fight off all the distractions that surround us in this digital era.
Here are some ways to eliminate distractions before they become distractions:
- Turn off notifications on your phone/tablet
- Delete all the apps that distract you
- Put your phone/tablet in another room before you start work
- Set a really, really long password to unlock your phone/tablet
- Restrict your Internet access
- Have only one tab open in your browser at any one time
- Find an accountability partner as you make these changes
6. Develop good posture
Good posture improves your mood, and also enhances your memory and learning.
So sit up straight, pull your shoulders back, and lift up your chin – and you’ll perform better in school.
For more tips on improving your posture, check out this detailed article.
7. Don’t multitask
It’s a fact: There’s no such thing as multitasking.
Whenever you’re multitasking, you’re actually just switching between tasks. This reduces your studying efficiency.
So don’t multitask when you’re studying or doing your homework. Instead, focus on one task at a time, and you’ll find that you’ll get more done in less time.
8. Cultivate the belief that intelligence isn’t a fixed trait
Research has proven that students who believe that they can become smarter actually do become smarter.
Belief is that powerful.
In other words, intelligence is a trait that you can develop over time.
Don’t ever label yourself as “dumb” or “not academically inclined”, because with the right mindset you can become more intelligent.
9. Work in short blocks of time
I’ve found that most students can’t maintain a high level of focus for more than 45 minutes at a go.
As such, I generally recommend working in 30- to 45-minute blocks, followed by a 5- to 10-minute break.
Working in shorter blocks of time is more effective for the majority of students, rather than struggling to focus for a couple of hours straight.
10. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise helps you to remember information better, enhances your concentration, and makes you more creative.
This is in addition to the other health benefits of exercise.
What does this mean for students who want to be successful in school?
Make exercise a fixed part of your weekly routine. Exercise three to four times a week, for at least 20 to 30 minutes each time.
11. Be organised
Students who aren’t organised end up wasting precious time looking for items or notes, or doing last-minute work they forgot about.
Here are some ways to become more organised:
- Set a daily reminder to check if there’s any homework due the following day
- Set reminders to start preparing for tests and exams
- Use the MyStudyLife app
- Use a planner or Google Calendar
- Clear your desk at the end of every day
- Use an app like Google Keep to do a “brain dump”
12. Break big tasks into smaller ones
Big tasks seem complicated and overwhelming, which is why many students procrastinate.
Break every big task down into smaller tasks. For instance, instead of deciding to work on your history paper, you might break the task down into the following smaller tasks:
- Read Chapter 3 (notes)
- Read Chapter 3 (textbook)
- Do online research (5 to 10 articles)
- Develop thesis statement
- Write outline
- Write introduction
- Write main paragraph #1
- Write main paragraph #2
- Write main paragraph #3
- Write main paragraph #4
- Write main paragraph #5
- Write conclusion
- Proofread and edit
When you work on the history paper, focus on completing one task at a time. This will make it less likely that you’ll procrastinate.
13. Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
Students who perform well are effective learners. As the research shows, sleep is a vital part of becoming an effective learner.
Sleep boosts memory and enhances learning. So go to bed at roughly the same time every day, and make it a priority to get 8 hours of sleep a night.
If you do this, I’m sure you’ll see an improvement in your academic performance.
14. Create a conducive studying environment
Here are some tips to do this:
- Tidy your desk daily
- Ensure that you have all the stationery, notebooks, etc. that you need
- Ensure that the lighting in the room is suitable
- Use ear plugs to block out noise if necessary
- Put up one or two motivational quotes at your study area
- Get a comfortable chair
- Remove all distractions from the room
15. Keep track of important dates, deadlines, etc.
This is related to Tip #3, but it’s more specific.
I’ve worked with many students who try to keep track of important dates by storing them in their brains.
Needless to say, these students occasionally forget about upcoming tests or deadlines. This results in panic – and low-quality work too.
Use Google Calendar or Google Keep (an old-fashioned planner works too) to keep track of important dates, and you’ll become a more effective student.
16. Take notes during class
I’m always surprised by how many students tell me that they don’t take notes in class.
It’s important to take notes in class, because it helps you to pay attention and to learn the concepts better.
I prefer taking notes in a linear, sequential manner. But there are several other note-taking systems that you can learn about here.
17. Ask lots of questions
Asking your friends and teachers questions about what you’re learning is a great way to stay engaged. It also ensures that you understand the new material.
Don’t be afraid of asking silly questions. Besides, if you pay attention in class, your questions will likely be logical and insightful.
18. Eat healthily
Research shows that the better your nutrition, the better your brain function.
And the better your brain function, the better your performance in school.
Here are some basic tips to eat more healthily:
- Eat vegetables and fruit
- Eat meat and fish
- Eat eggs
- Eat nuts
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid sugar
- Avoid trans fats
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid sugary beverages
19. Do consistent work
Don’t do last-minute work, and don’t cram for exams.
Easier said than done, I know.
But if you do consistent work, you won’t even need to study that hard for your final exams.
(By applying the rest of the tips in this article, you should be well on your way to doing consistent work.)
20. Manage your thoughts and emotions
Students who lose focus or motivation are typically discouraged. They’re often discouraged because they feel as if they won’t do well academically, so they lose hope.
How should you become more successful in school?
Manage your thoughts and emotions effectively – especially when faced with disappointment.
To do so, take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are these thoughts true?
- Are these thoughts helpful?
- Am I taking things too personally?
- How can I view the situation more positively?
- Do I need to forgive the other person?
- Do I need to forgive myself?
- How can I be more compassionate toward myself?
- What productive actions can I take to improve the situation?
Through answering these questions, you’ll adopt a more positive and resilient mindset.
21. Take a few minutes to prepare for each class
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Preparing for class is something I encourage every student to do.
Every night, think about the classes that you’ll be having the following day in school.
Take a few minutes to skim the textbook or notes, so that you’ll be familiar with what your teacher will cover the next day.
In addition, do a quick recap of the previous topic, because the new topic will likely build on what you’ve already learned.
This process won’t take long, but it will pay off in the long run.
22. Give yourself rewards
To keep yourself motivated, give yourself small rewards whenever possible.
For example, you might decide that after 45 minutes of work, you’ll reward yourself with a 5-minute YouTube video.
Or if you enjoy exercising, you might decide that after you finish your math and science homework, you’ll get to do a 30-minute workout.
Rewards are a simple way to encourage you to get to work, even when you don’t feel like it.
23. Manage your stress
Students who don’t manage their stress well are more likely to experience performance anxiety and get worse grades.
To manage your stress levels:
- Perform deep breathing exercises
- Listen to music
- Spend time with friends on a regular basis
- Read a book
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Take a few minutes to reflect at the end of each day
24. Do and submit your homework on time
This tip might sound like common sense, but a large proportion of the students I work with don’t do this.
Make it a non-negotiable to submit your homework on time, and give a good effort for each assignment.
This is the foundation of doing well in school.
25. Challenge yourself
Taking it one step further, don’t just do the assigned homework.
Challenge yourself and do extra questions that require deep thinking. Look for online resources. Learn information that’s outside the syllabus.
This will help you to see the wonder and beauty in all that you’re learning. You’ll also be reminded that getting better is its own reward.
26. Make time to relax
Doing well in school isn’t about getting good grades and outperforming your classmates. It’s about leading a balanced life that’s focused on contributing to others.
To lead a balanced life, it’s important to set aside time for relaxation.
Block out time for relaxation in your weekly schedule to ensure that you don’t burn out.
27. Be consistent about your study time
This is a follow-up to Tip #4. In addition to having a regular weekly schedule that you stick to, it’s important to be consistent about your study time.
The more consistent you are, the less likely it is that you’ll need to feel “inspired” to get down to work.
On the contrary, you’ll get down to work out of habit and routine.
28. Have a specific plan or objective for each study session
Many students share with me that their mindset toward studying is that they’ll “study hard”. This might sound good, but it actually means that they don’t have a specific objective or plan.
This isn’t the way effective students approach academics.
For each study session, set a clear objective as to what you intend to achieve. This might be to read through a set of notes thoroughly or complete 30 multiple-choice questions.
29. Use memory techniques
Memory techniques are powerful ways to learn information more quickly.
Here are some of the most useful ones I’ve come across:
30. Test yourself periodically
Don’t assume that just because you’ve read the notes and looked through some examples that you understand the material well.
For all you know, you might have been daydreaming during those study sessions.
What else should you do?
Test yourself periodically. Do plenty of practice questions and keep a list of the mistakes you’ve made, so that you won’t repeat those mistakes in the exam.
31. Take practice exams under exam conditions
It isn’t practical to do too many practice exams under exam conditions, because it’s time-consuming.
But before every exam, I recommend that you do at least two to three practice exams under exam conditions.
This will help you to prepare adequately, and will train you to deal with the time pressure of the exam too.
32. Start studying for tests at least one to two weeks in advance
Cramming for tests is always a bad idea.
I recommend that you set a reminder on your phone (or make a note in your planner) one to two weeks before every scheduled test, so that you’ll start preparing for the test.
For big exams, I recommend that you start studying four weeks in advance or more.
33. Find ways to help others and contribute
Students often lose motivation when they focus too much on achievement and too little on contribution.
After all, the aim of education is to become equipped with skills and knowledge so that you can help others.
When students lose sight of this, they sometimes feel as if school is meaningless.
To keep things in perspective, find small ways to contribute in your capacity as a student, e.g. volunteering, fundraising, solving problems in your school, serving the underprivileged.
34. Develop a sense of purpose
Few students can maintain a consistent level of concentration and drive if they lack a sense of purpose.
If students feel as if their school life is just about striving to get straight A’s, they will likely run out of steam.
How can you develop a sense of purpose?
- What values you want to live by
- What long-term goals would be meaningful to you
- How you’d like to contribute to the good of others
- What your duties and responsibilities are
- What relationships you’d like to nurture
- What kind of person you’d like to become
As you reflect on these aspects of your life, you’ll have a clearer idea about how your academic pursuits fit into the bigger picture.
This clarity will help you to be more successful in school.
35. Don’t blame others
The key to developing resilience is to take full responsibility for your life.
This means that you refuse to blame others for anything that’s going on in your life.
No blaming your teachers, parents or friends.
No blaming the school principal or the government.
No playing the victim.
When you take this approach toward your student life, you’ll see that there’s always something you can do to improve the situation.
36. Hang out with people who are motivated and focused
No matter how much we’d like to think that we’re immune to peer pressure, we’re most definitely not.
Peer pressure affects people of all ages. This means that we must be intentional about the people we surround ourselves with.
Do you hang out with people who are pessimistic?
Are they always complaining?
Do they pursue excellence, or do they try to find shortcuts?
Spend time with people who are positive, motivated, focused, kind, generous and hardworking. You’ll find yourself developing those traits as the days and weeks go by.
37. Analyse the mistakes you make in tests and exams
It might not be a pleasant experience, but I encourage you to go through every mistake you make in tests and exams.
Analyse why you made each mistake. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Was the mistake due to carelessness?
- Did I forget a key fact?
- Did I have a poor understanding of a certain concept?
- How can I make certain that I won’t repeat the mistake?
- What do I need to do to be better prepared for future tests?
This analysis will help you to make continual progress in your academics.
38. Pre-commit to specific behaviours and habits
Pre-commitment is a strategy in which you commit in advance to certain desirable behaviours. This way, you won’t be tempted to do otherwise in the future.
Here are some examples:
- Use the StayFocusd Chrome extension to restrict the amount of time you spend on certain websites
- Ask your parents to change the password on your tablet, so that every time you want to use your tablet you need them to unlock it
- Tell a friend that you’ll delete all your social media apps on your phone by the end of the day – if not, you’ll give your friend $100
Pre-commitment is a powerful strategy that all good students use.
39. Keep a “done” list
Just as important as keeping a to-do list is keeping a “done” list.
Write down all the things you’ve accomplished at the end of each day. This will help to remind you that you’ve indeed been productive, even if you don’t feel so.
In the long run, keeping a “done” list will help you to stay positive and motivated.
40. Don’t try to remember to do things; make it impossible to forget
Some examples of these “things” might be:
- Studying for tests
- Bringing your textbook to school
- Bringing your water bottle to school
- Bringing your calculator into the exam hall for a math exam
The list goes on.
To be successful in school, don’t just try to remember to do these things. Rather, make it impossible to forget to do these things.
There’s a huge difference between these two approaches.
To make it impossible to forget to do something, you might need to stick a Post-it note on the front door. Or set an alarm (or two alarms). Or create a daily reminder to check your calendar or planner.
As you adopt this approach, you’ll become a more reliable and effective student!
If you apply all the tips in this article, it’s almost impossible that you won’t become a better student. (To get 10 more bonus tips, click the link in the yellow box at the end of this article.)
Of course, it’s neither reasonable nor practical to expect you to implement all the tips at once.
After all, the road to success is built one step at a time.
Success – as a student and in life in general – is about daily choices and habits.
Implement one or two tips in the coming week, and get some like-minded friends to join you.
As you gain momentum, implement more tips as the weeks go by.
Revisit this article often, and take action every day.
You’ll soon find that you’re becoming a more successful student who’s leading a more balanced life too.
Wishing you all the best – I’m excited about this journey you’re about to embark on!
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