What distinguishes an excellent student from a mediocre one? Although there is no single way to be a good student — we all have different learning styles and personalities, after all — there are some core traits that all successful students share. How many of these five qualities do you have?
The single biggest factor in whether a student will be successful is whether they truly want to learn. A genuine desire to learn can be inspired by many things: maybe the student loves a subject for its own sake, maybe they’re determined to master something that’s a challenge for them, or maybe they want to get into a top university or medical school. Regardless of the reason, a student who wants to learn something has built-in motivation to be persistent and resolute in their study habits. This inner drive, more than any external motivation or natural talent, determines whether a student will do well in their classes.
Studying is hard work. While most people have heard of the stereotype of the naturally talented student who aces their classes while barely cracking a book, this is more a myth than a reality. Chances are, that student is putting in more work than others realize when nobody’s looking. Even if a bright student is able to pull off this trick in high school, it’s almost impossible to succeed academically in college without old-fashioned hard work. The students who do the best in a rigorous academic setting are the ones who read their assignments closely, take good notes, and regularly spend time studying on their own. Yes, it takes a lot of discipline to prioritize homework over relaxing and spending time with friends, but if you want to be an outstanding student, putting in enough study time is essential.
No matter how smart a student is or how talented they are at a particular subject, there’s going to come a time when they get stuck. Getting stuck can feel like smacking into a wall; suddenly you don’t know how to make any more progress. What do you do? A common reaction is to get frustrated and abandon the difficult assignment or homework set. What’s one bad grade over the course of an entire semester, after all? But this kind of thinking is self-destructive, and good students avoid it. By letting yourself give up on a problem or challenging concept, you’re subtly telling yourself that it’s OK to do that again in the future. Rather than quitting when they run into difficulties, good students are persistent. They take a deep breath, read the section over again, and approach the problem methodically from all sides until they find a way in. This kind of academic persistence requires patience, calm, and belief in your own ability to learn and understand challenging material.
Excellent students know that studying with other people can bring huge academic benefits. A study group provides accountability and helps to prevent procrastination. If you’re working on your own, it’s easy to leave an assignment until the last minute, but if you’ve arranged to meet with classmates and compare the work you’ve done, you won’t want to let them down. Studying with other people also gives you opportunities to brainstorm and get feedback on your ideas. If you’re having trouble understanding something, your classmates may be able to help you out, and vice versa. Explaining an idea to others is one of the best ways to learn and remember it yourself, so everybody wins.
The best students are both curious and thoughtful, and the combination of these two traits tends to produce a lot of questions. Good students don’t hesitate to speak up in class when they’re wondering about something or have an observation to share. Often, good questions can spark class discussions that touch on things that aren’t contained in the textbook or readings, making everybody’s learning experience richer.
If you’ve already got these five traits, nurture them; they’ll serve you well throughout your studies. If this list doesn’t sound like you, though, don’t get discouraged. The qualities of good students are learned, not inborn, and they can be practiced and strengthened just like any other skill you want to gain. If you’re serious about doing well in school, work on adopting these five traits, and your learning and grades will improve accordingly.