How to Become a Great Student

Chocolate!!!

Okay, chocolate won’t help you become a great student. I just want you to read a little more before you give up and say this article isn’t for you. Because I know what you’re thinking: “I’m no Einstein, so I can never be a great student.”

Wrong!

The truth is, you can become a terrific student if you have average intelligence. You may never invent a hyper-intelligent robot that practices psychology. But you can ace your subjects in high school and college, achieve great success, and be the envy of all your geeky friends. Ready to read on now?

Attitude

Since no one has invented a machine that can upload knowledge directly to your mind (as in The Matrix film), obviously you will have to put in some work in order to improve yourself as a student. You may be thinking “ugggh,” but I assure you that you don’t need to become an ubergeek to do well. You can still play video games, socialize, play sports, and make a recording with Jay-Z (okay – maybe not that last one).

It’s very easy to develop lazy habits. But it’s easier than you think to reverse them. An improved work ethic is contagious.

Let’s suppose you have an assignment due, or you have to study for a test. You keep putting it off, because you just don’t feel “psyched.” Then the deadline gets close, and you realize it’s now or nothing. You feel crappy about that, and you put in a crappy effort that leads to a lousy grade.

Yuck! In fact, the whole process felt yucky, from the procrastinating to the way you trudged through your work once you did get started. That just reinforces the idea that you’re a poor student.

But all that is psychological! It’s about emotions, not ability. You might not be as smart as everyone in your class, but in your heart you know you could do a decent job if only you “felt like it.”

At some point, you need to change the road you’re on. You can begin with small changes. Do you usually wait until the day before an assignment or test is due to begin working? Resolve to complete one third of your work on the day before that.

Will that change bring about a miracle? – of course not. But you’ll get a better grade, and you’ll feel better about how you got it. Do the same thing two or three times, and the next time you might get started two days early. Eventually, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself. There is an old saying: success breeds success. Once your self-confidence grows, so will your work ethic. You will reach a point where you’re doing a fine job and finishing with time to spare. That becomes addicting.

Me in 2006

Self-Confidence

I just talked about how improving your work ethic can improve self confidence. In addition, you can work on your confidence directly. During my 35 years of teaching, I have observed that almost all of my students are a good deal smarter than they think. Focus on your strengths.

Many people who appear to be smart are fast. They process information quickly, but no better than you do. Don’t be intimidated because someone can answer a question quicker than you can. It’s the end of the race that matters.

I once read about a tennis player who was quite short. He helped his confidence by taping a sign that said “Taller Than Napoleon” to his bathroom mirror. You don’t need to make a sign; you know what I’m saying.

Study Habits

Read about effective ways to study here. You can read this at another time if you like. Just don’t forget!

Act The Part

If you want to be a better student, you should do things that good students do. Don’t be afraid to talk about academic subjects with your friends because such things aren’t cool. Whatever you have passion for is cool. Your friend who makes fun of you for carrying a book is secretly jealous of you.

If you can, sit up front in class (where would you want to sit at a concert or sporting event?). You can even ask your teacher if you can move. Make a point of talking with your teachers about class material after class, or during extra help sessions. You can even look up related material on the web and use it to impress your teachers.

Many years ago, I visited a friend who was in law school. We played a little street hockey, and headed back to his dorm. The next thing I knew, I was listening to a bunch of law students discuss hypothetical cases, even though it was Sunday. “These guys will succeed,” I thought.

Methodology

If you have to write a paper, do some research. Also make an outline first. Twenty minutes spent preparing an assignment can save hours of rewriting.

Read!

The more you read, the better you will write, and writing is vital for most college subjects. You don’t have to become a bookworm, but make a point of reading more than just what you’re required to. Read what you like, whether it’s sports, romance, etc.

Be the Best You Can

That may sound sappy, but it’s a great philosophy for whatever you do in your life.

Suppose the President is told by an advisor that his approval ratings have slipped. The advisor recommends that the President serve in a soup kitchen to build his PR. I believe that the President would be the best soup-ladler in the kitchen. Politics aside, a winning attitude makes someone President. He wouldn’t think “I run the country, and I’ve got to do this menial chore. This sucks.” Rather, he would think “Right now, I’m a soup-ladler, and I’m here to do my best.”

Right now, you’re a student, and you’re here to do your best.

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