I have seen students thrive, and students fail. Being a “good student” is something that a lot of people assume you either are, or you aren’t. This simply isn’t true. Frankly, I don’t really believe in a “perfect” student, just as much as I don’t believe in perfect teachers, perfect couples, or a perfect pizza…. there is always going to room to improve.
The thing is, learning isn’t comfortable. A lot of times you won’t have a clear map as to what it takes to be a good student. In any case, here are a few rules for student success.
- Show up. The best thing that you can do to help yourself succeed is showing up. Sometimes this isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it is by far the most important.
- Eat and Sleep. As much as we think of our minds and our bodies as being separate, they are not. Fifteen percent of the calories that we burn in a day are used by the brain, that is pretty power intensive for a two pound organ. And sleeping not only allows people to be able to focus more clearly on information, it also allows information that we’ve taken in to be stored in our long term memory. Sleep is a wonderdrug… use it.
- Earn your grade. Homework or assignments are not optional. Do your work, and turn it in on time. If you have an option to work ahead, then work ahead. These are how you will earn your grades, and how you can judge your understanding. If you have concerns over whether you have enough points, then talk to your instructors about extra credit or redoing assignments for full credit. Not every instructor will allow this, but your willingness to do more will be noticed.
- Do some work every day. Incremental change may not feel as satisfying as those bright flashes of insight, but they will lead you more reliably to those same insights. But marathon study sessions and cramming allow only brief recall, and don’t really give you long term benefit. Being a good student means putting time aside every day to bettering yourself.
- Ask questions. Understand that college classrooms are one of the best places to ask questions. You paid for answers, and a classroom is a place where you can ask questions without risk. If you need to know something, or even just want to know something then this is the place to do it. If you have a question, it is almost certain that someone else has had that same question, and quite likely that someone else in the class may be wondering the same things. So ask!
- Talk to your classmates. Exchange information, get a study buddy, talk about homework, talk about school, babysit for each other, offer life advice… some of your best resources are sitting right next to you. Networking is a good idea! Here is a huge hint about classrooms: they are filled with people who are interested in the same stuff as you, and they have life skills. And they may have learned something that you haven’t. So pick their brains! Are you someone who already gets it? Talk to your classmates, because TEACHING is one of the best ways of learning. You’ll both get a better understanding.
- Talk to your instructors. There are times that class is difficult for you: maybe the material wasn’t clear, maybe the couple in the back is talking so you can’t hear, or maybe you just aren’t sure what to do, or maybe you are bored and want something more challenging to do. Your instructor is there to help with these kinds of issues. Trust me, I love to challenge students who are bored…
- Take Risks. This is one of the hardest things for a lot of students to do, but one of the most rewarding. In order to learn, you need to move out of your safety zone. You need to challenge yourself… so take some risks. Take on projects that you think are difficult. Read articles that challenge your ideas. Think critically about things you have held sacred. Question everything, including this! Growth isn’t just putting more things into your head, it is learning to think better. Throwing out bad ideas and developing new tools is as much of the process as simply acquiring new information.
- Don’t neglect the rest of your life. Life will not stop while you go to school, and vice versa. Everyone compartmentalizes, but there is always going to be bleed-through of the rest of your life… so deal with it. You aren’t required to be super-student. Don’t neglect your relationships or responsibilities! You will be a better person, and you won’t be distracted when you go to class. Taking care of your classwork is your day job… (or night job, if you are a night school student). School is supposed to enhance your life, not detract from it.
My totally unsolicited opinion: Aristotle should have been drowned when he suggested mind/body duality. We are all one piece, our minds cannot function without our bodies, and our bodies cannot function without our minds. So… make yourself better. Mind and body.
And now, back to your regularly schedule summer.