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7 Characteristics of Successful Students

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by Jacob Akins / published 6.25.2020 / updated 7.1.2020

School can be made easier. Follow these 7 Characteristics of Successful Students to excel in school. These strategies can be used in high school and college (at the undergraduate and graduate levels). These skills translate to better understanding, being persuasive, increasing comprehension, and being more articulate in writing.

As you go through grade school and into college,  you will be taught a large variety of subjects, such as Math, English, History, etc. What you’re usually not taught, is how to be a successful student. The skills to run the gamut of education should’ve also been taught to you by your educators; instead of teachers and professors expecting you to know it on your own.

These are the most salient points for being a successful student, which will make your life much easier, and may produce academic scholarships if your academics merit it.  A lot of these skills hang together. As you improve in one or more, you improve in related ones.


7 Characteristics of Successful Students


1. Use “The Deep Approach to Learning”

Find a subject that you’re actually interested in studying.

This will facilitate what’s called the “Deep Approach To Learning”. This term was coined by Dr. Ken Bain in his book What The Best College Students Do. It turns out that having a genuine interest in the subject will mean that students like you will learn more and score higher in tests.


2. Stop Wasting Time and Learn to Manage It

  • Use a Calendar App and Set Alerts

Google Calendar is helpful for this. You can set a notification to alert you to some deadline on a particular date. You can control whether it alerts you 30 minutes before, ten minutes before, at the time of the event, etc. You can also share the event with others, and see if they’ve accepted the invitation.

  • Set a schedule

Think of your schedule as allotting time to get the work done, but also think of schedules as allowing time for your other pursuits in life, like your social life. It’s the schedule that allows for these other pursuits to be attained. It’s not just that a schedule sets aside time for the work or studying, it also carves out the rest of the time for you to do whatever you want.


3. Supercharge Your Vocabulary

The best way to improve your vocabulary:

  • Read. And read books that challenge you, because those are the books that elevate your understanding.
  • Get a dictionary app, and use it every time you encounter a word that you don’t know.
  • Top 10 Big Words on Campus. These are the most searched for words by students in college. Professors use these words, and students aren’t sure what they mean, so the searches for these words spike on dictionary apps and dictionary websites each school year.
  • Learn words such as malfeasance, avarice, albeit, auspices, rubric, and corpus, and learn to actually use them in conversation.

4. Develop These Reading Strategies

School requires reading. Reading can be your friend. Developing a facility for reading will be one of the most important aspects of your intellectual life, in school and after.

  • Read at short intervals. If it’s academic writing, allot about 45 minutes to reading non-stop, and then take a break. Your brain will need a chance to assimilate what you’ve read.
  • Summarize what you’ve just read. When you summarize, you formulate what you’ve read into your own words. This tactic is a test to make sure that you understand the material, and can recite it from memory. This is a way to ensure that the content is understood and remembered.
  • Rote memorization isn’t always helpful when it comes to remembering content with meaning. Rote memorization is helpful when it’s something like the Greek Alphabet, which of course isn’t a concept or meaning in itself, but rather a set of characters which is necessary to learn before reading Greek. The meaning will come as a result.
  • Read Mortimer J. Adler’s book called How to Read a Book.
  • Read old books. This will give you an advantage, because almost everyone is reading modern books. Old books take us out of the modern world of assumptions and things we, rightly or wrongly, take for granted as truth. They take us out of the modern zeitgeist. In taking us out of the modern set of assumptions and worldview, we can step into another point-of-view, and from there have a basis to compare the modern world’s set of assumptions. Understanding another worldview will teach us to question things that we assume and take for granted (and have often times uncritically consider true).

5. Learning to Write by Learning to Think

Writing is learning to think. It takes the idea and makes it concrete, or at least more solid. It clears the room of smoke that was a hazy set of unarticulated ideas in your mind. Think of writing as an exercise in learning to think. Not as an exercise in writing out thoughts.

People who have lost loved ones and are grieving are often told to journal, because writing helps them sort through their grief. It does that by having to face and specifically articulate their thoughts, as uncomfortable as they may be. And what they find is that they’re comforted in doing so. The exercise is cathartic and therapeutic. Why? Because writing requires self-assessment, and therefore fosters clearer thinking when the vague thoughts and notions have to be articulated in specific words. This word and not that word. So the things that grieving people are not wanting to face, such as a lifetime without their loved one, has to be not only faced, but also articulated and described. An avenue of hope and better understanding will emerge in doing so. Whenever you face the thing you don’t want to face, it shrinks and you grow. The exercise teaches you how to sift through the unarticulated haze of thoughts in your mind (especially for people who are grieving), and turn it into meaningful and understandable order.

Use the Hemingway app to check your work. The Hemingway app is helpful because it detects difficult language and helps you to parse it down into more understandable sentences.


6. Rest, and Do Something Mindless

The brain learns best by being exposed to whatever it is, such as reading, math, music lessons, etc., in fairly short intervals (about 45 minutes), and then needs time to rest. In its rest it assimilates the new information. Think about the assimilating as happening in the background, while you’re doing the mindless thing or resting. It updates like an app on your phone while you’re busy doing other things with it, like checking email.

This also ties in to the necessity of good and restful sleep. There is a lymphatic system equivalent in your brain that washes your brain clean whenever you sleep and clears it of toxins. Resting is just as important as studying. Get on a good schedule of sleeping and waking up at the same time every morning.


7. Learn How to Argue and Persuade, and Avoid Logical Fallacies

You’ll probably have to make a lot of arguments in college, in papers, and especially if you pursue graduate education. See our article on this subject called The Art of Argument: Persuasion and Logical Fallacies. This article teaches the three tenets of making a persuasive argument:

  • Ethos: Ethos is the character of the speaker. Your character, which establishes why the listener should attend to what you have to say, needs to be established right up front.
  • Pathos: Pathos is the emotional appeal to the listener. This establishes the importance of the argument and why the listener ought to care.
  • Logos: Logos is the content of the argument itself.

Your bona fides (ethos), your emotional appeal (pathos), and your argument’s contents (logos) all need to be in place to make the most persuasive arguments.

Then, concerning the Logos aspect of the persuasion technique, it’s important to avoid logical fallacies. There are many logical fallacies. Our article goes through 15 of them, with explanations and videos.


7 Characteristics of Successful Students


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