Tips for Successful Students

Guidelines and Thoughts for Academic Success

Adapted and shortened in 2005 by Alison Lake and Carl von Baeyer from a web page by Steve Thien, Kansas State University, which was based on the following articles in The Teaching Professor. Larry M Ludewig, "Ten Commandments for Effective Study Skills," Dec 1992. John H. Williams, "Clarifying Grade Expectations," Aug/Sep 1993. Paul Solomon and Annette Nellon, "Communicating About the Behavioral Dimensions of Grades," Feb 1996.


Successful students exhibit a combination of successful attitudes and behaviors as well as intellectual capacity. Successful students . . .

1. . . . are responsible and active.

Successful students get involved in their studies, accept responsibility for their own education, and are active participants in it! Responsibility is the difference between leading and being led. Active classroom participation improves grades without increasing study time. You can sit there, act bored, daydream, or sleep. Or you can actively listen, think, question, and take notes like someone in charge of their learning experience. Either option costs one class period. However, the former method will require a large degree of additional work outside of class to achieve the same degree of learning the latter provides at one sitting.

2. . . . have educational goals.

Successful students are motivated by what their goals represent in terms of career aspirations and life's desires. Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing here? Is there some better place I could be? What does my presence here mean to me?Answers to these questions represent your "Hot Buttons" and are, without a doubt, the most important factors in your success as a college student. If your educational goals are truly yours, not someone else's, they will motivate a vital and positive academic attitude. If you are familiar with what these hot buttons represent and refer to them often, especially when you tire of being a student, nothing can stop you; if you aren't and don't, everything can, and will!

3. . . . ask questions.

Successful students ask questions to provide the quickest route between ignorance and knowledge.In addition to securing knowledge you seek, asking questions has at least two other extremely important benefits. The process helps you pay attention to your professor and helps your professor pay attention to you! Think about it. If you want something, go after it. Get the answer now, or fail a question later. There are no foolish questions, only foolish silence. It's your choice.

4. . . . learn that a student and a professor make a team.

Most instructors want exactly what you want: they would like for you to learn the material in their respective classes and earn a good grade.Successful students reflect well on the efforts of any teacher; if you have learned your material, the instructor takes some justifiable pride in teaching. Join forces with your instructor, they are not an enemy, you share the same interests, the same goals - in short, you're teammates. Get to know your professor. You're the most valuable players on the same team. Your jobs are to work together for mutual success. Neither wishes to chalk up a losing season. Be a team player!

5. . . . don't sit in the back.

Successful students minimize classroom distractions that interfere with learning.Students want the best seat available for their entertainment dollars, but willingly seek the worst seat for their educational dollars. Students who sit in the back cannot possibly be their professor's teammate (see no. 4). Why do they expose themselves to the temptations of inactive classroom experiences and distractions of all the people between them and their instructor? Of course, we know they chose the back of the classroom because they seek invisibility or anonymity, both of which are antithetical to efficient and effective learning. If you are trying not to be part of the class, why, then, are you wasting your time? Push your hot buttons, is their something else you should be doing with your time?

6. . . . take good notes.

Successful students take notes that are understandable and organized, and review them often.Why put something into your notes you don't understand? Ask the questions now that are necessary to make your notes meaningful at some later time. A short review of your notes while the material is still fresh on your mind helps your learn more. The more you learn then, the less you'll have to learn later and the less time it will take because you won't have to include some deciphering time, also. The whole purpose of taking notes is to use them, and use them often. The more you use them, the more they improve.

7. . . . understand that actions affect learning.

Successful students know their personal behavior affect their feelings and emotions which in turn can affect learning.If you act in a certain way that normally produces particular feelings, you will begin to experience those feelings. Act like you're bored, and you'll become bored. Act like you're uninterested, and you'll become uninterested. So the next time you have trouble concentrating in the classroom, "act" like an interested person: lean forward, place your feet flat on the floor, maintain eye contact with the professor, nod occasionally, take notes, and ask questions. Not only will you benefit directly from your actions, your classmates and professor may also get more excited and enthusiastic.

8. . . . talk about what they're learning.

Successful students get to know something well enough that they can put it into words.Talking about something, with friends or classmates, is not only good for checking whether or not you know something, its a proven learning tool. Transferring ideas into words provides the most direct path for moving knowledge from short-term to long-term memory. You really don't "know" material until you can put it into words. So, next time you study, don't do it silently. Talk about notes, problems, readings, etc. with friends, recite to a chair, organize an oral study group, pretend you're teaching your peers. "Talk-learning" produces a whole host of memory traces that result in more learning.

9. . . . don't cram for exams.

Successful students know that divided periods of study are more effective than cram sessions, and they practice it.If there is one thing that study skills specialists agree on, it is that distributed study is better than massed, late-night, last-ditch efforts known as cramming. You'll learn more, remember more, and earn a higher grade by studying in four, one hour-a-night sessions for Friday's exam than studying for four hours straight on Thursday night. Short, concentrated preparatory efforts are more efficient and rewarding than wasteful, inattentive, last moment marathons. Yet, so many students fail to learn this lesson and end up repeating it over and over again until it becomes a wasteful habit. Not too clever, huh?

10. . . . are good time managers.

Successful students do not procrastinate. They have learned that time control is life control and have consciously chosen to be in control of their life.An elemental truth: you will either control time or be controlled by it! It's your choice: you can lead or be led, establish control or relinquish control, steer your own course or follow others. Failure to take control of their own time is probably the no. 1 study skills problem for college students. It ultimately causes many students to become non-students! Procrastinators are good excuse-makers. Don't make academics harder on yourself than it has to be. Stop procrastinating. And don't wait until tomorrow to do it!


Successful students can be distinguished from the average student by their attitudes and behaviors. Below are some profiles that typically distinguish between an "A" student and a "C" student. Where do you fit in this scheme?

The "A" Student - An Outstanding Student

ATTENDANCE: "A" students have virtually perfect attendance. Their commitment to the class is a high priority and exceeds other temptations.
PREPARATION: "A" students are prepared for class. They always read the assignment. Their attention to detail is such that they occasionally can elaborate on class examples.
CURIOSITY: "A" students demonstrate interest in the class and the subject. They look up or dig out what they don't understand. They often ask interesting questions or make thoughtful comments.
RETENTION: "A" students have retentive minds and practice making retentive connections. They are able to connect past learning with the present. They bring a background of knowledge with them to their classes. They focus on learning concepts rather than memorizing details.
ATTITUDE: "A" students have a winning attitude. They have both the determination and the self-discipline necessary for success. They show initiative. They do things they have not been told to do.
TALENT: "A" students demonstrate a special talent. It may be exceptional intelligence and insight. It may be unusual creativity, organizational skills, commitment - or a some combination. These gifts are evident to the teacher and usually to the other students as well.
EFFORT: "A" students match their effort to the demands of an assignment.
COMMUNICATIONS: "A" students place a high priority on writing and speaking in a manner that conveys clarity and thoughtful organization. Attention is paid to conciseness and completeness.
RESULTS: "A" students make high grades on tests - usually the highest in the class. Their work is a pleasure to grade.

The "C" Student - An Average Student

ATTENDANCE: "C" students are often late and miss class frequently. They put other priorities ahead of academic work. In some cases, their health or constant fatigue renders them physically unable to keep up with the demands of high-level performance.
PREPARATION: "C" students may prepare their assignments consistently, but often in a perfunctory manner. Their work may be sloppy or careless. At times, it is incomplete or late.
CURIOSITY: "C" students seldom explore topics deeper than their face value. They lack vision and bypass interconnectedness of concepts. Immediate relevancy is often their singular test for involvement.
RETENTION: "C" students retain less information and for shorter periods. Less effort seems to go toward organizing and associating learned information with previously acquired knowledge. They display short-term retention by relying on cramming sessions that focus on details, not concepts.
ATTITUDE: "C" students are not visibly committed to class. They participate without enthusiasm. Their body language often expresses boredom.
TALENT: "C" students vary enormously in talent. Some have exceptional ability but show undeniable signs of poor self-management or bad attitudes. Others are diligent but simply average in academic ability.
EFFORT: "C" students are capable of sufficient effort, but either fail to realistically evaluate the effort needed to accomplish a task successfully, or lack the desire to meet the challenge.
COMMUNICATIONS: "C" students communicate in ways that often limit comprehension or risk misinterpretation. Ideas are not well formulated before they are expressed. Poor listening/reading habits inhibit matching inquiry and response.
RESULTS: "C" students obtain mediocre or inconsistent results on tests. They have some concept of what is going on but clearly have not mastered the material.