Skip to content

How To Be A Successful Student

First things first – Happy New Year!

As we step into a new year we are disappointingly still not met with a reality in which YouTube videos keep playing when you exit the app, but we are presented with another opportunity to live our best lives.

For a lot of students, including myself, the start of a new year often means setting a resolution to be a ‘better’ or ‘successful’ student.

Whilst this is a commendable resolution, it can be quite abstract and difficult to achieve if the terms ‘better’ and ‘successful’ are left undefined.

So, in today’s post, let’s try to demystify this goal, by figuring out what being ‘successful’ as a student means to you, and then grounding it in some tangible and actionable targets. That way, this can hopefully be one resolution that you will have happily fulfilled by the end of the year, and will continue to do so in the future!


What does it mean to be a student?

In the effort to be a better student, it can be useful to determine what it means to be a student.

Some dictionaries give these definitions of ‘student’:

  1.  A person who is studying at a university or other place of higher education – Oxford Dictionary
  2.  If someone is a student of a particular subject, they know about it and are interested in it – Cambridge Dictionary
  3.  An attentive and systematic observer – Merriam-Webster

At a very basic level, there are two aspects of being a student.

One aspect is of being part of an educational institution, and the other is engaging in personal development through learning.

Targeting one or both of these for improvement can help you to achieve your goal of being a successful student.

1. How to do better in school

Whether you’re at school, college or university, as the first dictionary definition above alludes to, there’s the side of being a student where you are part of an educational institution.

As part of such an institution, it is usual for assessments, essays and exams to constitute a significant part of your experience as a student.

By working towards performing better in this aspect of being a student, you can achieve your goal of being successful, if that’s what your vision of success looks like.

In his TedxYouth@Tallinn talk, ‘What do top students do differently?‘, Douglas Burton presents research findings that explain how to be a top performing student. Here’s a quick summary:

  • IQ is not as important a factor in determining how well you perform as we tend to think. Don’t worry about not being ‘smart enough’.
  • Don’t aim to just work hard. Work hard in the right way. Check out my post ‘Working Hard v Working Smart‘ where I talk about this in more detail.
  • Create a study timetable and stick to it. When creating it, schedule the things you love to do first. Make sure you’re doing something that makes you happy every day because this can motivate you and help to maintain a healthy study/life balance.

I’d definitely recommend watching the full talk for more insight into how you can do better in school. Also, here are some examples of specific actions you can take this year:

  • Refine and perfect your exam technique. Do lots of past papers in advance of exams so that you are well prepared to analyse and evaluate what you know, not just to regurgitate memorised facts. Douglas Burton’s talk highlights that practice is crucial for attaining top marks in exams.
  • Hone your research skills. Read widely and adopt a writing style similar to that of published academics so that you can improve your essays. (Of course, no plagiarising!)

2. How to learn effectively

If your goal this year is to be more active and engaged in your learning so that you can have a more meaningful experience of the content, find areas of your learning process that you can improve.

The Study Skills Handbook (in Chapter 3) gives detailed and accessible insight into various processes and styles of learning.

A great piece of advice from the Handbook is to ‘adapt your course to suit you’, essentially meaning make your learning your own.

In my first post, ‘How To Survive First Year‘, I gave the advice to ‘learn how you learn’, and the Handbook takes this further using the SHAPE model, which I have summarised here:

Personalise your learning with SHAPE (1)


Words of wisdom

In the words of T.D. Jakes,

Whatever you value, you sacrifice for.

Essentially, you are only as good or successful a student as you are willing to sacrifice your time and effort into being.

So, how can you be a successful student in 2018?

See the time and effort you spend as an investment towards the achievement in which you find value.

If it’s acing your assessments, do everything you can to not only meet but go above the subject/module criteria.

If it’s pursuing your intellectual curiosity in a subject you are interested in, learn how to learn and immerse yourself in the content.


That’s it for this post – the first of what I am believing will be a productive and happy year.

Also, I’m thinking of turning this ‘How To Be A Successful Student’ idea into a series because there are so many other aspects of becoming a better student. Don’t hesitate to let me know if this is something you’d find useful!

Wishing you the very best for 2018.

Onwards and upwards,

Anoshamisa 🙂

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

%d bloggers like this: