top student mindsets

The Top 3 Student Mindsets of Top Performing Students

Katiegoal setting, good habits, mental health, motivation, self advocacy

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

Good school habits, strong study skills, and the ability to stay focused are essential for academic success. I think we all know this. But what’s less frequently addressed is how successful students think. 

In this blog post, I share the top 3 mindsets of top-performing students. These are the mindsets that nearly every straight-A, not stressed-out student has, which results in good grades and an overall better learning experience.

Top 3 Student Mindsets of Top Performing Students

A quick word on mindsets: It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the education space. I know that “education language” might make you roll your eyes, and you might be getting bored learning about growth mindsets vs fixed mindsets (a growth mindset is GOLD, but I didn’t include it on the list because I wanted to branch out with 3 different ones). But I can’t emphasize this enough: mindset comes before skill.

Top Student Mindset #1: Persistence and Patience

Being “good at school” doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a switch you flip on one day, and then boom, you’re suddenly an academic weapon. If you expect instant achievement or instant improvement from new changes, habits, or efforts you’re trying out, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Top students have a different mindset. They know that the results they want might take longer than they want – but they keep going. They persist. They stick to the new study methods even if they’re hard. They track their homework in their task management systems even when they don’t want to. And they have patience when the results aren’t overnight.

So many students give up on their efforts right before they see the payoff. For example, a student might try time-block planning for the first time, in an attempt to get their time management under control. But they abandon the system just an hour in because they get distracted and think it’s not working. But top-performing students patiently stay the course.

Top Student Mindset #2: Reflect and Self-Assess

Strong students have a healthy mindset that improvement comes from reflection and self-assessment. 

What does this mean? It means that if a student gets a bad test grade, they do a post-mortem right away to figure out what happened. If they’re staying up too late every night doing homework, they’re self-assessing and asking Am I doing too much? How can I manage my time better? If they’re not understanding the content that’s being taught in class, they’re being honest about it and getting help well before the test.

Another way that top students reflect and self-assess is by thinking about their day-to-day operations and evaluating whether they like the direction they’re headed in. They ask themselves the following questions pretty regularly:

  • What do I want for myself?
  • Am I doing the things that will take me someplace good?
  • Am I happy?
  • What’s not working right now?
  • What are my goals?
  • Am I doing things that my future self will be embarrassed about or proud of?

I have a free student self-assessment quiz you can use to identify what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s a good place to start. Download the free student assessment checklist.

Top Student Mindset #3: Focus on Learning, Not Grades

If you focus just on your grades – instead of actually learning the content – you’re making things soooooo much harder for yourself in the end. Yes, there are shortcuts and sneaky moves you can use to get your homework points, but if you don’t actually learn the material, what happens when you have a test on it? Or have to write a paper on it? Or talk about it in class? Top students who are not stressed out focus on learning the material, not pretending to learn it.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re given 20 math problems for homework. You know the teacher only grades for completion and not accuracy, so you either write down random things or use a cheap hack like Photomath instead of learning how to actually do the math. You get credit for your homework completion the next day, so you’re thinking you “won.” 

But DID YOU?? What happens when you have a test on the material in a few days? You either have to frantically watch YouTube videos to teach yourself, or you fail your test. Ugh! The anxiety! It would have been SO much easier to learn the material from the beginning. Top students know this. They have the healthy mindset that learning the material is always the first and easiest step, and doing that leads to good grades.

Finals Notes About Top Student Mindsets

The most naturally bright and skilled student won’t get far without healthy mindsets. In fact, without healthy mindsets – including the three I share in this post – a student won’t likely even have skills. How we think drastically impacts what we do; that’s why I began this post with the claim that mindset comes before skill.

The good news about mindsets is that we can develop and nurture them until they feel natural. Yes, initially, it might feel like you’re “forcing” yourself to think a certain way or believe something you haven’t believed before. But this is normal and it passes. The important thing is that you persist.

Looking for more motivation to get through the rest of the school year? Here are my top 5 tips for staying motivated until the end of the school year.

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