By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
What’s the difference between an A+ student, a C student and an F (oh dear!) student?
The obvious answer is that students with higher grades score better on homework and exams than do students pulling off Cs and lower. But have you ever thought — really thought– about why some students are that much “better” at school than others? To a small degree, it may indeed come down to a genetic predisposition for learning (ie: you’re born smart), but to a much larger degree, it comes down to a student’s school habits. Without good school habits, good grades are nearly impossible (without cheating – which you’d never do!).
I’ll bet that all of the smartest students you know have some pretty basic school habits in common. Sure, they might be smart, but maybe they got that way because they mastered their habits first.
Below, I outline the five best school habits of smart students. There are boatloads more than this, but these five make the cut as the ones most directly related to becoming a better, smarter student. Ask your smart friends: I’ll bet they all use most if not all of the ones I list here.
Onward, to the five best school habits of all time.
1. BE ORGANIZED
First and simplest, keep your school materials organized. You should have a spot at home or in your dorm where you keep everything you might need for your assignments, from pencils to calculators to folders. This stash doesn’t have to be huge, but just sufficient enough to prevent last-minute trips to the store.
Second, keep your notes organized. If your note-taking skills need help, watch my note-taking video. But to sum it up: make sure you’re taking excellent notes in class, and rewriting (or typing) them up daily. This step might sound overwhelming, but it’s a key school habit that you’ll be glad you developed early. Be sure to keep these notes organized in folders or notebooks (or in apps, if you’re a techie) so they’re easy to find when you need them.
Third, keep track of your assignments. Get yourself an assignment notebook where you write down everything you need to do for your classes, and when it’s due. Or of course, you can use my simple one-page prinatables. No matter how small the task, write it down. Even if you think you’ll remember something, write it down. Your assignment notebook might include a calendar or just a blank page per day (where you list assignments) — or it might include a combination of the two. There are some great calendar and list apps out there if that’s more your style, but the key to getting this right is to use your system. Use it consistently so you trust it. This here is the notebook that I’ve been using for years to keep myself organized. I swear by it.
2. MANAGE YOUR TIME
Managing your materials, notes and assignments is one thing. But another is managing your time. If you feel like you don’t have enough time in the day, then join the club. Because honestly, we all feel that way. But we all somehow make it work, which means you can too.
The first step to managing your time is to get a grasp on two key things:
- how much free time you really have (excluding school, activities, commute time, sleeping, etc.)
- what you need to get done in that time
I strongly suggest you take a few minutes every day to make a daily or weekly schedule where you map out exactly what you’re going to do and when. Stick to this schedule. I go more into depth on this topic in another one of my videos and blog posts, titled How to find time to get your homework done. I’m also a fan of a good Sunday Routine, like this one.
If you truly cannot complete all your assignments in the amount of time you have, the obvious solution is to do less. If you’ve honestly tried your hardest to manage your time, avoid procrastination, work diligently, etc., and you still can’t get it all done, then perhaps reconsider where you’re spending the rest of your time. Do you have to belong to four clubs? Do you have to volunteer at two different places? These might be activities you enjoy (and want on your transcript), but they’re not worth it if they’re coming at the expense of your grades and sanity.
There are a bazillion studies out there that prove how helpful establishing a routine can be to productivity – so I highly recommend “routineizing” at least some parts of your day, whether you follow a routine right after school, day in and day out, or you establish a weekend routine where every Sunday at 1pm you designate “Study Time” or something. Routines are amazing – google some of the stuff out there about it.
3. DON’T PROCRASTINATE. GET AHEAD!
You all know that procrastinating, or delaying tasks until the last possible minute, is a terrible study habit. So clearly, I recommend NOT doing that. (If you need help with procrastinating, watch this video.) But to take this one even further, I recommend doing the exact opposite, which is doing or starting assignments BEFORE they’re due. Impossible, you say? Bah. You can totally do this. If you manage your time right, and take advantage of slower homework days, study halls, half-days, vacation days, etc., then you can absolutely find time to get ahead on some essay, some reading, whatever. You might have to fight the urge to spend this free time in bed or on Instagram, which we’d all rather do, but trust me – you’ll be so much less stressed if you just START something instead of pushing it back. Just think of the weight lifted off your shoulders when you’re DONE and everyone else is still in a panic. If you have ADHD, these ADHD procrastination tips are for you.
4. ASK FOR HELP
So few people ask for help these days – I don’t know why. Your teachers are literally paid to teach you, and that means after school if need be. Sometimes you’re just going to find the material hard – but the longer you wait to get help, the more behind you’re going to be, which will just stress you out. This type of stress – the type that you can totally avoid — is no good. Seriously, ask your teacher for help! Stay after school. Raise your hand and ask questions in class. Find a tutor or another teacher who can explain it differently. Search for answers online. Ask your friends. Whatever you do, for goodness’ sake, don’t just sit silently not understanding things. You might think that the A+ students just “know” the material because they’re smart. But ask any one of them and I’ll bet they get extra help either to understand the material or to understand it more. Here are my key strategies for asking for help.
5. KNOW YOURSELF
Not to get all yogic on you, but you need to understand yourself so you can work with your natural tendencies instead of against them. Know your strengths; know your weaknesses. Get to know what gooses you; learn what stresses you out.
Are you a morning person? Then study and get things done in the morning instead of fighting against yourself trying to stay up late. Or maybe you’re a night owl, in which case actually plan to get your things done at the end of the day. Do looming assignments seriously stress you out (meaning, just the thought of a paper due next week gives you a sickening pit in your stomach)? Then start them early (school habit #4 of course) and get them done so you don’t have to fret. Or maybe you thrive under a little pressure? Then plan to complete your assignments closer to their due date. (Careful with this one though: don’t lazily procrastinate, kidding yourself that you’re putting things off in the name of “knowing yourself.”) Do you dread math and take a long time to complete math assignments and study for math tests? Then budget more time for these tasks than you would for other subjects. Plan for your weaknesses.
When you really start to understand yourself as a person and a student, and when you learn to align your routines, time and tasks with your natural tendencies, then you will be unstoppable. Just work with who you are. Okay, that sounds yogic. 😉
So those are the five best school habits of smart students. The more of these habits you master, the awesomer you’ll be. Also, here are the 5 top mistakes that students make in high school – trust me, you want to avoid these.