The Secret to Success in School

January 12, 2009 | | Comments Off on The Secret to Success in School

You’re not in high school anymore, and if you are in high school, it’s time to stop acting like it. As you sit in your classroom, look at how many other students are there: probably anywhere from 20-200. Let’s say there are 95% of people who will work, so 19 out of 20 or 190 out of 200. So, 20 of you are competing for 19 jobs. Of those jobs, how many of them will pay $100,000 or more? Probably just one, if that. Do you want that one? I assume that you do, otherwise, why are you in school?

So, we’ve established that you want the top job, and that 19 other people or 199 other people will also want that job, too. That’s one class room. How big is your school? How many colleges are in your area? How many are in the country? Thousands are all gunning for the top jobs in our economy. What makes you so special that you think you deserve it over anyone else?

I admit that a lot of factors are involved, but if all things were equal, what one thing would determine your success? My guess is the quality of your communication resulting from the quality of your education. Only the best get the best. The rest get the rest.

So, what are you doing to maximize your potential? Are you a good student? I don’t mean simply getting good grades. Enough begging and pleading and working the system can keep you on the dean’s list. That’s no indication of the quality of your education. What do you remember? What do you apply? How do you handle problems? How do you solve them or resolve them?

Perhaps it’s time for you to start to take your education more seriously. However, the question is, how do you do that? Read more? Stay awake at night fretting over your homework? Look serious all the time? Of course not. There are some very simple ways to succeed in school (and life), and if you apply these five simple principles, you will find that your grades will improve (legitimately), you will retain more information, apply that information more usefully, and enjoy your education more fully.

    Rule 1 Be Accountable–No Excuses

    Rule 2 Plan Ahead

    Rule 3 Take Notes

    Rule 4 Ask Questions

    Rule 5 Find Utility

Be Accountable–No Excuses

It’s so funny how we spend so much time developing reasons to explain our actions rather than to simply change our actions. I have a friend who told me she wanted to come watch my hockey game, but did not show up. When I saw her she said, I was really tired, and I didn’t feel great, so I went to bed early. But, I wanted to be there. Of course, in the nicest way possible, I told her this simple truth:

If you really wanted to be there, then you would have been there.

The truth is, she really wanted to be asleep, and so she ultimately did what she wanted. And, that’s okay, as long as you are honest about it. That’s what accountability is all about.

Now, this isn’t about me feeling disappointed that someone didn’t show up to watch beer league hockey. It’s about being accountable as a student. So, when you don’t get an assignment completed or you don’t show up for class, you have to accept responsibility for that. Ultimately, you chose not to complete the assignment or not to come to class.

The problem with excuses is that, even if they are true and legitimate, they still sound like excuses. I’ve had students tell me that it was too hot outside to go to class. I appreciate the honesty, at the very least. I’ve had students tell me that a relative has died or that they had a boyfriend who got in a car accident and she spent all night in the emergency ward. Again, it might all be true, but ultimately, we made choices not to do the work or show up.

Would you find a way to get to class or complete the assignment if there was $10 million waiting for you there to pick up? Suddenly, it’s not that hot outside, is it? Some people might say that this is horrible to say, but would you leave your grieving family or ailing boyfriend to pick up a $10 million check? If so, then not complete the assignment or not attending class seems less excusable.

As a student, you are an adult free to make choices. But, as an adult, you must accept the consequences of your actions. If you know smoking is bad for you, but you choose to do it, then you can’t be upset when you develop complications due to smoking. If you choose not to come to class, then you are accepting that you may not learn something covered in that time. If you don’t turn in an assignment, you must be willing to accept a zero on that assignment. These are the consequences of your choices.

Once you do that, instructors will certainly have a great deal more respect for you. It does not take much for you to hold you accountable, yet it seems to be a rare quality. But, it is that very person who accepts consequences of their actions that often are given more leeway. How is that done?

Plan Ahead

The answer is far simpler than you think: plan ahead. If you know you can’t make it to class, tell your instructors in advance the further out, the better. Telling your professor two weeks in advance that you won’t be able to attend class says a lot about how you feel about your education. It implies that you care enough to approach the instructor with a problem that will affect your ability to maximize your education, and that you are seeking a solution. You may find that they will allow you to turn in an assignment early or late. They might provide you with lecture notes or help you make arrangements to get notes from a student. Of course, the instructors will not always give you a break, but that’s not what this is about. Knowing that you will be absent, you can now make the choice to complete assignments early or seek notes in time. Planning ahead gives you that opportunity. After all, there are many reasons, but there are no excuses.

Take Notes

What’s the point of coming to class? Ideally, it’s to learn. But, in a typical lecture, a lot of information is handled. It’s very difficult to remember everything that was mentioned or discussed. That’s where good notes come in.

Notes serve as a reminder of material discussed. They help you remember things said in class. But, they are so much more than that. Notes also serve as a guide to reading through your text books. The ideas presented in your notes (should) reflect what was covered in the readings, and will help you focus on what’s important (in the mind of the instructor).

Ask Questions

Another important skill in maximizing your education is asking questions to help clarify ideas. When you aren’t sure about an idea presented, ask questions. It’s important for you to understand. If you don’t understand, then you will find the next idea more difficult to grasp, as some ideas are built upon one another.

A side effect of asking questions is that the instructors know you are engaged in the discussion and that you want to learn. Remember, they are human, too, and it feels good to feel like you are helping someone, especially when helping someone learn.

Find Utility

The worst feeling about being in class is that sense that the stuff you are learning is completely useless. If it’s useless, it will be very difficult to remember. It will also be very difficult to understand. Part of the reason is that you don’t care because you think it has no use for you.

However, anything you learn can be useful to some degree at some point. The trick is to ask how it can be used in the future. Students often don’t think that they will do much public speaking in the future, so they fail to see how acquiring these communication skills will serve them in the future. But, if you find that you are in a job interview or giving a presentation or simply trying to convince a customer to purchase a product, the skills of public speaking become extremely valuable.

So, for everything you learn every subject, every fact, think of ways that the information can be of use to you in the future. It might be obscure, but you never know. It may be some little fact that you bring up at a dinner party that might impress someone who happens to be looking for a few intelligent people to help run her new Fortune 500 company, and she wants you to call her for an interview. You never know!

The Key to Being a Good Student

Being a good student isn’t a trick to help you scam your way into an extra few days to turn in an assignment or get an excused absence or a boosted grade. It’s really about being good to yourself and taking care of your future. It’s about taking the long view. Memorizing notes for an exam is a time-honored tradition, but so is forgetting 90% of it as soon as the test is over. Taking a moment to think through the ideas presented to you in class and in texts will help you remember what you’ve learned and help you to find a way to use that information to be as successful as you want to be. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about: success.

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