9 Habits of Highly Successful Students

Source: The Guardian

All classes contain students of mixed ability levels. However, performance in an end-of-year examination is more dependent on how hard a student is willing to work than on any measure of innate ability. Student learning correlates much more with “grit” than with talent. In other words, the more hours you study, the higher your grades will be.

In this article, I’m giving you my observations from a teacher’s perspective of what students in the top 20% (in terms of grades) tend to do.

1. They don’t play games on their iPad

Students with low scores tend to resort to picking up their iPads at every spare moment. iPad addiction is a typical sign that a student doesn’t spend any of their free moments reading or thinking. Successful students don’t usually have games on their iPad. If they do have games, they’ll be the more intellectually-stimulating ones such as Scrabble or quiz apps: you certainly won’t find an A-grade student frantically thumbing their iPad screen to Flappy Bird or Crossy Road between lessons.

2. They read the textbook at home, highlighting and annotating as they go

VCE Chemistry annotated textbook Heinemann

When I ask a class of students to open their textbooks to a certain page, four things happen:

  • The most successful students open their books to those pages, which are already highlighted and annotated with key vocabulary circled and translated/explained in the margins (see picture above);
  • The mid-range students open their textbooks, which look brand new;
  • The least successful students do nothing because they weren’t listening;
  • The remainder (if any) didn’t bring their book to school.

Reading the textbook before class does two things. First, it helps you to understand the lesson much better. It’s much more effective to read the textbook at home then ask questions in class than to learn the textbook in class then ask those questions at home. Second, a textbook that’s highlighted and annotated looks very impressive. Your teacher and classmates will be impressed.

3. They write neatly and colour-code their notes

Successful students use large, A4 notebooks. They write the date, title, and subheadings in the same places with the same colour pen. They don’t cram too much writing on one page, and they organise their notes heavily using subheadings.

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.

4. They have a designated homework diary (or an app)

Successful students always remember to do their homework. They record their homework tasks in their diaries with due dates. Reminders for iOS does this job excellently.

5. They do all their homework on time

Even if the teacher forgets to ask to see students’ homework, the most successful students will actively hand it to their teacher because they’re proud of the work they’ve done.

Even if there’s no homework set, they’ll still spend time reading the textbook (or another relevant book) or watching YouTube videos to supplement their understand of what’s been taught. The most successful students are self-motivated.

6. They pay most attention to their teacher during the lesson

From experience, students who chat to each other too much tend to get low grades at the end of the year. They miss crucial instructions, homework, questions and information being delivered by the teacher. While it’s important to be sociable, the most successful students always pay more attention to their teacher than to their classmates.

“Students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.”

7. They ask questions after class and email their teachers at evenings/weekends with questions regarding the homework

Most days, I receive Chemistry-related emails from students. However, these emails are usually sent by the same 30% or so of the students I teach. The students with the habit of asking more questions—both inside and outside the classroom—tend to fare better in the end-of-year examination.

8. They understand that we learn primarily through reading, and that the classroom is just a place to discuss what they’ve read and put it into practice

Successful students learn more outside the classroom than in. They read the relevant textbook section before class; they come to class with questions about what they’ve read. They re-read the textbook section after the lesson as well. They know that the more times they read the textbook, the more they’ll learn and the better their scores will be in the end-of-year examination. They know that their textbook (not their teacher) is their primary learning resource, and that their success depends more on how many hours they put into studying than on how ‘good’ their teacher is.

9. They know when to say, “Sir, I don’t get this!”

This is one of the most valuable skills on this list: admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new. Successful students have the confidence to admit to things they don’t understand and are thus more receptive when their teachers explain them. In other words, it’s a dangerous habit to pretend that you actually understand something—this habit usually has disastrous consequences before the end of the year. In a classroom, always admit when you don’t understand something.

“admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new”

What do you think?

Are you a student who agrees/disagrees with these 9 observations? Are you a teacher with more observations to add to the list? Write them in the comments section below.

For more study tips, click here.


18 thoughts on “9 Habits of Highly Successful Students

  1. Thanks for this post. As for me, this season you are writing more and more interesting things.

    I agree on most points, especially the first and the last. Interestingly, we don’t have a possibility to highlight text in the textbooks, as we mostly borrow them in the libraries. Some teachers ask students to do it with the pencils, however, nobody does it because they know the effort to erase all their remarks at the end of the year. 🙂

    As for mailing and calling teachers, my class always calls their principal chemistry teacher any time they want and any reason they want. I see that helps them a lot to progress, and I admire this kind of relations, though the teachers must feel tired sometimes, obviously,

    One more remark: according to my experience, the most genius people have a disastrous handwriting.


    1. I disagree with your post for several reasons
      1) the postulate that a successful student is the one with the good grade
      1) as per the above comment, a very intelligent student will not conform to the rules enunciated in your post. It is worrying that you would not adapt a more inclusive approach to teaching- not one size fits all.


      1. Hi Jasmine,
        These are just observations. While there’s much more to life than getting good grades in school, it’s also true that the students with excellent study habits such as these tend to get very good grades as well.
        This post is a generalisation of what I’ve observed about the majority of senior school students.There are always exceptions!


    2. Very interesting point!
      We had a similar issue when I was teaching in China. Libraries were extremely protective of their books and the books were near-impossible to buy (because they were in English). To get around this, the teachers would borrow the library book and ask the local copy-shop to photocopy the entire book (and bind it) for each of the students. The students then had a copy of the original book that they could annotate as they please.
      All our books were really cheap self-made copies, all had matching light blue covers, and could be enlarged easily during the photocopying process if the text was too small. Might that work in Russia, too?
      Yes, many creative geniuses do have illegible handwriting. However, success in senior school science doesn’t correlate with creativity. It correlates with self-discipline, strong analytical skills and an excellent memory.


      1. I found your post really interesting and I agree with many of the comments you made.

        However, I do find the comment on copying books quite worrying. Copying entire textbooks infringes on copyright as I am sure you are aware and if teachers and lecturers continue to copy textbooks there will be less and less good, reliable content for them to use. Just a thought.


  2. I disagree with this, I have an iq of 167 and I barely do one of the habits mentioned above. This may be because I do not feel challenged by any schoolwork I recieve ( I know this sounds extremely arrogant and I apologise I do not wish to come across like that) or I may be an exeption

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At junior school year levels, just going to class and listening to the teacher is enough to do very, very well.

    At senior school level and beyond, however, the content being taught is overwhelming. Students who don’t have these habits, in my experience as a teacher and as a student, quickly fall far behind.

    What year of school are you in?


  4. i don’t agree with post 3 because it says “THEY WRITE NEATLY and…”which in my opinion, can be a bit rude to people who can’t.It has been proven that people with bad writing are just thinking faster and therefore write faster which can sometimes be a little annoying if you can’t read it.


  5. I saw a research which claimed that students who believe in their “free will” do better in learning.

    “Free will” means, “I am in charge of my actions even when my life’s circumstances are difficult.”

    Is it the same in your class?


  6. I really enjoyed reading this article for multiple reasons. First of all, it was due to the observations you made. They seemed very realistic from a teacher’s perspective. Secondly, the way in which you organized this article was beautiful. It was well written and easy to read. Lastly, you gave credible reasoning as to why these habits are important.

    However, I wanted to point out that as the audience, it seemed like grades are everything to you and that every student should be the same. It is important to understand that yes, grades are important but what’s more important is learning to understand the concept. A student may not get the best grade, however, if they are genuinely trying and working hard, that’s what matters the most. I hope you understand! Thank you very much!


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