Your performance at school, and what you achieve during your university career, depends on a complex interaction of factors. In his 2008 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that “
the relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point
.” That is to say, you can be smart and gifted academically by chance of birth, but there are conditions on how far your natural gifts and talent will take you. There are too many instances of people who have had what it takes to get by on little effort, who have failed to take their success and greatness to the next level because they were unwilling to consider the other factors that contribute to success.
While you are at university you are going to encounter a wide range of people of varying academic abilities. You’ve likely already encountered people in your life who just seem to “get” things. The guy or girl in your calculus class who shows up late, never does the homework, glances at a textbook a couple hours before an exam and ends up in the top 10 percent. The superstar athlete who eats whatever they want, parties, barely trains, and still dominates on the court or field. These people are few and far between, and once you take the competition to the top levels, those who leverage their talent and combine it with other practices and self-knowledge are the ones who achieve real greatness. The same goes for university. Below are some useful tips to help you combine what you’ve already got with choices and practices that will greatly improve your performance.
Spread out your studying
This is one of the most important things you can do to improve your performance, and the positive effects of spacing out your learning
have been observed in people of all ages
, from preschool to university. This is the polar opposite of the tactic that many university students choose to employ: the last-minute cram. When you try to shoehorn as much information as possible into your short-term memory during the final hours before a test or exam you are setting yourself up for sub-par performance.
Instead of waiting until the 11th hour to start learning and absorbing the course material, dedicate a set amount of time every day to going over it. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time. An hour a day of revisiting your notes, or even doing further reading into a course concept, or lesson plan you found particularly interesting (even challenging) can go a long way to helping information stick. To some, however, this might sound like wishful thinking. Competing obligations during our university careers – family, friends, work, emergencies, other courses – often leave us with little choice other than to cram. Sometimes there isn’t even enough time to cram. If you are worried about an upcoming exam or test that you just don’t have time to study for,
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Get more sleep
Getting more sleep might seem like a pipe dream to many university students, especially when you’re in the throws of mid-term season and every waking moment of the day is already taken up with something pressing. But that is not always the case. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest drains of performance. It’s why people in the military, professional athletes, chess masters, concert pianists, and anyone whose job it is to be on top of a very high stakes game all highly value sleep.
As mentioned, getting enough sleep is not always going to be an option. One of the realities of adult life is that doing and achieving certain things often means forfeiting things like sleep, a predictable meal schedule, etc. But many university students are their own worst enemies when it comes to sleep. Starting a two-hour movie at 11:30 a.m. when you have to be up at 6 a.m. the next day is shooting yourself in the foot. Some people are able to function and feel energized on less sleep than others, but if you are able to get to get 7 hours of sleep, it will improve your mental acuity and your performance at school.
Speaking to your professor after class or during office hours
This could be filed under “free help.” If you hear something in class that you don’t understand, or would like to run an idea (such as a thesis statement for a research paper) by your professor during his or her office hours, do it. So many students would rather risk a poor grade and not be perceived as stupid, than to seek clarification or guidance.
Think of it this way: is it better to hand in a paper you are not confident in and then agonize over your professor’s remarks when you get your paper back, or to take the half-and-hour required to bring your paper into their office hours, ask them for preliminary feedback on your research, and avoid the red ink on your paper? The latter might require some pride swallowing, but there is a good chance that the students in your classes who are getting the best marks on their papers are the ones who run their ideas by people more experienced and knowledgeable than them before proceeding with the assignment.
Take advantage of writing labs
Most universities offer writing labs where students who are experienced writers look at other students’ papers and provide constructive feedback to make their work better. These are free services, and you can usually either sign up for them online, or walk into a writing centre and drop your work off.
These are especially useful if English is not your first language, but they can be used by everyone. Even if you think you’ve written, or are in the process of writing a stellar paper, having a second, neutral opinion on your work can make enormous improvements to both your style and content. Many of the people who work in the writing centre are often graduate students who have much more writing experience (especially academic writing experience) and may have even taken the same course in the past.
You are going to university to learn and to do well. You might already have what it takes to do somewhat well without having to put in much effort, or you might not, but the effort you exert matters. If, after having heeded the above advice, you are still not satisfied with your performance at school, get in touch with
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(2011). “Hard work beats talent, but only if talent doesn’t work hard.” Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-procrastination-equation/201110/hard-work-beats-talent-only-if-talent-doesn-t-work-hard