11 Habits of Highly Successful Students

Reading Length: 9 minutes

What makes the difference between successful versus unsuccessful students? Successful students blackmail their professors! Just kidding. Please don’t do this. We start with identifying their habits. I am not saying that I am a perfect student or that you should follow my example. I’m just speaking from my own experiences and observations of high achieving students in my classes. So here are the 11 habits of highly successful students:

1.Have effective study habits.

Figure out the best study methods that work for you. Is it studying with a group, by yourself or a combination of both? Are you a visual or auditory learner? How are you reviewing your notes and materials? What times of the day are you more energized and awake to study? Do you cry or hold in your tears during study sessions? Reflect upon those questions to map out a study plan for yourself. Here are some effective study habits:

  • Create a study plan, outlining all your study sessions and goals.
  • Turn off all distractions during focus sessions. Focus with all your attention for at least 45 minutes and take breaks in between.
  • Take notes during class.
  • Review what you learned in class.
  • Keep testing yourself. Problems are your friend.
  • Use active recall. Try the closed book method and SQ3R method.
  • Study during your most energized times. For me, it’s early morning.

Remember these not to-do’s:

  • No last minute cramming.
  • No procrastinating.
  • No distractions.
  • No excuses.
  • No all-nighters.
  • No multi-tasking.
  • No crying. Just kidding, do this a lot.

2.Focus on time management.

Example of how I used to structure my days

When I was in high school, I had an obsession for scheduling and planning. I practically carried my planner like it was my companion. Classmates called me an overachiever and too extra. But it genuinely helped me feel less overwhelmed and more in control of my days. Now, I’ve betrayed my planner and switched to Google Calendar because I find it much more efficient and convenient. So become more intentional with what you do with your time. Take advantage of your calendar by time blocking your activities! Here are some tips:

  • Time block all your activities, especially your study sessions. Don’t beat yourself up if you go over the time as you planned.
  • Write down all your assignment deadlines and exam dates early. Put it all on your calendar.
  • Set a reminder for yourself when it comes time to do that task.
  • Reserve one day of the week to plan out your study and work load. I usually do this on a Sunday night.

3.Find your best study environment.

Studying at a cafe with my friend

You ever noticed that there’s plenty of students who love to study at cafes? I’m one of those students. I personally work best in an environment that has coffee smell and some jazz music. It made studying for Physics almost tolerable. But now because we’re in quarantine and stuck at home, I just try to imitate that environment at home and hope for the best. Here are some study places to consider:

  • A coffee shop.
  • A library.
  • A book store.
  • A park.
  • A friend’s or classmate’s place.
  • A tutoring center.
  • An empty classroom.
  • Any other quiet spots.

4.Learn basic and important living skills.

Now, I know I still haven’t experienced independent living but I’m currently making the transition towards that. Adult life can be scary. But I’ve seen plenty of adults who still have the life skills of a child. And I’ve seen plenty of children make adult moves and adult money. I can almost see that for my future so I’m aggressively trying to avoid being a woman-child. So it’s best we figure out these basic skills to make the transition easier. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cooking. Learn some recipes from your parents. Or, use learn some simple and healthy recipes online. I like learning from Tasty.
  • Finances. This includes knowing how to keep a budget, pay bills, tip services, using credit cards, maybe even investing etc…There’s plenty of YouTube channels that teach about basic finances. I follow Rich Dad Poor Dad and Graham Stephan.
  • Laundry. Washing, drying and folding clothes.
  • House cleaning. Washing dishes, sweeping floors, taking out garbage etc…
  • Grocery shopping. Consider keeping a grocery checklist to save time and energy whenever you do your grocery shopping.

5.Keep learning outside of school.

You probably know this but school often doesn’t teach skills that are applicable to real life. I mean, unless we’re a mathematician or a teacher, when are we asked to solve Algebraic or Physics formulas in our careers? Learn skills that are more applicable and useful for your life. Become a lifelong learner outside of school! Here are some platforms to start learning more:

6.Take care of basic foundations of health.

As students, we’re notoriously known to neglect our health. But our health is literally linked to everything we do in life. Top performing students understand this which is why they always make sure to monitor and manage their health closely.

  • Exercise. Studies have suggested to get at least 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week at 60-80% maximum heart rate. Periods of rest during exercise show great health benefits as well. 
  • Sleep. Studies have shown that young adults between ages 18-25 require about 7-9 hours of sleep. 
  • Diet. Focus on eating foods that are low in the glycemic index which includes whole grains, proteins and fruits.

7. Stop living a life of all work and no play.

“So, what do you do for fun?” I was asked this question plenty of times and I had no idea! The closest thing to fun I had was watching Netflix till midnight. I was the literal definition of a boring and no-life workaholic. Discovering hip-hop dance and the guitar was like finding another side of myself. And of course, this blog and my YouTube channel also renewed my sense of playfulness and passion for life. I saw that my top performing classmates also took on activities they loved. Some of them loved kick-boxing, swimming, photography, drawing, hiking, recreational screaming etc…

So don’t be just all about school. Take up some hobbies or side projects. Just do it because it’s fun! If you’re stuck on where to start, you can even look back to your childhood. What activities interested you the most? Or, you can check out a list of hobbies here.

8.Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Use the 5-Minute Rule. Kennedy writes that you should ask for help from your teacher or tutor if you’ve been stuck on a question for more than five minutes, and have made zero progress.”

-Michelle woo, Parenting editor on Lifehacker

I told myself that I worked best alone and I didn’t need help. But that was just my ego talking. After a few barely passed exams, I knew I was in trouble. We like to think of ourselves as completely independent and capable of doing anything without any help. But there are times when asking for help is necessary. Here are some suggestions:

  • Reach out to your professor.
  • Find a friend or classmate.
  • Form or find a study group.
  • Find a tutor.
  • Make use of library resource centers.

9.Get career or internship experience.

Volunteer position at hospital in the summer

Always keep a look out for any good opportunities that may provide a good learning experience. Whenever there was a summer break, my friends and I often took advantage of the break to look for any good career opportunities related to our major. I was even fortunate enough to meet my mentor at a clinic I worked at. Here’s some places to start:

10.Think long-term.

Phone lock screen of my vision board

“Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” That was the question I dreaded hearing during job interviews. I had no idea. I was so busy juggling school, life and myself in general. I didn’t find time to think about the big questions. Yes, life often doesn’t go the way we plan. But it’s good to start thinking about the answers to these questions so that our everyday actions align with that. For example, if you plan on becoming a successful engineer or doctor, I’m guessing one of your plans will be to establish successful study habits. Or, if you’re planning on having a few close friends, your plan will be to take the initiative to hang out and get to know others. Reflect on these questions:

  • What are my plans and goals for the future? What am I doing now to get there?
  • Why do I have these plans and goals?
  • Where do I see myself in 5,10,15 years from now?
  • What is the 1% action I can take everyday to make progress towards those goals?
  • Write it down or create a vision board.

11. Learn from failures.

I can’t tell you how many times I flunked a science or math exam. Each time, there was a different reason. Sometimes it was genuinely my fault. I would claim that I “loved” the panic of last minute studying. Other times, it was because I didn’t find the study method that worked for me. Apparently, just repeating the material over and over again wasn’t a good study strategy. The main point I’m trying to make is to learn from the failures. Maybe find a tutor, study with a smart friend, ask help from a professor or change my study method. Reflection is the first step to reaching a solution.

  • What went wrong?
  • What can I do to make it better?
  • When will I start doing this?
  • Why am I like this??? I question this about myself a lot.

To Recap:

  • 1. Have effective study habits. Figure out the best study methods that work for you. Create a study plan, turn off distractions, take notes, review, test yourself, use active recall and study in your energized times.
  • 2. Focus on time management. Time block all your activities, write down your deadlines and exam dates, set a reminder, and reserve one day to plan everything.
  • 3. Find your best study environment.
  • 4. Learn basic and important living skills. Cooking, finances, laundry, house cleaning and grocery shopping.
  • 5. Keep learning outside of school. Learn skills that are you applicable and useful for your life.
  • 6. Take care of basic foundations of health. Get enough exercise, sleep and a healthy diet.
  • 7. Stop living a life of all work and no play. Don’t be all about school. Pick up some hobbies or side projects.
  • 8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use the 5 minute rule. Reach out to your professor, friend, or classmate. Find a study group or tutor. Make use of library resource centers.
  • 9. Get career or internship experience. Keep a look out for any good opportunities.
  • 10. Think long-term. Think about: What are my plans for the future? Where do I see myself in 5,10,15 years from now? What is the 1% action I can take to make progress? Create a vision board.
  • 11. Learn from failures. Reflect: What went wrong? What can I do to make it better? When will I start doing this?

In Conclusion…

Now you know some of the habits of successful students. As I said before, I’m not the perfect student you should follow. Please don’t give me that title and pressure. But if you observe a lot of the high performing students, a lot of them have most of these habits. So, we can take a few good notes and to try to apply it in our own life. Who knows, maybe with these habits, you’ll become a Harvard student, noble prize winner or criminal mastermind.


Published by Jean Soo

My name is Jean Soo. I’m a physical therapy student and blogger. I’ve spent quarantine studying and reading over hundreds of self improvement content. I’ve personally faced my own life transformation through some of these books and articles which I will share with you. You can expect to receive valuable content about building better habits, enhancing productivity and promoting more happiness in life. Stay tuned!

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