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1.1: What Is a Successful Student?

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    Becoming a successful student means mastering learning for you, based on your skills and personal characteristics.

    Mastery means attaining a level of skill that goes beyond technique. For a master, work is effortless and struggle evaporates. The master carpenter, for example, is so familiar with her tools that they are part of her. To a master chef, utensils are old friends. Because these masters don’t have to think about the details of the process, they bring more of themselves to their work.

    Likewise, the successful student is one who masters her learning and makes learning look easy. She works hard without seeming to make any effort. She’s relaxed and alert, disciplined and spontaneous, focused and fun-loving.

    You might say that those statements don’t make sense. Actually, mastery does not make sense. It cannot be captured in words. It defies analysis. It cannot be taught. It can only be learned and experienced.

    Do you possess the skills and characteristics of a successful student?

    Characteristics of a Successful Student

    Successful students share certain qualities. These are attitudes and core values. Although they imply various strategies for learning, they ultimately go beyond what you do. These qualities are ways of being exceptional.

    As you read the following list of qualities common to successful students, look to yourself. Make a list of each quality that you already demonstrate. Make another list of each quality that you want to possess. This is not a test. It is simply a chance to celebrate what qualities you possess so far—and to start thinking about what’s possible for your future.

    Inquisitive. A successful student is curious about everything. By posing questions, she can generate interest in the most mundane, humdrum situations. When she is bored during a biology lecture, she thinks to herself, “I always get bored when I listen to this instructor. Why is that? Then she asks herself, “What can I do to get value out of this lecture, even though it seems boring?” And she finds an answer.

    Competent. Mastery of skills is important to a successful student. When he learns mathematical formulas, he studies them until they become second nature. He practices until he knows them cold and then puts in a few extra minutes of practice. He also is able to apply what he learns to new and different situations.

    Joyful. More often than not, a successful student is seen with a smile on her face—sometimes a smile at nothing in particular other than amazement at the world and her experience of it.

    Energetic. Notice the student with a spring in his step, the one who is enthusiastic and involved in class. When he reads, he often sits on the very edge of his chair, and he plays with the same intensity. He is determined and persistent. He is a successful student.

    Self-aware. A successful student is willing to evaluate herself and her behavior. She regularly tells the truth about her strengths and those aspects that could be improved.

    Responsible. There is a difference between responsibility and blame, and successful students know it well. A successful student is willing to take responsibility for everything in his life. He remembers that by choosing his thoughts and behaviors, he can create interesting classes, enjoyable relationships, fulfilling work experiences, and just about anything else he wants.

    Courageous. A successful student admits her fear and fully experiences it. For example, she will approach a tough exam as an opportunity to explore feelings of anxiety and tension related to the pressure to perform. She does not deny fear but embraces it. If she doesn’t understand something or makes a mistake, she admits it. When she faces a challenge and bumps into her limits, she asks for help. And she’s just as willing to give help as to receive it.

    Self-directed. Rewards or punishments provided by others do not motivate a successful student. His desire to learn comes from within, and his goals come from himself. He competes like a star athlete—not to defeat other people but to push himself to the next level of excellence.

    Spontaneous. A successful student is truly in the here and now. She is able to respond to the moment in fresh, surprising, and unplanned ways.

    Tech savvy. A successful student defines technology as any tool that is used to achieve a human purpose. From this point of view, computers become tools for deeper learning, higher productivity, and greater success in the workplace. He searches for information efficiently, thinks critically about data, and uses technology to create online communities. If he isn’t familiar with a type of technology, he doesn’t get overwhelmed. Instead, he embraces learning about the new technology and finding ways to use it to help him succeed at a given task.

    Intuitive. A successful student has an inner sense that cannot be explained by logic alone. She trusts her gut instincts as well as her mind.

    Creative. Where others see dull details and trivia, a successful student sees opportunities to create. He can gather pieces of knowledge from a wide range of subjects and can put them together in new ways. A successful student is creative in every aspect of his life.

    Optimistic. A successful student sees setbacks as temporary and isolated, knowing that she can choose her response to any circumstance.

    Hungry. Human beings begin life with a natural appetite for knowledge. In some people, it soon gets dulled. A successful student has tapped that hunger, and it gives him a desire to learn for the sake of learning.

    Caring. A successful student cares about knowledge and has a passion for ideas. She also cares about other people and appreciates learning from them. She collaborates on projects and thrives on teams. She flourishes in a community that values win-win outcomes, cooperation, and love.

    Reading: Actions and Behaviors of a Successful Student

    In addition to improving personal characteristics, successful students must be willing to take actions that would contribute to her success. Which of the following are you willing to do?

    Willing to change. The unknown does not frighten a successful student. In fact, she welcomes it—even the unknown in herself. We all have pictures of who we think we are, and these pictures can be useful. But they also can prevent learning and growth. A successful student is open to changes in her environment and in herself.

    Willing to take risks. A successful student often takes on projects with no guarantee of success. He participates in class discussions at the risk of looking foolish. He tackles difficult subjects in term papers. He welcomes the risk of a challenging course.

    Willing to participate. Don’t look for a successful student on the sidelines. She is in the game. She is a team player who can be counted on. She is engaged at school, at work, and with friends and family. She is willing to make a commitment and to follow through on it.

    Willing to accept paradox. The word paradox comes from two Greek words: para (meaning beyond) and doxen (meaning opinion). A paradox is something that is beyond opinion or, more accurately, that seems contradictory or absurd yet might actually have meaning. For example, a successful student can be committed to managing money and reaching his financial goals. At the same time, he can be totally detached from money, knowing that his real worth is independent of how much money he has. A successful student recognizes the limitations of the mind and is at home with paradox. He can accept that ambiguity.

    Willing to be uncomfortable. A successful student does not place comfort first. When discomfort is necessary to reach a goal, she is willing to experience it. She can endure personal hardships and can look at unpleasant things with detachment.

    Willing to laugh. A successful student might laugh at any moment, and his sense of humor includes the ability to laugh at himself. Going to school is a big investment with high stakes, but you don’t have to enroll in the deferred-fun program. A successful student celebrates learning, and one of the best ways to do so is to laugh every now and then.

    Willing to work. Once inspired, a successful student is willing to follow through with sweat. She knows that genius and creativity are the result of persistence and work. When in high gear, a successful student works with the intensity of a child at play.

    Willing to make choices to be well. Health is important to a successful student, although not necessarily in the sense of being free of illness. Rather, he values his body and treats it with respect. He tends to his emotional and spiritual health as well as his physical health.

    Reading: Personal Abilities of a Successful Student

    In addition to possessing personal characteristics and qualities, a successful student also has specific abilities that contribute to his success. Which of the following abilities do you possess?

    Able to focus attention. Watch a 2-year-old at play. Pay attention to his eyes. The wide-eyed look reveals an energy and a capacity for amazement that keep him absolutely focused on the here and now. The world, to a child, is always new. Because a successful student can focus attention, to him the world is always new, too.

    Able to organize and sort. A successful student can take a large body of information and sift through it to discover relationships. She can organize data by size, color, function, time lines, and hundreds of other categories. She has the guts to set big goals and has the precision to plan carefully so that those goals can be achieved.

    Able to suspend judgment. A successful student has opinions and positions, but he is able to let go of them when appropriate. He realizes he is more than his thoughts. He can quiet his internal dialogue and listen to an opposing viewpoint. He doesn’t let judgment get in the way of learning. Rather than approach discussions with a “Prove it to me, and then I’ll believe it” attitude, he asks himself, “What if this is true?” and then explores the possibilities.

    Able to be relaxed about grades. Grades make a successful student neither depressed nor euphoric. She recognizes that sometimes grades are important. At the same time, grades are not the only reason she studies. She does not measure her worth as a human being by the grades she receives.

    Able to be a generalist. A successful student is interested in everything around him. In the classroom, he is fully present. Outside the classroom, he actively seeks out ways to deepen his learning—through study groups, campus events, student organizations, and team-based projects. Through such experiences, he develops a broad base of knowledge in many fields that he can apply to his specialties.

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    • Which of these characteristics of a successful student do you have?
    • Which actions are you willing to take?
    • Which abilities do you possess?
    • Which characteristics, actions, and abilities do you need to work on?

    Focus on strengthening those characteristics that you already possess, and continue to build on those you don’t yet have. You are well on your way to success.

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    1.1: What Is a Successful Student? is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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