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5 Common Traits of Top College Students (article)

by Mike Kowis, Esq.

Over the past 16 years, I have seen hundreds of college students come through my classroom door at the local community college where I teach three-hour night classes. Despite my best efforts to ensure that all students succeed, some students fall below their full potential.  I’d love to see the day when all students surpass my wildest expectations and everyone in the class earns an A.  That day hasn’t happened yet and will not likely happen until the underperforming students step up their game.  To that end, I’d like to share the following five traits that I commonly see in my top students.

  1. Perfect attendance,
  2. Read before class,
  3. Treat college like a job,
  4. Ask when help is needed, and
  5. Don’t wait until the last minute to study for exams.

Now let’s go over each trait in further detail.

First, my best students have impeccable attendance habits. How do I know this?  After each major exam in my class, I ask the students with the highest scores to stand up so I can ask them two questions in front of the class.  I explain to the class that I don’t know their answers ahead of time, and this usually piques their interest. The first question I ask is whether they attended all classes leading up to the test.  Normally, 90% or more raise their hand to this question.  This makes perfect sense.  Students who attend class are more likely to recall the materials come test time, especially if those students happen to learn best by hearing the lectures (as opposed to reading the materials, doing hands-on projects, etc.).  Also, attending class has other advantages including the opportunity to ask questions, take daily quizzes, etc.

Next, I ask my top students if they are in the habit of reading the assigned chapters before class. Typically, 85% or more answer in the affirmative to this question.  Again, this is the logical response given that students who read ahead of time have an advantage of absorbing the materials before class and they can concentrate on asking questions or seek clarification for any topics that they don’t fully understand.

Third, my A students usually treat their college endeavors like a job. By that, I mean they make it a priority to read the assigned chapters, attend all classes or tell the instructor ahead of time if an absence is unavoidable, take notes in class, turn in assignments on time, and study for tests.  In other words, they take school seriously.  More often than not, my underperforming students seem to be going through the motions and only put forth an effort when it’s convenient.  You could say that their heart is not in it and it becomes obvious when they receive their grades.  That is not to say that everyone who earns a C is not putting forth their best effort.  Some students have learning disabilities, serious illness or other significant distractions such as a stressful home life that keep them from earning an A and this is completely understandable.

Fourth, the most successful students in my class speak up if they need help or clarification. Generally, there is nothing wrong with being shy. However, shy students usually don’t get their questions answered.  The only way to do that is to communicate with your instructor or classmates when help is needed.  Good communication skills are expected from my A students, just as they are expected by employees in the corporate world.  Shy students should learn to speak up if they hope to succeed in college classes.

Last, I have observed that students who performed poorly on my first exam are typically students who waited until the night before the test to study. Last-minute studying works about as well as last-minute Christmas shopping.  You get what you get, so don’t get your hopes up. LOL  But seriously, proper study habits in college should include keeping up with the assigned reading during the semester as well as setting aside adequate study time during at least two or three days immediately before a major exam (or more days if the test is challenging).

I hope the above tips help some students reach their full potential.

Kind regards,

Mike Kowis, Esq.

If you enjoyed the above tips, please check out my amusing and award-winning book about college teaching called Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors. (please click this link to find out more!)

Copyright © 2017 Mike Kowis, Esq.

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