David Vital
David Vital

Individual aptitudes and performance differ widely. Our interests, from the sciences to the arts, also vary. And while not everyone will be an Einstein or Mozart, every student can excel in his/her educational pursuits. This suggests that success is determined more by what we do than who we are. What then do successful students do? Here are five qualities that all successful students share—traits we should all strive to develop.

Top performing students are always highly motivated. These students know exactly what they want, possess a positive attitude and are committed to achieving their goals. We often define motivation as an "internal drive or process that makes a person move toward a goal". Most people however are more like wheelbarrows; they must be pushed and prodded if they are going to go anywhere. My father insisted that everyone had to go to school and do well. "This is your ticket out of poverty", he crooned. Luckily, this mantra was reinforced throughout my school career. Unless students understand how their curriculum or course work relates to their needs and goals, they won't exert the effort or discipline required to succeed or excel. And both the school system and home play a major role in helping motivate students.

Successful students are also in touch with their learning style. Unfortunately, teaching in Dominica is still largely confined to "chalk and talk". We assume that students are homogeneous and learn the same way. Teachers adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. That is obviously an error. Different students learn differently. Neil Flemming, a high school teacher from New Zealand, developed the VARK learning style model. The acronym stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Read/Write. People with a visual learning style absorb information by seeing it in front of them and storing the images in their brains. Auditory learners learn best by hearing and speaking. The Kinesthetic learner blooms where a hands-on-learning approach to teaching/learning is encouraged. And the Read/Write learner primarily absorbs information through the written word.

Obviously, no one fits neatly into only one learning style. So while a student for example may be primarily a visual learner, he or she may have some skills for auditory or kinesthetic learning. The idea is to know what works best for you and develop the techniques that will exploit your strengths and help you succeed. Teachers must also incorporate a variety of teaching techniques in their lessons to give all students the best chance to succeed.

Students aren't generally praised for good time management. They have to juggle their studies with a plethora of extracurricular activities and their school work always seems to take a hit.

Successful students know what is important. They know that they only have so many hours in a day and so set aside time for study. Effective study however is not about all-night-cramming sessions. Cramming only packs information into our short-term memory. On the other hand, effective learners target higher order learning outcomes. They aren't just studying for an exam or career; they are studying for life. To this end, they set time aside every day to read, review class material and do assignments.

Some students are able to study for hours on end. Others aren't. They are easily distracted. One possible solution is to stagger your study time. The idea is to find what works best for you but generally, blocking off a little study time each day to read and review class material helps develop your long-term memory.

I usually encourage my students to do peer teaching. This is anchored in a simple philosophy; good learners share what they have learnt. Repetition reinforces learning and information sharing helps the student build long-term memory. One of the things you can probably do early in the new semester to cut your learning curve and improve your grades, is to join a study group. It will afford you the opportunity to conduct research, review course work and explain what you know in ways that make sense to others. You might also discover along the way that it's easier to grasp difficult concepts from your peers than teachers and professors.

Finally, the hallmark of any successful student is self-control. Once you have determined your education is paramount, then every other decision must serve this higher calling. Yes, education is a higher calling that should not be compromised. Your priorities have to be rearranged. Relationships and extracurricular activities that are out-of-sync with your education have to either be cut, severely curtailed or postponed. You will have the rest of your life to enjoy these mundane pleasures. Ultimately however, no amount of organisation, time management, or information sharing will matter one bit if you don't develop and exercise the discipline to stick with your game plan.

Becoming a successful student is hard work; you will be challenged. But don't panic. Focus on the critical things that need to be done. And If you take the time to work these suggestions into your routine this year, you would be well on your way to becoming a successful student.