8 Study Tips: Learn the Strategies that Set Top Students Apart

Study tips to get to the top

It’s annoying, isn’t it?

You see them in every class. The students who seem to breeze on through.

Coolly killing one test after another.

How do they do it?

Is it something you can master?

Yep, it is. You see, scientists have been snooping on these top students for decades.

It’s not magic. Students who get good grades simply use essential study skills and strategies.

One study found that a key set of learning strategies explained 90% of the variance in high-school GPA. And 48% in standardized test scores.

Professor Barry Zimmerman of CUNY and Anastasia Kitsantas of George Mason University published their results on academic achievement in Contemporary Educational Psychology.

So, what exactly do those top students do?

Those who’ve really mastered the art of learning?

Zimmerman and his colleagues have chased those questions for over 30 years.

In a 1986 study, they found that high-achieving students used 13 learning strategies more frequently than lower-achieving students. The secrets of these master students were exposed.

A few years later, Professor Paul Pintrich and his team introduced the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire.

It built on the earlier work, and revealed a few more critical study strategies. And it was the main measuring stick used in the Zimmerman and Kitsantas study.

For this post, I’ve combed back through the research to illuminate the tactics, procedures and mindsets for studying that set these high-achievers apart.

Here are 21 study tips liberated from these master students to help you get more out of your studies and boost your grades.

Study Tips 1: Focus on mastery

Learning matters.

It doesn’t end with High School or College. You will be doing it for your whole life.

In a quickly changing world, learning is survival. The better you get at learning new things, the more powerful you become.

For each class you take, try to grasp the material as deeply as possible. Push yourself to learn new topics, even if they seem really tough at first.

Aim to become a better learner than you are right now.

Study Tips 2: Find the value for you

It’s common to complain that we don’t learn anything useful or relevant in school. That the subject matter is just not important.

Sure, it’d be nice if teachers did more to point out the applications of the topics they cover. Yet, it’s also easy to dismiss anything they do say, as not relevant to you.

The best students start with the idea that there is some value, and then try to figure out what it is.

You can brainstorm, or search the web for phrases like: What’s an application of X? How does X get used? Answer for yourself: How is this relevant to my life?

Study Tips 3: Take charge of your learning

It’s rough.

School can make you feel like you have zero control.

Of course, you’ll gain more say in what you study as you advance levels. You can also start taking charge now by controlling how you learn.

Use the teacher’s lesson plan and assignments as a starting point. A guide to what you need to know. Then set your own agenda to get it down.

Taking control of your learning is the start to ruling your world. Own it.

Study Tips 4: Build your competence and gain confidence

Do you believe you can get straight A’s? Do you think you can master any subject?

Believing in your ability really helps you push in and learn something new.

Your confidence may inflate easily if you often hear how smart you are. But that confidence is unstable. Easily lost.

To get lasting confidence, you have to show yourself that you can.

So, pick one thing. Learn it deeply. See how you do. Rinse and repeat. Over time, you’ll see that you really can learn any new thing.

Study Tips 5: Think critically about what you’re learning

Do you feel like you’re supposed to swallow all that your teachers tell you in one big gulp? And then regurgitate for the test?

Well, you don’t have to consume your courses that way.

You can approach learning like a master chef. Slice and dice the ideas. Chew them up in little bits. Taste the flavors and decide if they agree with your palette. Think of a dish that you might create.

Too obscure? Oops. How about…

Question the ideas. Scrutinize them. Consider other possibilities. See if you find the notions convincing. Build your own ideas off of the material presented.

Study Tips 6: Frame it your way

Imagine reading back over your notes. They’re a complete mess. Your chicken-scratches don’t help, sure. But there’s a bigger problem.

The ideas don’t really seem to flow in a way that makes sense to you.

Guess what?

That’s ok. There’s not really one best way to present ideas for everyone, because our minds are all different. But, you can reorganize the ideas your way.

Rearrange the ideas. Represent them in a manner that clicks for you.

Pull out the major points and make an outline. Put them in a table. Draw a diagram. Create a concept map. Make them yours.

Study Tips 7: Use grades to keep on track with learning

There’s no denying. It feels good to get a high grade. And it’s fun to show your family and friends.

Grades are also a sign of how well you are learning the material. Use them to gauge how effectively you are studying.

Getting a low grade? Don’t quit. And don’t get mad at the teacher. Change how you study for your class. Look at your new scores to see how that’s working. No improvement? Never give up. Try something else. And when you do see them move up – celebrate!

Study Tips 8: Rehearse and remember

Imagine you got the lead in your school play. How would you get your lines down?

You’d rehearse! You’d practice saying them. Several times, without looking.

Treat your tests the same way. It’s a little more private (unless you have orals), but you’re still going on stage.

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