Most people grew up believing certain supposed truths – if you study harder, you’ll get better grades. You’re either good at math, or you’re not. Following the teacher’s advice is the best way to get a good grade. Which is false.
Studying Too Hard Isn’t Effective
The first lie is that if you study harder, you’ll get better grades, or alternatively, you’re not getting straight A’s because you simply aren’t working hard enough. Don’t get me wrong – putting in the time and effort studying is a necessary part of doing well in school.
But if you’re like the many students that grind hard and still fall short in class, it has less to do with your effort and more to do with your approach. The vicious cycle works like this. Sally studies hard and wants to be a good student. When midterms come around, she gets a B-, and because she’s aiming to ace her major exams in the final year of school, she knows she needs to do a lot better.
So for the next several weeks, she dedicates even more time studying, forgoing social events on weekends to be productive. The second round of midterms come around and now she earns as B+. Better, but she’s aiming for an A.
So, she works harder, now skipping her evening Zumba and outings with her close friends so she can hole up in her room with her textbooks. She doesn’t even call her best friend on the weekends anymore. A few weeks later, she receives her final grade. To her dismay, it’s a B.
What happened? Sally was so focused on working harder, believing that was the answer to improving her grades. Our performance as a student is not siloed from other aspects of our life. Being an effective person makes you an effective student to be effective on test day, not the other way around.
Rather than putting in more hours studying, Sally’s efforts would have been better spent examining why she didn’t get a better grade. She would have discovered she was already putting in plenty of time with the books, and further examination would point to one of two factors as the culprit: either her study strategies were ineffective, or her test taking skills were sub-par.
By working harder and forgoing other activities and habits that lead to a balanced life, like good nutrition, regular exercise, and quality time with friends, she actually became less effective. She was experiencing the early stages of burnout. How you study is more important than how much you study.
Believe in Yourself
Have you ever heard that you’re either smart, or you’re not, and therefore your fate is sealed? Smart students will score well across all classes, and dumb students are doomed to do poorly. You’re looking at me confused. I know, you don’t need me to explain why that’s nonsense. But still many believe a derivative of this lie, which is that you may be good at English, and bad at Math, or vice versa.
The key here lies in the language we use and the mindset that we adopt. Let’s say you’ve historically scored poorly in Chemistry or Physics. Like many of the students I tutor, you may tell me you’re just “bad at science.” By saying this, by believing this, you’re reinforcing an identity of being someone who is bad at science.
So despite revamping your study strategies, you’ll never reach your full potential in science. For you to get an A in Chemistry would now be directly contradictory to the identity you’ve taken on for yourself. This is cognitive dissonance at play, and this wreaks havoc on so many students.
If, instead, you say “I used to score bad in Physics because I had the wrong approach,” you now open up the possibility of crushing your science courses moving forward. It’s subtle, but believe me this has the potential to completely revolutionize your performance. This simple trick has saved so many of my own students.
The reason is that now your subconscious believes you can do much better. The underlying assumption has shifted, and this empowers you to make the most of your new study and test taking strategies. Be careful the next time you lament about not being good at a certain subject. Not being good at something is taking on an identity. And identities are incredibly powerful at constraining our perceptions and future actions. Rather, be someone who is constantly improving.
If you improve 1% every day, you’ll be 38 times better in one year. No, that’s not a mistake, that’s just the power of compounding in action. If you’re also a fan of the compounding effect, let the world know by mashing that like button. The idea that being a better student will make you more successful later in life is part true, part false.
Your Lifetime Success Isn’t Really Correlated to Your Academic Success
People love to latch onto the stories of famous entrepreneurs who were drop-outs or not necessarily strong students. To them, I say look up the definition of survivorship bias. Elon Musk wasn’t a bad student because he couldn’t figure out how to get A’s, it’s because he was so far ahead of us mere mortals that school wasn’t challenging or interesting to him. Others have even spun an argument that if you’re a C student, you’ll be better off in the long run. The people pushing that would make for great lawyers.
The truth is, if you’re a mediocre student, or a decent student, or even a good student, there isn’t a strong correlation with your lifetime success. However, if you’re a stellar student, the top fraction of a percentile, you’re likely going to do well, regardless of your path. One could argue it’s because of intelligence or even work ethic. I say it’s because of other factors.
If you’ve gotten to the point that your’e scoring in the top 0.1 percent, you’ve figured it out. You’ve worked hard to get there, despite obstacles in your way. You have grit. But equally important, you’re adaptable. And if there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s change. 99.9th percentile students are those who aren’t afraid to experiment. They’re even stronger than 100th percentile scorers because they are actually statistically literate, unlike the latter.
They look at their results, and the systems that generated those results, and they go back to the drawing board. They assess, adapt, and implement, constantly improving their processes and their own personal operating system. They’ve cultivated the right mindsets, honed their systems, and will continue to excel at what they do not because of the specific tactics and details, but because they have the underlying systems and processes that facilitate peak performance, regardless of the circumstances. The best part of it all? These are teachable and repeatable processes that you too can learn.
Long term success doesn’t come from dank memes or watching motivational videos to get you hyped. It comes from the fine tuning of repeatable systems and processes that facilitate the results you want. For more tips on studying, check out more articles on our website or seek advise from qualified and experienced tutors.