How Do Top Student Study

Students who get good grades simply use essential study skills and strategies, according to a  George Mason University study. As students, we’ve all experienced the long, grinding process of studying. 

How do top students study differently? Self-regulation or staying focus is the most important trait of top students. To be a top student, these are 5 study tips:

  • knowing your syllabus
  • making concise exam notes
  • marking and reflecting when doing exam papers
  • identifying any common questions or skills required 
  • focusing when studying. 

  • After over twelve years in education, I have noticed that there is a difference between studying and ‘studying’. Now, just what do I mean by that? Hear me out. 

    • In primary school, I was merely taught to memorize subjects like science or Chinese or to practice problems over and over for mathematics. So were the rest of my schoolmates.  And that was fine. But things started to change. 
    • And over time, I realized that these methods no longer work for higher-level education. By the time I reached IB (the equivalent of A levels), rote memorization and mundane repetition was no longer the most effective way to study. 
    • By that level, examiners require critical thinking, problem-solving, and understanding rather than pure memory.
    • Instead of merely memorizing a mark scheme, I was required to make use of known principles and apply them in creative ways to solve the problem. I was required to have my own opinions, and to make my evaluations. In other words, I was required to think for myself. 

    Some of my peers did not understand studying and spend long hours cramming information, memorizing mark schemes, and revising sample essays.

    • They would do the same type of question over and over, with no variation, instead of focusing on questions that require reflection on which principle to apply. 
    • These methods of studying are both time-consuming and ineffective. Many students who employ these methods are often extremely hard-working - they study for hours on end and are willing to push themselves for long periods.
    • Sadly, they produce little to no results and end up feeling disappointment and discouragement. A repetitive cycle of this can eventually lead to students harboring the false belief that they are ‘not intelligent enough or simply were not ‘gifted with the understanding’, and finally choosing to give up trying altogether.

    But there is a better way. A more effective way. After all my years of education, I have narrowed down the five most effective study tips. 

    • These tips come from my own experience and have helped me to properly study for my exams.
    • They are simple to learn, easy to follow, and, most importantly, effective in helping students everywhere learn, understand, and apply the principles required in examinations.
    So, without further ado, here are my tips:

    Tip #1: Know your syllabus well

    This sounds like it should be common knowledge, and yet many students often end up ignoring this simple trick. I have met many students who simply don’t know what they’re supposed to know. In other words, they’re unfamiliar with the syllabus. They end up missing a wide range of important information, ranging from definitions and formulas to commonly asked questions in an exam. 

    To do well for an exam, it is worth setting aside some time to go over the syllabus. Glance through it and highlight the required definitions and formulas, then go over common questions for each sub-topic. This is much more effective than just taking random notes in class and memorizing that for the test. 

    Tip #2: Make concise exam notes

    For some reason, we students are obsessed with notes. There seems to be a common misconception: the longer the notes, the better they are. And there’s nothing wrong with that - having a lot of notes could provide you with a lot of detail and context.

    However, there is a difference between study notes and exam notes.

    • Study notes are meant to cover the entire topic - they explain the theories in full detail, they show all the possible arguments you can make, they show examples of the application of a formula. Unfortunately, none of that is useful in an exam.
    • When making exam notes, they should be concise and efficient - they should only cover the bare minimum, such as merely stating definitions or formulas, instead of going over the full thing.

    By that time, you should have a clear understanding of the full, in-depth explanation of concepts, and the exam notes should only be there to provide a brief outline that summarizes everything you need to know, so you can glance through it before the exam. This is much more efficient than just trying to memorize everything in your study notes.

    Tip #3: Practice, mark, and reflect

    As students, I believe we’ve all done our fair share of practice papers - I know I have! And no wonder - practice papers are one of the best ways to test your understanding and application of the material. However, some students do practice papers over and over and over again...without marking or correcting any of their answers. And even when they do mark their papers, they simply move on without reflecting on their mistakes. This can cause a lot of problems - practice papers are not simply there for you to do, they are there to test your understanding. If you do get a question wrong, it could be because you didn’t understand the material properly, or because you didn’t fully understand the question. 

    That’s why it’s so important to reflect on your mistakes. As you practice, make sure to mark your papers and go over the questions you got wrong. Always take the time to reflect on why you answered wrongly, and then consciously correct the mistake. Next time, when you encounter a similar type of question, now you know what to do!

    Tip #4: Identify commonalities between papers

    Having studied both sciences and humanities, I have found that there will always be commonalities between past papers. For sciences and mathematics, the commonalities appear in the form of questions: many questions often present themselves in similar formats, and even though the exact wordings and numbers may change, the technique for solving them is still the same. Meanwhile, for humanities, the skill is always the same: the skill to know command terms (e.g. ‘to what extent’ asks for an evaluation), and the skill to plan and structure an essay within a short amount of time was always present.

    For the common questions, it is best to create a question bank, where you have the type of question followed by the expected method. When you take a practice test, whenever those types of questions appear, you should be able to solve them automatically. This gives you more confidence when you continue to encounter familiar questions, whilst providing you with more time to focus on the more challenging questions. 

    Meanwhile, for the common skills in humanities, practice and discussion seem to help best. When I was preparing for my literature exam, I initially started by allowing myself as much time to plan as possible. I would then bring those plans to my teacher, who would tell me how to improve. Over time, as I became better at planning, I implemented a time limit for myself. This forced me to practice the skill within a limited time frame, thus simulating the time given in an actual examination. Thus, when I finally took the exam, I was able to plan my whole essay within five minutes, which gave me sufficient time to write.

    Tip #5: Focus!

    Finally, my last tip for all students struggling to study effectively: focus! Although this sounds like it should be common sense, I often see students ‘study’ with their phones nearby, and their notifications turned on. They often have multiple tabs open, and they switch between them without really looking at any single tab properly. What’s worse is that students think they’re studying! Many of them follow a specific timetable, and though they set aside eight hours a day for studying, given the time spent on their phones, they end up truly studying for maybe half of the allocated time!

    This is extremely dangerous - not only is it inefficient, but it also deludes the student into thinking they’ve spent ‘eight hours’ studying, and that they can now relax. To truly focus, one of my techniques is to make a to-do list. This tells me everything I need to do for the day, and so when I begin studying, I start with the first task on the list and concentrate on that task until I have finished. No phones allowed, no other tabs on my computer, no music or youtube. Just the task and the task alone. 

    I think another thing students struggle with is mental focus. Yes, we can be physically distracted with our phones, but mentally we are also unfocused before we even begin.

    • Our thoughts are distracted by our favorite k-pop singers or our beloved Tiktok dances. So when we attempt to start studying, our minds are not in the right frame.
    • I would suggest learning to compartmentalize - when I set a time to start studying, I mentally begin preparing for that session, so I am both physically and mentally focused when the time begins.


    Whether it was studying for an exam, studying for a quiz, or studying for a presentation, we have all endured the dread and boredom that is commonly associated with studying.

    Hope these tips help! Happy studying!

    Efforts have been made to get the information as accurate and updated as possible. If you found any incorrect information with credible source, please send it via the contact us form
    Author: Tabitha
    I enjoy reading and writing about a range of topics, both academic and personal.
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