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20 Secrets of Successful Students

Just in time for back to school, 20 science-backed insights to make the grade.

1. Skip the laptop: Writing by hand activates more regions of the brain than typing, and may even foster better memory recall. Computers in lectures reduce comprehension not just for the student using the computer, but everyone around them.

2. Study smart: Forget highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing. Studies show they are not efficient methods of learning. Instead, practice active recall, a research proven method to master material. It entails actively recalling information from memory and self-testing.

3. Find the right roommate: Find a smart roommate. A Dartmouth study shows that a studious roommate’s habits have a positive effect on the less studious roommate’s grades. It’s the simplest way to boost GPA.

4. Sign up for seminars: Skip the big lecture class and take a seminar instead. Research suggests that students listening passively learn less. Engaged discussion in a smaller seminar setting facilitates better processing of information.

5. Wear the right outfit: Yes, clothes matter. Studies show a distinct relationship between how we dress, behave and perform. Students feel more serious when they dress up (think a lab coat or a suit) and are more attentive than when wearing sweatpants.

6. Chew gum: Studies suggest that chewing gum improves focus and memory. Please don’t snap or blow bubbles. That’s just rude.

7. Mono-task: Focus on one task at a time. That means turning your phone off or leaving it at home when you head to the library or class. Studies show that when people turn off email, they are more productive and focused.

8. Visit a museum: Students who visit art museums exhibit greater critical thinking skills, higher levels of social tolerance as well as increased social empathy. Looking at art also decreases stress.

9. Eat smart: Yogurt, vegetables, chocolate, wine and coffee have all been shown in improve memory. Foods rich in sodium, sugar and saturated fat increase stress, depression, and negatively affect cognitive ability and inhibit memory.

10. Time chunk: For studying, quality not quantity matters. Block out periods of time to focus. Research shows twenty-five minute work blocks work well.

11. Walk to class: Studies indicate that walking increases creative thinking, problem solving and drawing parallels between complex ideas. Fresh air coupled with exercise sharpens focus and may decrease symptoms of ADHD.

12. Doodle: Research shows that doodlers are actually more engaged with speakers, teachers and material, than their non-doodling classmates.

13. Pay your way (or some of it): Students who pay their own way take their education more seriously and appreciate it more.

14. Sit up straight: There is a connection between posture and cognition. A positive learning state, including good posture, is linked with better memory retention and more efficient learning. Vertical studying – sitting at a desk – is superior to horizontal learning – i.e. in bed.

15. Have a growth mindset: Intelligence isn’t fixed.Those who believe that talent can be cultivated and that improvement is the result of effort and hard work tend to achieve more.

16. No all nighters: Skimping on sleep impacts the ability to analyze and retain information. Researchers believe improved sleep habits may be the difference between an A and a B.

17. Get a part-time job: Employment boosts self-confidence, sense of efficacy and facilitates a greater ability to manage time. Students with less time use that time better.

18. Reflect: Studies indicate that taking a break and reflecting on one’s performance increases productivity. In a study, those who took a short break to consider what they had accomplished performed better on brainteasers than those who plowed through their tasks with no break and no reflection.

19. Debunk the “dumb jock” myth: Physical fitness correlates with higher test scores. Get fit, or better yet, join a team.

20. Ask great questions: Asking questions is about cultivating genuine curiosity, taking ownership of the material and seeing connections and possibilities that may not be obvious. Contrary to what many believe, asking questions makes you look smarter too.

The most successful people know learning isn’t about just being in school, it is a life long process. As Henry Ford remarked, it may just be the fountain of youth:

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

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