Updated: Apr 29
By: Jacob Connell
While there is no magic formula for academic success, there are common practices that can steer you in the right direction. Below are a series of checklists organized into a few different categories. Each checklist includes some of the most valuable practices, techniques, and habits, all of which could help you achieve academic success. While none are absolutely necessary to reach your academic goals, all of them can be greatly beneficial. To start, I recommend choosing one section that you struggle with and focusing on utilizing the checklist for that specific area first. This allows you to concentrate on mastering just a few changes at a time. Even if you only focus on one habit per week, it will result in a large improvement over time.
Organization and Procrastination
Half the challenge of school is knowing what you need to get done, when it needs to be done, and then also having the time and energy to finish it. However, a few simple changes to routines can greatly diminish these difficulties. Below are some of my favorite habits to ensure that I stay on top of my work. Check out our organization blog series for more tips.
____ Keep a separate notebook and binder for each class.
____ Write down all assignments and tasks in a place you will see them. It doesn’t need to be a physical planner as long as it is written down. (I use the Reminders app on my laptop)
____ Know what you want to get done each day and write it down.
____ As much as possible, do your homework at the same time each night.
____ Do 15 minutes of work each Saturday morning. (Learn more about the power of 15 minutes in this post)
Personally, I believe reading to be one of the most important skills for a student to develop. I found that the more effort I put into the readings of a class (even my math classes!) the easier everything else became. I strongly believe incorporating these practices is worth the extra time and energy.
____ Preview the text—look over pictures and graphs, read headings and titles to get an idea of what’s coming.
____ Establish a purpose for reading (e.g., “I am reading this chapter in order to
understand what caused World War I”).
____ Read actively, marking important points (!), questions to ask later (?), connections
(“See page 17”), and vocabulary to look up later (*).
____ Maintain a list of important themes, characters, and symbols with corresponding page numbers.
____ When finished, write a short summary of what you’ve just read, as well as any questions you still have.
____ Look up key vocabulary you marked and review those passages for deeper understanding.
____ Discuss the reading with a study partner, possibly quizzing each other.
It can be incredibly easy to go through the motions while in class, so I find that I need to be very intentional with how I spend class time. While the following practices are maybe obvious, it is helpful to consciously review them when I have been inattentive and unengaged in class.
____ Get to class on-time and ready to learn.
____ Put your electronic devices out of sight and out of mind.
____ Have your notebook open and pen or pencil out when class begins.
____ Listen very carefully.
____ Try to record main ideas and key supporting details. Know which method of note-taking works best for you in that class. Remember: it’s not a bad idea to take notes, even when the teacher has not specifically instructed you to do so.
____ Always ask questions if you missed something or are confused.
____ If you still have questions at the end of class, schedule a time to discuss them with your teacher.
____ Soon after class—by no later than that evening—review your class notes, seeking to make connections with assigned readings.
Studying and Homework
Unfortunately, homework and studying are a huge part of school and the learning process. As such, it is certainly important to cultivate a good environment to do your homework. It isn’t fun, but placing value in your homework does pay off.
____ Designate a tidy, comfortable, and quiet area. I strongly suggest leaving your phone in a different room.
____ Minimize distractions by creating an “interruption-free” hour each evening. During this time you are not available to receive phone calls, text messages, emails or requests for household chores.
____ When appropriate, work with classmates. Compare notes, check each other's answers, and discuss ideas. This is especially helpful when studying for tests!
____ Write down the questions that you have trouble with and be sure to ask for help in class the next day.
At this point, I imagine that you have heard these suggestions from parents and teachers twenty times over. Yet, I am compelled to share them again because they greatly benefitted my test-taking abilities when I went to college. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, especially during finals season!
____ Ensure a good night’s rest and healthy breakfast.
____ Know your strengths and weaknesses, and strategize the time you spend on each problem accordingly.
____ As the test is being distributed, take some deep breaths and center yourself.
____ Before you begin, write down any important formulas, pneumonic devices, or definitions.
____ Read the instructions and ask for clarification if anything is unclear.
____ Be mindful of your time. If you get stuck on a question, move on and circle back to it later.
____ When finished, use all the remaining time to check your answers.
____ Once you receive your grade, work back over the questions you missed. Be sure to practice those types of questions for the final exam.
Jacob Connell is a junior at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.