Studying and Learning Part 1: Attributes of successful students

Disclaimer: This is the first article in a series on studying and learning, and is directed at my students. Although my students are the primary audience, others may find the content useful as well, since the topics have broad appeal.

Background information: 

Although medical students are expected to be lifelong learners, often, they do not receive any guidance on how to study, or what influences learning.

In this article, I will briefly discuss key attributes of successful students, contrasting them with features of struggling students. Subsequent articles will discuss study skills and what influences learning, with suggestions for implementation.

The reason for this approach is simple: the best tools are useless if the learner’s attitude towards learning is not right.

Key Messages:

The most important attribute of successful students is that they take personal responsibility for their choices and learning outcomes. They believe that they create everything in their lives.

In contrast, struggling students often respond as Victims, and believe that others determine the outcome(s). Such individuals complain, make excuses, and repeat ineffective behaviours.

The attributes of successful students are:

  • They focus on How to Improve: Regardless of the situation, they constantly look for ways to improve, and are self-motivated
  • They seek Solutions: When faced with a challenge, they seek ways and means of resolving it, to achieve their goals through self-management
  • They turn Complaints into Requests: Instead of complaining about something they don’t quite understand, they request information to better understand it.
  • They seek Help from those More Skilled: They use interdependence to cultivate mutually supportive relationships with others
  • They Accept Responsibility: They look inwards (within their own behaviours/ choices) to identify reasons for poor performance.
  • They Treat Problems as Temporary: Setbacks are considered temporary challenges, not permanent obstacles
  • They Do: Instead of merely thinking about doing something to fix a problem, they actually do something about it.
  • They Do Something New: If what they have been doing does not work, they change it, finding valuable wisdom and lessons in almost every experience they have.
  • They Think Positively and Look for a Better Choice: When faced with a problem, they believe in themselves, and keep working on it till it’s resolved.

The attributes of Struggling students (Victims) are:

  • They Focus on their Weaknesses: They emphasize their weaknesses rather than their strengths
  • They Make Excuses: It is always someone else’s fault.
    They see themselves as victims of external forces such as fate, luck and powerful others.
  • They Complain: Something or someone else is wrong/ stupid
  • They Compare themselves to Others Unfavourably: Those who do well are superior (‘brilliant’/ ‘genius’), while they are not.
    They are solitary, seldom seek assistance, and may even reject offers of assistance from others.
  • They Blame: Something or someone else is wrong/ unfair/ prejudiced
  • They See Problems as Permanent: No matter what, it can’t be done- ever.
  • They repeat Ineffective Behaviours: If a strategy has not worked till date, it must be because one didn’t try often enough.
    They resist learning new ideas and skills, considering learning as fearful.
  • They Try: ‘I’ll try to do better’
  • They Predict Defeat and Give Up: First, failure is predicted; next, the fight is given up; finally, the prediction comes true.
    They doubt their abilities and feel inadequate to the task.

Further Reading:

1. Downing S. On Course:Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. Cengage; 2011.

Featured Image source


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