How Do Top Students Study?

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What is my story: I went to IIT, one of the best colleges in India, and stood first in my class. Thereafter I did PhD in Chemical Engineering, and worked hard towards my studies. I put a lot of hours towards my studies in my life, and I have seen some other students who were far better than I. Based off their experiences and stories, and my own experiences, I am putting together a few characteristics that I have observed in the topmost students.

Some of these students include JEE toppers, class toppers in various branches, amazing students who not only studied, but also did extra curricular activities.

Here are the characteristics of topmost students, and I assure you that if you did all of them, you can become a topmost student as well.

  • Attendance
    • I have seen that the topmost students had close to 100% attendance. If you study in a school, college or a university and attend all the lectures, the chances of your retaining everything would be very high. In addition, you would be able to take your own notes one hundred percent of the times. This becomes crucial down the line towards a semester end. You would usually feel far more prepared compared to some others who did not attend all the lectures.
    • Taking notes
      • This is a principal characteristic of a topmost student. Topmost students would never rely on someone else taking notes for them. They would take their own notes. You are far more likely to retain everything better that is written in your own handwriting, than to retain it in someone else’s handwriting. If I ever missed a class, I would borrow someone else’s notes, and write down all the things in my own handwriting. I never photocopied anyone else’s notes. I also used to take notes in multiple colors. Usually blue, red, black would do it.
    • Listening carefully
      • Topmost students listen very carefully in the class and lectures. Professors and teachers strive towards delivering their best, and good students want to absorb every bit of it. They listen carefully, process it in their brain, understand it, and write it down.
  • Asking questions until understanding
    • Most professors are usually very willing to answer the questions in a classroom because they want the students to understand the material and it tells them that the students are understanding the material correctly. Good students do not hesitate to ask a few questions. Now you must not disrupt the whole lecture, and you must not be trying to test the knowledge of your teacher. You should ask genuinely and briefly. Sometimes I have seen really good student taking a moment after the class to ask a question that is still unanswered. This way they do not have to disrupt the whole class, and many teachers are willing to do this.
  • Reading books
    • Great students do not just rely on the subject material and notes taught in the class. They read books, and they read a lot of them. I have always seen a lot of books in topmost student’s rooms. They get them from libraries or buy them, but they do not shy away from books. This is actually the crux of understanding. If you are not spending most of your time in reading books, then you may not be understanding the subjects completely. Often, a few things are missed in the lectures, and it is highly valuable to study the things in books
  • Writing the concepts
    • One cannot read and understand something fully. Writing makes a huge difference.
    • This one comes straight from Francis Bacon: Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading makes a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not.
  • Studying with other great minds
    • I have never understood any subject completely without knowing how well some others are understanding it. Studying in group makes a big difference. Topmost students do spend some time in group studies, but not a whole lot. I have seen them clean up their concepts after they have spent enough time on self studies.
  • Creating a great environment for study
    • It is vital to create an environment which is free of noise, random visuals, cell phones, Facebook, whatsapp, that are very big distractions. I used to find a very quiet, cell phone free, and well lit place so that I could concentrate as best as possible.
    • Every hour spent this way makes an extra impact towards understanding, and memorization.
    • Topmost students create that distraction free environment for themselves. The place should be clean, free of noise, visual distractions, and ergonomically correct. Studying for long hours is very much possible if your posture is correct, and you are not going through any pain.
  • Developing mnemonic techniques
    • Topmost students come up with mnemonic techniques.
    • Now this may not be the best example, but it would serve the purpose. In this example I have shown how you can memorize the number of days in a month for all 12 months.
    • Good students come up with a lot of such techniques to memorize and understand the concepts.
  • Memorizing a lot of things
    • I highly recommend reading this detailed answer in case you haven’t already.
    • Memorization is a significantly powerful part of learning process. It comes handy when you have to explain the concepts to someone else. I do not mean to say that memorization is the only way. It is useful only when someone has understood the concepts.
  • Practicing
    • Nothing in the world comes to you easily without practicing. We are not very good at retaining knowledge. It is pivotal to continue revising the concepts, so that they stay fresh in our minds. No matter what your subject is, just like musicians practice, practice, and practice, you should too.
  • Bringing perfection in everything
    • Topmost students continuously look for ways to bring perfection in whatever they do. Whether it is attendance, or note taking, or memorization, or any other concept. Certainly one cannot reach perfection, but that is how they reach excellence.
  • Strategically dividing time between subjects
    • It has often happened with me, that I get some of the subjects very easily, and naturally, and they are my strong subjects, and there are some other subjects I do not get naturally and easily. If I spend my time enough on both, my performance will be higher on the strong subject. Usually if getting good grades is the key, then topmost students strategically balance their efforts. They first put enough efforts on their strong subjects, and when they are confident of the good grades, they put enough time on their weaker subjects. They try to convert their weaknesses into their strengths.
  • Giving your best
    • Topmost students do not give up at any point of time in life. They study from early on in the beginning of the semester, stay consistent, and continue to study until the day of the exam and after.
    • I spent an enormous number of hours studying in library. After the school or college would be over, I used to spend almost 3–4 hours in a library where it is really quiet, and I could concentrate very much. If you want to be a topmost student, you have to go one extra mile every single day. There is no shortcut there.
  • Clean up the concepts after an exam
    • This is essential in the real world. Each day is an exam and you would fail a lot of times, but it is worth it to spend time to clean up the concepts after the failure. Topmost students clean up their concepts after the exam. If you could not answer the problem in the exam, then are you going to take the course again? Probably not! So when are you going to learn that material? It is best to take some time to learn it after the exam. It is a very heavy burden, but a really good effort nevertheless.
    • In colleges, many subjects are somewhat connected, and one leads to the other, so it is best to clean up the concept even after the semester is over.
  • Retain notes and books for long time and revisit them often
    • Topmost students retain their notes, and every now and then flip a few pages from those notes so that the material is retained after a long time.
    • You never know when you are going to need it. The longer you retain something, the more useful it becomes in the life.
  • Divide the hours across the semester
    • Just like you cannot practice in a week and run a marathon, you cannot study in just one night and hope to get topmost grades. That simply does not work. Topmost students study consistently and across the semester. They strategically come up with a very good plan, and stick to it. They put extra efforts towards compensating for a failed plan. Such as, if you couldn’t study on a Wednesday because of an unforeseen problem, then you must make up for that loss on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Using the weekend.
    • I have seen a lot of people in the world somewhat depressed and feeling low on a Sunday. Topmost students use that time to go through something simpler, and that adds value to their lives by spending that time positively.
    • Saturday and Sunday contribute to ~ 28 % of the time of the week. Topmost students do not waste that time. Instead, they utilize it to their advantage, and do more with it.

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