FLASHBACK FRIDAY: 3 Ways to be a Better Student

We consistently hear from students that academics are their biggest stressor, which makes sense.  I mean, that’s why you’re here—to get a world-class education, right?  And that means learning to study smart, which may be simpler than you realize.  One of my high school teachers, Ms. Dawson, had only 3 rules in her class, but they really summed up how to get the most academic bang for your buck, no matter what the subject:

Show up.

According to Woody Allen “90% of life is just showing up”, and this idea definitely applies to school.  You are much more likely to get something out of your classes if you go to them.  Even if you don’t take any notes or listen to the lecture, at the very least you may absorb some important random detail that ends up on the final or catch that announcement about a paper extension or extra credit opportunity.  The secret to good grades is not just knowing the material; it’s knowing your professor.  Professors are people just like us and the tests they write reflect their own knowledge and teaching style.  And the best way to get to know your professor?  That’s right—class.


Now I know I sound like Captain Obvious when I say this, but school requires thinking.  And thinking is hard.  Thinking means processing and applying information, not just memorizing and regurgitating.  So, you have shown up to class—great start!  Rather than feverishly typing out the professor’s every last syllable, take a few moments to think about what you are hearing.  Ask yourself questions like: How would I apply this in a real world context? What are the implications of this? Or If I were to write a test on this information, what questions would I ask?

Being able to ask and answer questions like these will put you way ahead of the game when it comes to studying for a big exam.

Look at your book.

Ok, so the days of having to lug textbooks around and review them during class are over.  But the sentiment behind this rule still applies today.  Now you’ve come to class and you are thinking—awesome!  The next step is focusing on what is going on IN class and tuning out everything else.  Ever been in that lecture class where all the laptop screens in front of you are flickering between Facebook, gchat, and Sakai?  If the professor hasn’t changed the powerpoint slide in 20 seconds, do you start fumbling for your phone or google searching articles for that poli sci paper due tomorrow?  Multi-tasking may seem like the way to get everything done, but recent research suggests that chronic multi-taskers may be LESS productive.[Multitasking May Not Mean Higher Productivity http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112334449]  Those that stay focused and tuned in during class are more likely to retain the information longer.  I mean, you have to be in class anyway, why not get the most out of it—turn off the phone, close those tabs, and keep looking at the powerpoint slide even though you’ve already read over it twice.  Think of it this way: the more you can focus during class, the less time you will spend studying out of class.  That means fewer late night cram sessions and more time for FUN!

Now you know Ms. Dawson’s 3 rules for success—Show up, think, and look at your book.  Simple, right?  The hardest of course is consistently applying these rules, and sometimes these 3 things won’t be enough to ensure success in all classes.  Luckily, UNC has a multitude of resources to help you find ways to study smart:


Here’s a great place to start if you are struggling academically and not sure what you need:



For help with studying or free tutoring, visit the Learning Center:



For help with writing a paper or application essay, visit the Writing Center:



If you think you might have a learning disability or ADHD:



And, if you need to talk to someone about managing your stress or personal issues, we are here for you. Come to Counseling and Psychological Services between 9am and noon or 1pm and 4pm to see a counselor without making an appointment.



 Updated September 25, 2015 to reflect accurate contact information for Counseling and Psychological Services. Previous version included the former name of the service and a link that did not go to the CAPS page directly. 

One thought on “FLASHBACK FRIDAY: 3 Ways to be a Better Student

  1. Jeffrey Rich October 28, 2011 / 1:12 pm

    Yes, how I wish I had more diligently and consistently followed these three steps when I was in school! I encourage anyone who follows this blog to heed this advice…and I would say that even if I weren’t the father of the one who wrote it!


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