What Makes A Good Student?

So last week we took a look at what makes a good professor or teacher.  Perhaps equally relevant is the question of what makes a good student.  Now obviously there is a difference between knowing what makes a good student, and being willing to put in the time in order to become one.  Personally, I would say that in high school I was about 65-70% of the way to reaching my full potential as a student, and I would say in university it climbed a little higher to about 80%-85%.  I’ve been on both sides of the student/teacher ledge at this point and so I think I can speak with some degree of authority on the topic.  Being a “good student” and having a “good professor/teacher” often to hand-in-hand and is definitely a symbiotic relationship.

A Good Student Has Passion

Good Student
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In my opinion the number one factor in creating a good student is to teach someone something that they are interested in and that they believe is relevant to their educational and/or career goals.  If a topic is either relevant or interesting to them, most students can get by; however, if students are forced to sit in on classes that they don’t believe are relevant, nor do they find intrinsically interesting, this is where all kinds of bad stuff starts to happen.  I’ve tried to make courses interesting for students who really hate them and have had some limited success, and I’ve also been forced to take courses I absolutely hated (and was right in assuming they were actually counterproductive to my goals as an educator) in order to “jump through the hoops” to get a degree.  Ultimately, we are at our best when we are pursuing something we are passionate about.  I’m definitely not the first person to break ground on that subject.


A good student should be motivated.  This can be accomplished in a large variety of ways.  In fact, as a high school teacher, I find one of the most underrated parts of my job is keying in on the specific “motivational buttons” for each student.  Some people are motivated by potential earnings, others are motivated simply by their need to please authority figures, while still other people simply love learning for the pure sake of interacting with new information.  Regardless of why someone is motivated to be learning, it is important that they feel compelled to push themselves to some degree.

A Good Student Has Focus

One of the biggest obstacles we face in today’s world is the distraction potential that occurs all around us on a daily basis.  Technology has provided us with many great tools, but go take a look at an undergraduate course and you’ll see it has provided with just as many (if not more) ways to waste our precious educational brain power as well.  Focus is subsequently very important to getting the most out of your time as a student.  I don’t assume these obstacles are going to lessen much in the immediate future; therefore, people that learn to focus through the daily noise will have a huge advantage in any endeavour they take on from this point forward.


If a student is a great communicator, this can make up for a lot of weaknesses in the subject area.  If you are confident enough to admit and articulate your areas of weakness, this is a huge asset (ironically, it is often ridiculed in many education environments).  Opening up a dialogue with a professor/teacher is great, but there are likely people all around you that can help you out as well.  Many people thrive on group learning, and having a support net there never hurts.  Don’t hesitate to be the one to “ask the dumb question.”  Good teachers will thank you because it is almost never “dumb” (and even if it is, we should be cool about it).


There is no doubt that being “smart” helps in becoming a good student.  There are a variety of reasons for this including the obvious raw capability.  I put the term “smart” in quotation marks because it is such a vague label to use.  Countless studies have shown that we all have our strengths and weaknesses as learners.  I think that by the time most people have hit high school and university they have decided to put more energy into the areas in which they have excelled and consequently received positive reinforcement; therefore, having natural ability in a subject area often builds momentum in learning capability as one continues in the field.  I find that critical thinking helps in any subject area, and generally transcends classrooms, and/or learning styles.  If I can only impart two skills on my students it is to work hard and thinking critically.

“You Aren’t Learning Much When Your Lips Are Moving”

One of the most challenging lessons to try and impart to gifted learners in almost any setting is that a great student’s goal is rarely to show how smart they are, but instead to simply keep the focus on continued learning and growth.  It is very easy to begin to believe that you really do know it all.  I have often learned things from people when I am fairly certain I know more than that individual in the subject field overall.  Coaching sports is one of the areas where I see this most predominantly.  Coaches are rarely shy about stealing what works no matter who invented it, or if they believe they are already experts.  We still have a hard time with that in an academic setting for some reason.  If you want to be at your best, then check your ego at the door.  You’ll make more friends that way too.

Mirror Mirror On The Wall…

If I had to evaluate myself as a student (I’m not biased at all) I would say that my biggest strengths are my critical thinking ability, interest in a broad range of topics, and ability to make personal connections.  I used to think I was a hard worker until I seen some of the efforts put forth at the university level.  I still believe I worked hard when I was in school, and I continue to be committed to being a lifelong learner, but I can’t say that I am anywhere near the top relative to some folks out there.  As far as weaknesses go, I am definitely impatient and highly critical of teachers/professors who I feel do not warrant the title.  I would often be much better having a non-confrontational attitude, and salvaging what I could out of education situations, but instead all I can think about are wasted time and opportunity, as well as disdain for the lacklustre performance in front of me.  Plus, I probably talk too much (that whole biggest strength/biggest weakness thing I guess).

Where would you put yourself on the learner continuum?  Do you agree with my overall criteria? Where you a good student?

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Having been out of college for almost 3 decades, I think I have forgotten the difficulties of being a student. In some ways I think it was easier in the 80s…there were fewer distractions than now, or at least the distractions were not as pervasive (smart phones go everywhere).

As for being a life-long learner, I think an inquisitive nature certainly helps. If you never question, never ponder, never dream, it is going to be difficult to continue adding to your store of knowledge.

12 years ago

I think having a mentor makes being a student easier. Its not easy stepping up and finding one, however, so we have to take strides to offer mentorship to students.

It’s been a few years since I was in college, but I’d have to say I was a pretty good student. Maybe a bit too focused though, when I was there, learning was the only thing that mattered. I would tell people that I was there to learn, not to make friends. I feel bad about that now, I really missed out on some potentially great friendships, but that’s in the past. :-)

12 years ago

I know that the interesting subject matter is hugely important. I hardly have to study for psychology because I am hanging on the professor’s every word. But I like studying for it because it is also interesting. This is in stark contrast to biology, calculus, chemistry, etc.

The criteria you picked were spot on in that if a student improves any one of them they would become a much better student.

First, I’m glad you did the follow up from last week’s “what makes a good professor?” post, because I loved that article! Next… I hate to say this, but it’s a thought that’s been brewing in my head for a while: I was a much better student in high school. I graduated as salutatorian of my class, got into Duke, and considered that my reward for a life of straight A’s. Sure, I graduated from college with mostly A’s (I think I had a 3.6 GPA?), but I didn’t take advantage of all my institution had to offer. It was… Read more »

12 years ago

I’d certainly be lying if I said I was the best student – I’m not. I used to be great, but now that I’ve been in school for so long it’s exhausting and frustrating. I’d rather be doing other things than sitting in a classroom, but I know how invaluable my degree will be when I graduate.

11 years ago

This helped me with a project i did in base camp :):):):):):):):)

6 years ago

Hi, i’m a student and not focusing on my study but after getting your tips i can say, i would be able to concentrate on my study, thank a lot.

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