Do you feel your students do not have a common understanding of what it takes to succeed in college classes (and in life)? Have you ever had students come up to you only after earning a poor grade on an exam or assignment, wanting suggestions on what they can do to improve their performance? Having been a successful student yourself, there is little doubt you have ideas about what students should do to be successful, yet you may never have put these ideas into concrete statements.

Step-by-Step Implementation

We have developed the list below that you can share with your students at the start of the semester. The authors suggest that sharing this “Top Ten” list with students at the beginning of the semester will benefit students by constructively challenging their understanding of what they can do to improve their learning and success. The ten items listed here are not all-inclusive and your list may vary from this one. These ideas can be shared with students in a variety of different ways, including PowerPoint, overheads, or on the syllabus. Both professors emphasize the importance of these concepts on the first day of class and devote sufficient time for this discussion.

  1. How we use our time shows what we value. If you feel rushed, it’s because you likely are. Today’s environment, with its many distractions, including cell phones, internet connections, and anticipation of instantaneous feedback, can impel us to expect to get more done in less time. We can increasingly feel pressure to be available 24/7. Prioritize your time appropriately. If you wish to do well in your academic pursuits, plan to work at it and conscientiously allot time consistent with those pursuits.
  2. It’s not easy, but you can be successful if you choose. The choice is yours. Make the most of it. If you want to excel, or even just pass, you must put “time on task.” This means specifically schedule time each week for your academic pursuits. Time estimates vary but expect to work on material about 2-4 hours outside class for every hour in class. Aim higher than the mark you want to hit. If your goal is to “just pass” the course, that will be the highest level of performance you can achieve, and it is likely you will end up not passing. Learning is maximization rather than minimization. Because life is full of uncertainties, it is better that we aim high and fall short rather than aim low and fall short. For example, if you had to be at an important meeting at 10 am tomorrow and this meeting was at an office located two hours away, almost everyone would suggest leaving more than two hours in advance to assure they arrive on time. The more important it is that you arrive on time and/or the more uncertainty you have in getting there on time, the earlier in advance you would leave. This same logic works for learning.
  3. If you get behind, you will likely never catch up. Why? We are too busy! Furthermore, material covered in most courses is cumulative, resulting in less understanding of the new material covered. This can become a vicious cycle. Get the jump on your courses early and keep up. Prepare by studying (not just reading) the material before every class.
  4. If you are repeating the course and do the same things you did before, do not be surprised if you have the same results. What is even worse if the false assumption that you know the material when you see it again. Familiarity is different from learning and understanding.
  5. Study the material thoroughly before every class. If you don’t study the material before class, you will only truly get about 50% of what the class covers, but you will think you got 100%. This is especially true for good teachers who can explain material well. Studying the material includes reading the material, reflecting, and exploring the material further when you do not thoroughly understand it. If the class requires or suggests homework, attempt it (without looking at the answers until after you thoroughly finish your attempt) before class. Remember, we learn most from our mistakes, which is precisely what homework is for. Do not assume that you can simply watch the professor do something in class and then be able to do something similar on an exam without attempting it yourself first. For example, I watched Tiger Woods in several tournaments last year and read several golf publications. How hard could this be? I thought. So I decided to become a professional golfer. After about two holes I discovered that I was not a professional golfer. Why? Two reasons. I had not practiced for years like Tiger Woods and, perhaps, I do not have the natural ability for the sport. The same is true of academic pursuits. You must study hard to do well, and if the discipline in question is not one in which you excel, you will need to study even harder than the average student just to do as well as the average student. Frequently, students who earn the highest grades are NOT the brightest; rather, they are choosing to be and are committed to being successful.
  6. You must study all the assigned material. The class will not cover all the material on which you will be tested nor will the class go over all the homework. Your allotment of enough time outside of class is essential to course performance.
  7. Teamwork happens in the workplace, too. In fact, teamwork is a growing phenomenon in all successful organizations because we can learn both collectively and from each other. Take advantage of your peers as a resource. Form study groups and work together. Not only will you find new friends who are committed to the same objectives, you end up with partners that can help to motivate you when you are discouraged. Learning occurs as a result of exercising your brain, similar to fitness occurring as a result of exercising your body. Consider your peers as exercise partners for both your mind and body.
  8. Open your mind to new ideas. Openness is a prerequisite into inquiry and learning. This is especially difficult when you feel that you don’t agree with the ideas expressed. Learning does not require agreement with others. Respect and professionalism is a basic characteristic employers expect in college graduates. Likewise, it should also be practiced in the college classroom. Professionalism includes recognizing and acknowledging the contributions of others (i.e. not plagiarizing) and respecting their views. It also includes observing the Golden Rule – “Treat Others as You Would Have Them Treat You.”
  9. Class attendance does not guarantee academic success; but it is a minimal requirement for academic success. Similarly, just because you go to work every day does not mean you will be successful on the job. You must also practice the guidelines discussed above to provide further assurance of academic success.
  10. Drum roll please… “I can’t learn you the material.” Learning is a deeply personal process that happens within an individual because they choose for it to happen. In other words, learning is not a passive process for the learner. While I (the teacher) may do the best possible job of creating interest while presenting material (e.g. lecture, teamwork, role-playing, etc.), it is the responsibility of the students to learn the material. Success is your (the student’s) responsibility. [Note to faculty: As a teacher, be willing to accept that you will not get through to all the students. If you attempt to reach every student, you are unlikely to provide the best educational experience to other students. We all have a limited amount of time.]


Teaching/learning is a process. In this process, there are strengths and weaknesses. Even if we as teachers were able to overcome all of our weaknesses, there are still going to be limitations in facilities, students’ innate abilities, and student’s desires to learn. We must accept this inevitability and do our best. Remember that the reason you teach is because you love it. Your passion for teaching will always come through to your students.