The 8 Biggest Mistakes Students Make

Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Why then do you keep studying in ways that are ineffective? Why would you do things that lead to unnecessary pain and suffering?

Because if you’re anything like I was in high school, you probably don’t know any better. You may not have any study techniques at your disposal. You just pick up your book and maybe a highlighter and you read. And that’s about it.

This is the painful ‘I-never-learnt-how-to-learn’ way of studying. But you should know that there is a better way.

And before you start beating yourself up for not knowing how to study effectively, stop right there.

You see, it’s not your fault…

Most schools are so focused on getting through the curriculum that learning how to learn often gets left off the agenda.

So if you’ve never been taught how to study effectively, how would you possibly know how to do it?

That’s like expecting a small child to miraculously be able to ride a bike or cite their times tables without being taught how. That’s what I’d call crazy thinking.

Facing up to our mistakes

It can be difficult to confront our weaknesses. It feels much easier to sweep them under the carpet.

But the longer that stuff stays under the carpet, the worse things are going to get.

Take it from me (someone who got 1 out of 20 on my first test for law school) it’s far easier and less painful in the long run to admit that you’re flawed and you have no idea how to study. At least you can then choose to do something about it.

Here are the 8 most common mistakes students make when it comes to their studies.

1. You procrastinate

Have you ever left doing an assignment until the last minute? Ever pulled an all-nighter? When you leave your work until the last minute you don’t have much time to do a lot of reading. So you throw together a few ideas. The end result is like an undercooked soggy pizza. The ideas are half-baked. There’s a good chance your work contains errors.

2. Your mindset is fixed (and it sucks)

“I’m not a maths person”, “I’m stupid” or “I just can’t do it”. Does this sound familiar? When you have thoughts like this, your mindset gets in the way of you learning what you need to learn.

Because here’s the thing: the only way you can get better at any of your subjects is through putting in the work. Students who understand this have a huge advantage over others.

3. You eat too much processed rubbish

What you eat effects how you think and perform. Would Usain Bolt eat a bucket of greasy chicken before he raced? And if he did, how would he go? He’d bomb out.

Similarly, if you’re chowing down on stuff that comes in a packet and has a huge list of ingredients that you can’t recognise, don’t be surprised if you find it hard to concentrate when you study.

4. You don’t move enough

If you sit for hours at a time at a desk, don’t expect your brain to be particularly sharp. Studies have found that movement (particularly walking) leads to boosts in creativity, sharper thinking, and productivity.

5. You skimp on sleep

Students who don’t get enough sleep (8-10 hours) pay a high price. Their judgment is impaired, they can’t memorise or recall information as effectively, etc. Sleep is critical to the learning process. It’s one of those things you can’t afford to skimp on.

6. You can’t find what you need to get started

Can’t find that assignment sheet? Where is your calculator? If you’re completely disorganised and have no systems in place, you run the risk of giving up before you even get started.

7. You don’t answer the question properly

When you don’t answer the question for tests, exams, and assignments, it’s like walking into an Italian restaurant, ordering a margherita pizza and the waiter coming out with a bunch of kale for you. “But I didn’t order kale. I ordered a pizza”, you say. To which the waiter responds with, “Tough luck. You get kale!”. But did you ask for kale? No. You ordered pizza. So read the question properly and serve the teacher what he or she ordered.

8. You freak out over how much work you need to do

You look at all the work you need to do and you feel completely overwhelmed. You think, “It’s so massive. I have no idea where to start!” So what do you do? You go watch some random cat videos. You’ll worry about the work later.

If you do these things, you’re not alone

I’ve made all of these mistakes. Every single one of them. I know what it’s like to have an assignment so big and overwhelming hanging over your head.

I know what it feels like to have a foggy brain from eating too much takeaway.

But I also know what it feels like to discover how clear and sharp your thinking can become when you shift to a healthier diet. I know how awesome it feels to overcome massive mental barriers and feel proud of finishing a piece of work which you thought you’d never be able to do.

Two degrees later and a PhD under my belt, I’m glad that I was brave enough to admit that I sucked at studying. I’m glad I was willing to take action to learn a better way.

Now is the time to learn how to learn

Sort yourself out in high school. Establish good study habits and you’ll be laughing by the time you get to university.

My best advice: Put aside a little time (we’re talking 5 – 10 minutes a day) to make some tweaks to the way you study. Read evidence-based study skills blogs and books.

You can start by downloading a free copy of my new resource ‘The Mind Mappers Toolkit’ to learn how you can master your subjects by taking visual notes.

Why not make 2017 the year where you saved yourself a truckload of pain and suffering and finished the year feeling like a champion?

3 thoughts on “The 8 Biggest Mistakes Students Make

  1. Hi Jane,

    I just loved this article! As a former high school teacher, I know well the study mistakes students make – esp. studying what you already know.

    Every time I mentioned this mistake to a student and/or parent it was like an epiphany. Oh, and telling students about this study mistake needs to be done individually. Students who make this mistake don’t hear the suggestion when told to the entire class.

    I always suggested that students list what they know (yes, handwrite the list!), put a check by it (give credit to yourself which gives confidence), and then move on!

    1. Hi Shivam,

      Thanks for your message!

      I think providing personalised feedback is very powerful.
      It’s just too easy for students to switch off and think, “This doesn’t apply to me!” when you make suggestions to the entire class.
      But personalised feedback can pack a punch!
      If the student is open and receptive, some gentle feedback and pointers can make the world of difference.

      It sounds like you are a wonderful teacher 🙂
      Thanks again for sharing your tips with me.

      Dr Jane Genovese

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