Recently, I’ve been exploring what it takes to be a better student. Thinking about what has (or not) worked in my own and my students’ academic journeys. Often, we may find ourselves searching for a quick fix to our academic woes. The Internet and technology have accelerated this search for easy solutions to something that is inherently a complex process. What is that? Learning.
Even though we may find that quick fix, we will end up back to the same challenges over and over. Why? Because that quick fix does not address the underlining issues to our academic woes. When we really want (or need) to learn something, it takes practice, patience, trial and error, and more practice. Most of us will not get it on the first (or second) try, and then never have to practice it again.
This realization came to me recently when I was working out at the gym. Now, I am no fitness junky by any means, but over the years, I have tried to become healthier through physical exercise and meditation. I am not passionate about fitness, but I have built up my practice for it to become a positive habit in my life. I’ve gotten to the point that I am consistent in my workout schedule where I rarely miss a day (even when I want to).
This got me thinking about how my working out compares to what I’m passionate about. For me, it’s music. Ever since picking up a clarinet in sixth grade, music has been a central part of my life—through high school, college, and beyond. Music, just like my academic successes and failures, has not come easy. I don’t have perfect pitch, I can’t sight-read to save my life, but I became quite good at playing the clarinet, specifically bass clarinet (I even marched it for four years!). It took a lot of practice, reinforcement, willingness to put myself out there, and continue to try to be better. It paid off. I went on to minor in music in college and still play to this day.
Now, think about something that ignites passion in you. Basketball, dance, soccer, reading, video games, origami, or whatever else it may be, what made you be better at it? There are probably multiple influencers, but one of the major ones I bet was practice. Now, it might not have felt like practice, but by you doing it over and over, it was. Doing something repeatedly helps to reinforce our learning to become better at it.
Being a Better Student Takes Practice
Becoming a better student, whether it is with your writing, study habits, reading and note-taking, or other concerns, takes practice. If you are not passionate about learning, that’s okay. However, if you want school to become a better experience for you, it is going to take practice. That can be through your class assignments, doing practice problems at home, working with a tutor or friend, or any other number of possibilities to be that student you want to (and can) be.
Practice v. Memorization
Learning something new can be hard! Depending on the subject, it can be even a little painful (mentally and emotionally, that is). However, what will get you to be better is practice and repetition to reinforce the knowledge and skills you are acquiring.
What I’m not talking about here is memorization. Memorization can be helpful to recall new material initially, but it is not going to serve you well in the long run (except maybe if you want to become the next Jeopardy champion).
The difference between practice and memorization is that practice is applying what you are learning in a way that builds from one experience to the next. Memorization is being able to recall something word for word with no intention of applying it. You are committing to memory random things with no apparent use for it later. Practice helps you to understand new knowledge or skills, and be able to apply them to various future contexts and circumstances.