In Praise of Adversity: Learning How to Study

When I was a senior in high school, one of the strictest teachers I had (U.S. Government with Mr. Lockwood), told us something that I didn’t want to believe. He told us that it was more important to know how to study rather than to simply be good at taking tests. It was a long time before I realized that he was right.

Mr. Lockwood told us a parable about two students, one who never studied but nonetheless always received stellar grades, and another who required several hours of intense study every night just to pass. In this story, both students graduated from high school and went to college. The first student, shocked by the rigor of his new coursework, received the worst grades of his life during first semester freshman year. Meanwhile, the second student, although still challenged by her college curriculum, employed her tried and true study methods, and managed to scrape through the semester with decent grades.

I bring up this story because I’m so often faced with students who fall into one of these two archetypes––the stellar, easy-A student and the struggling, yet diligent C-student. I like to tell this story as a warning to the A-students and as a tale of encouragement to the C-students. I refused to believe it when I first heard it, but it’s true.

When I was in high school, I was more of the easy-A student and it wasn’t until I was humbled by a few semesters of crushing college coursework that I was able to reinvent myself into a more diligent performer. When I work with students now, I try to teach them the importance of developing strong study habits and I urge them not to compare themselves to others. It can be frustrating to think about classmates who receive top marks with little effort, especially compared to students who forgo fun and other privileges just to get by, but it all works out in the end. Students who devote time to creating efficient study habits will often have a leg up on students who rely natural “smarts” to see them through.

Some of my proudest moments as a teacher come when students who originally lacked confidence find ways around their struggles and emerge stronger than they were before. Becoming a strong student is a process, and one that I believe every student is capable of when given the proper instruction and encouragement.

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