William Wadsworth

by William Wadsworth

The Cambridge-educated memory psychologist & study coach on a mission to help YOU ace your exams. Helping half a million students in 175+ countries every year to study smarter, not harder. Supercharge your studies today with our time-saving, grade-boosting “genius” study tips sheet.

I had a long car journey the other day, and used it listen to the audiobook for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It makes for pretty interesting reading (or listening), and it set me thinking about the habits of effective students.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,* written by Dr Stephen Covey, has sold over 40 million copies since it was first published in 1989, and has been named one of the most influential books of all time.

So, for those of you who haven’t read one of those 40 million copies…

What’s it all about?

Simply put: Covey sets out to distil hundreds of years of “success literature” – from the memoirs of Benjamin Franklin to the findings of psychologists to what people think about on their deathbeds.

His aim? To figure out the fundamental character traits that make people successful in their careers and in life generally.

He sets out seven “habits” or qualities that successful people embody:

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win-win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergise
  • Sharpen the saw

If you want to learn more about Covey’s original seven habits, have a listen to this summary:

And if you’re intrigued and want to learn more, follow this link to grab your own copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.*

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    The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Students

    As I mentioned, listening to Covey’s Seven Habits in the car got me thinking about my own experiences as an expert study coach, helping students to become effective learners.

    And I began to wonder: what 7 habits and traits make an academically successful, effective and well-adjusted student?

    So, I got to work and distilled my own list! I reviewed all my knowledge from years spent reviewing the education psychology and learning science literature and asked myself: what would the “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Students” be?

    If you’re familiar with Covey’s original seven “habits”, you’ll spot some overlap – but there are also quite a few in here which are unique to the circumstances students of all ages find themselves in.

    the seven habits of highly succesful students

    I’d love to know what you think – if you think there’s something missing, let me know in the comments!

    So, let’s dive into my version: the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Students, full of effective study habits for college and high school students!

    1.     They’re proactive

    Successful students are architects of their own destiny.

    Success isn’t something that passively happens to them, it’s something they actively take responsibility for, working proactively towards their goals.


    They plan ahead and get to work: reducing risk and stress by avoiding last-minute panics before assignments and night-before cramming for tests.

    2.     They know where they’re going…

    Successful students have a plan for the future.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean having an entire career mapped out in detail, but certainly some firm ideas for where they want to be in 2-3 years’ time.

    how do successful students plan for the future

    Successful students know the reasons why they’re studying, and they know how to maximise the benefits of goal-setting for their studies and their life.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What do you want to be studying?
    • Where do you want to go to university?
    • What do you need to achieve now to make that possible?

    To answer these questions, it may be helpful to look further into the future:

    • Who do you want to become?
    • What kind of life do you want to be leading in 20 years?
    • What qualifications do you need to earn, or skills do you need to cultivate, to get you there?

    3.     … and they focus on getting there

    Successful students put first things first.

    And that means prioritising their studies and long-term ambitions over having fun in the moment.

    N.B. That doesn’t mean never hanging out with friends, watching TV or gaming! It just means putting things in the proper order, doing studies first, and relaxing when the work is done.

    And when they are studying, they avoid distractions and turn the phone off, to fully focus on the task at hand.

    As a result (and awesome bonus), this often means often getting assignments done quicker and to a better standard. Sounds worth it to me!

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      4.     They persevere

      Successful students are “gritty”.

      What does that mean?

      Well, it’s all about deploying deliberate, sustained effort to get to grips with things that seem tough at first.

      And that’s not all!

      Successful students also have a growth mindset that helps them to persevere with their studies.

      They use aspirational language when talking to themselves or others: “I can’t” becomes “I can’t YET”. They know there is always room for growth, for barriers to be climbed and overcome.

      Top tip: Learn more about getting gritty in Angela Duckworth’s excellent book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence.* And find out all about growth mindset in Carol Dweck’s equally excellent book Mindset.*

      5.     They study smart

      Successful students know all the tricks to studying smarter, not harder. And they use them well!

      They spend the bulk of their study and revision time on high-quality learning techniques.

      how to study smarter and more effectively

      In particular, they use:

      • Retrieval practice: which means learning by bringing information to mind
      • A spaced learning schedule: which improves your memory as you revisit knowledge over time
      • A concrete study routine: perfect for helping your effective student habits become a reality
      • Memory-boosting techniques including interleaving, chunking and mnemonics
      • Upgraded flashcards: using Q&A Ultranotes is my favourite method for retrieval practice and spaced learning!

      Successful students know that these methods may take a bit more effort than lower-quality techniques (like re-reading, highlighting or making notes). And they also know their efforts will be richly rewarded on results day.

      Top tip: Get to grips with the basics of studying smart with my very own guide to top-tier learning techniques for students of every age: Outsmart Your Studies! And for teachers and educators: why not check out “The Learning Scientists” book Understanding How We Learn.*

      6.     They’re helpful

      Successful students know that a rising tide lifts all boats.

      And so, they work to make their educational tide rise in two ways:

      They build good relationships with supportive classmates, exchanging handy resources and are always happy to try and explain a tricky concept to a friend.

      They also help their teachers by being open about what they still don’t understand, despite making best efforts independently.

      7.     They sharpen the saw

      Successful students know that time invested sharpening a saw is time well spent: the tool becomes more effective, and it’s far easier to cut wood as a result.

      What does that mean?

      A student’s “saw” is their mind and body. These are the tools they need to study effectively and reach their goals.

      successful students keep their saw sharpened

      Without any time looking after mind and body, any student, like a saw, will gradually become blunt and ineffective.

      Successful students therefore take the time to look after themselves, so they can continue to be effective, day after day, year after year. That means:

      • Looking after physical health: eating a balanced, nutritious diet and getting exercise through the week
      • Having good sleep hygiene: having a regular bedtime and getting enough sleep
      • Looking after mental and emotional health: making some time to unwind, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and cultivating kind, warm relationships with family and friends

      Top tip: looking for a way to unwind and unburden your mind from all the studying stress? I can wholeheartedly recommend Headspace as a great tool for students (and teachers!), packed full of dedicated content to help you focus and sleep. Learn all about the Headspace app in my thorough, honest review! **

      7 habits to become a successful student: the round-up

      So, there you have it, the 7 most effective study habits that I truly recommend for becoming a highly successful student!

      How many of these habits do you already have?

      And here’s one final (and important) tip:

      Of all of these seven study habits, I believe the one that can make the biggest impact – virtually overnight – to the majority of students is #5: study smart.

      Switching to effective study methods and better revision techniques has been proven, over and over again, to have a profoundly positive impact on grades achieved.

      Fortunately, we’ve got everything you need to get started on your journey to becoming a successful student! Check out our articles on how to study effectively, the ultimate memorisation techniques, and my all-time top study tips to set you on the right track right away.

      Psst: You can also learn so much more about studying smarter by signing up right here:

      The Science Of Studying Smart

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        *As an Amazon Associate, we may earn from qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you. We make these recommendations based on personal experience and because we think they are genuinely helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions received.

        **I may get compensated if you use Headspace, but this has no bearing on my decision to recommend it to you. In fact, I had been personally using and enthusiastically recommending Headspace for 3-4 years before we started our commercial partnership.

        William Wadsworth
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