Can anyone be a great student?

Updated: Feb 9, 2019


Stella Cottrell, Million Copy Bestselling author and Study Skills Specialist, knows just how we can all be great students. Here she tells it straight:


"When I am asked this question, people usually mean 'Could every student get great marks?' In my experience of working with thousands of students, the short answer is 'yes'. I never met a student who wasn't capable of getting a good degree - if they were able to put in the hours, did the right things, had a great study strategy, believed they could do it, and kept their cool when it came to exams and assignment deadlines.

These things may seem obvious, but it isn't always easy for students to work out what is the right strategy. 'Putting in the hours', for example, isn't just a question of a number - or 'how many?'. It depends where each person started out in terms of knowledge and skills, any gaps they need to make up, how focussed they are when studying, and what exactly they want to achieve. There is a balance to be achieved for every person. The strategy isn't the same for everyone.

That is why I originally started writing study skills materials that were easy for students to use. I wanted students to think through what was right for them, to be active in making decisions about their own learning process - not just follow formulas and glib tips that might not really suit them. I wanted every student to do well or at least to have a fighting chance!  

A good tutor, whether a study skills tutor, course tutor, or personal adviser, can also make a huge difference. They know when to bolster your confidence, when to clarify your thinking process, and how to get you thinking about your strategy. The time available with such tutors is usually precious, so it is worth preparing well for individual and small group sessions to get the most from every minute.

Before your session, it is advisable to: Look through your work, considering where you most need help from your tutor. Have a go at resolving your study difficulties or issues before the study session, so you are as clear as possible about where you think the sticking points lie Bring your work with you, and talk through your thinking process, so the tutor can understand better where you get stuck.

After your session, take care not to lose the benefit of all that great advice: Take 10-15 minutes alone to go back over the session and reinforce what you have learnt Jot down anything you found useful, so you don't forget Make sure you go through this just before you tackle your next assignment.

Be aware that good tutor will never just 'tell' you the answers for assignments before your work is marked, and certainly wouldn't do the work for you. They guide your thinking so that you find your way to the answers yourself. They leave you feeling that you are better equipped to solve problems effectively for yourself. You may even find study more enjoyable as a result!

There is another side to the question above: 'Can anyone be a great student?' Whilst grades are important to most students, they aren't the only thing that matters. When I think of people who come across as 'great students', they tend to demonstrate other qualities: curiosity in finding answers, a desire to see others do well, a sense of fun, openness to new perspectives and opportunities, readiness to join in and get things done. Such qualities can take you a long way as a student and in life."

Stella Cottrell - 20/07/17



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