High achievers show best ways to study smart

Olivia Gong and Shannon Gong say a survey of high achievers shows that studying smart - not just hard - is the best way to get top grades

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 12:03am

Characterised by the increasing intensity of "tiger parents", education fever seems to have swept Hong Kong to an alarming degree. Advertisements for celebrity tutors dressed in fancy clothes and the billion-dollar "cram school" business are just some examples.

With the increasing number of secondary school students fighting for limited spots in prestigious institutions, the road to higher education is as competitive as ever. So parents continue to wonder: are the myriad extracurricular activities, the hours of studying and the constant push by parents enough?

According to a study of 50 high-achieving students in Hong Kong, The High School Omegas, the answer is no. It takes a lot more to become a top-achieving student.

The first issue is the difference between time management and task management. While schools stress the importance of the former, it is not often discussed how it can be done to maximise results. Studying should be about the outcome rather than the amount of time spent on a task.

Task managers will, for example, set a goal of understanding thoroughly all the content of a particular chapter of the course material and will continue until the task is finished, regardless of the time taken.

Time managers, by contrast, can waste a lot of time because they lack a result-driven goal. By focusing simply on how much time is spent, they ignore the elephant in the room: whether the studying actually produces specific results.

The second issue is the student's motivation. This has to be a "pull" rather than a "push". The former is about identifying the true reason for getting top grades and igniting determination in the student. The latter is about parents monitoring their kids and constantly pushing them to their limits. "Pulling" is long-lasting; "pushing" may be counterproductive.

For example, students need to question why grades are important. Is it to avoid a scolding from a parent? This doesn't create a self-motivated reason for striving for excellence. On the other hand, if a student says: "My grade determines my future", or "I need the grades to get into medical school", he or she has the motivation to achieve great results despite any difficulties along the way.

Finally, there's mindset. Students need to believe in their own potential and understand that just because they are not there yet does not mean they never will be. Students who have performed poorly previously may find it particularly difficult to achieve better results.

Two simple techniques can help. First, affirmation can help fortify a clear direction. Second, visualisation can reinforce self-confidence. In this way, a student can cultivate powerful self-esteem; he must first believe in himself before setting out to achieve anything.

Some may argue that grades should not determine long-term success. But the fact remains that, for most people, academic success is important for entry into a competitive workforce. Ultimately, only a prepared student can really feel confident when heading into an exam room.

Olivia Gong is an academic adviser at HKExcel, an IB tutor specialist. Shannon Gong is a law student at Chinese University of Hong Kong