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Seven Tips to Becoming a Star Academic Performer in College

By Benton McTaggart
Director, Career Success Services

Going to school is like a full-time job. It requires being inside a classroom for a couple hours per day, you have tight deadlines to meet, and you must work with others to get projects done.

However – it also comes with an additional pressure – making the grade at the end of each semester. Your overall academic performance can have an impact on your career, future studies or even the types of consumer loans you’re able to get.

Here are seven tips to performing at your peak while in school:


1.  Focus on the process of learning – not the final grade


Students often wrap their entire identities into the final grade they get. So, an A would reflect that I am smart, and a C would perhaps reflect that I am not so smart. This kind of thinking keeps you small and takes the focus off learning.

Students are less likely to ask for help and less willing to take risks if they feel it will jeopardize the grade. When you focus on the process of learning by activating your inner curiosity it allows growth, engagement and understanding to develop – all keys to optimal performance.


2.  Study and work in 52-minute intervals with 17-minute breaks


A study done by Desktop found that the most productive people worked for about 52 minutes and then took breaks for an average of 17 minutes. In your 52 minutes, try to focus on a specific task such as writing a paper or studying a chapter from a textbook. Use the 17-minute break to recharge by doing active things such as stretching, talking to a friend, exercising or going outside for some fresh air. Keep yourself disciplined by using a timer to stay on task.


3.  Set micro-goals at the start of each day


Anxiety and stress can creep in when we feel like we just have too much to do. Set small goals that feed into achieving bigger goals and deliver motivating wins. Have a big essay due? Perhaps just draft the outline on the first day, and the first two opening paragraphs on the second day. Learn more about our four tips for achieving your resolutions.


4.  Develop a social accountability study group


The science of happiness tells us that we are happier when we socialize with others. Happiness has a positive correlation with productivity and performance. Surround yourself with equally driven and focused peers who can hold each other accountable to complete tasks.


5.  Drink plenty of water


According to an article in Psychology Today, our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and other elements to operate, and when you lose too much water that balance is disrupted. Your brain cells lose efficiency. If you are not a heavy water drinker, eat more hydrating fruits and vegetables to increase your water intake.


6.  Sleep between 7.5 – 8.5 hours per night


Sleep experts agree that for optimal cognitive functioning, adults should get between 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is an often an under-looked factor in optimal academic performance. It helps to recharge your body and brain. Keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible, including weekends and holidays.


7.  Eat high-energy foods to fuel performance


There is a common saying that you are what you eat. It can be tough to eat balanced meals all the time while studying. It’s much more convenient to grab fast-food on the go; however, do know that food choices can have direct impact on performance, e.g. eating too many sugary foods could lead to fatigue. Do meal planning and preparation in advance to get nutritious foods that have healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins. Lack the time? There are plenty of pre-packaged meals at most grocery stores that are delicious and give you the nutrients to perform at your peak.

Peak performance in college is not only about burning the midnight oil. Giving your brain and body the capacity to reach their peak involves setting the right goals, working in intervals, reaching out to others for support as well as prioritizing your self-care.