10 Ways of Thinking That Will Boost Your Academic Performance

Image shows a man with a bicycle looking out to sea, in black and white.


Do you ever find yourself pondering what the secret to academic success really is?

Do you wonder exactly what it is that the high achievers do that others don’t? Perhaps they work harder than everyone else. Perhaps they have a secret stash of books that nobody else knows about. Perhaps they’re just cleverer. We’d hazard a guess, though, that the mystery ingredient is more a state of mind: it’s the fact that they have the right attitude.
One must never underestimate the importance of thinking in the right way when it comes to academic success. Achieving a positive state of mind where your studies are concerned is almost as important as learning academic ways of thinking; in this article, we’ll look at both. Getting into the right mindset will provide a tremendous boost to your studies and your ability to cope well with your academic workload. In this article, we give you some inspiring ways of thinking that you can adopt as mantras to help you take a more positive approach to your studies.

1. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”

Image shows the Forum in Rome.
This didn’t appear overnight.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, success generally doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something you have to work hard at over a prolonged period of time. It takes effort and determination, and you can’t expect instant results. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” (we’d perhaps skip the “pain” part of that quote, but the rest stands!). This is very true of your education. Academic success takes many years of hard work. There are no shortcuts; there’s no substitute for a lot of reading, a lot of essay-writing, and, unfortunately, probably a lot of mistakes as well (we’ll look at how to respond to those later). However large the task that lies ahead of you feels when you first start it, there will come a time when you look back over everything you’ve learned and realise that your knowledge has grown from a small hamlet to a large and beautiful city (to use the Rome analogy). But it takes time, and you’ll need to be both determined and patient with yourself while you’re getting there. Remind yourself of this fact each time you feel impatient with your studies, and look back over how far you’ve already come.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Study Skills articles."

2. “I will not admit defeat”

We all have moments of feeling defeated, saying to ourselves, “I can’t do this”. Give your studies a boost by turning negativity into positivity, simply by adding the word “yet” to any statement you feel tempted to make about your inability to do something. Rather than “I can’t do this”, tell yourself “I can’t do this yet” (or, if you’re feeling particularly positive, “I can do this”!). For example, it’s not “I can’t figure out Latin verbs”, it’s “I can’t figure out Latin verbs yet.” Instead of giving up hope, thinking in this way encourages you to look forward to a time when you’ve mastered whatever it is you’re having problems with. Given time, you can conquer the problem. You just have to keep going, even when the going gets tough.

3. “I will not rest on my laurels”

Image shows two origami cranes with sparkly 'congratulations' decorations.
Celebrate your successes, but don’t stop trying.

If you’re top of your class and always get excellent grades, the temptation is to rest on your laurels – to think you’re already good enough, so there’s no point making any extra effort. This is a bad way of thinking, because there’s always more you can do to get even better at your studies, no matter what the subject and no matter how good you are at it. If you’ve exhausted the potential of the A-level syllabus, for instance, you can start researching other areas of the subject, reading widely to increase your knowledge. You can take on an extra qualification, such as the Extended Project Qualification, to add additional credentials to your university application. You can start reading up on topics you might end up studying at university. You could even mentor a younger student. The more you do to improve your subject-specific knowledge and skills, the better – particularly for the subject you intend to study at university, but general knowledge is valuable too. In your essays, strive for better each time, impressing your teacher with extra things you’ve learned outside the classroom. Working at a higher level in this way, your essays will stand out from those of your classmates, rewarding you with better university references and top exam results.

4. “I will learn from my mistakes”

There’s no doubt about it: criticism can be very upsetting. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to respond to it. Getting yourself into the right mindset for handling criticism will be a good boost to your studies, because it allows you to learn from your mistakes so that you continue to improve. Taking criticism personally – for instance, taking it as a sign that your teacher has a vendetta against you, or taking it to mean that you’re no good – isn’t going to help anyone. A much better way of thinking is to take criticism constructively, viewing it as your teacher’s way of helping you to do better next time. Reread what you wrote, objectively, in the light of the criticism you’ve received, and make sure you’ve understood exactly where it fell short. Then ensure that in your next essay, you don’t make the same mistake.  We’ve covered how to respond to different types of essay feedback in a previous article, so take a look at that to learn more about how you can learn from your mistakes.

5. “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail”

Image shows a map with a variety of mathematical equipment on it.
Prepare as thoroughly as you can.

This is particularly true of exam preparation, but it’s also applicable to your studies in general. Failing to prepare adequately for a class, essay, exam, interview, or any other situation or piece of academic work, is a guaranteed way to set yourself up for disappointment. The best students allow plenty of time for each and every assignment, and work meticulously towards it, preparing thoroughly and producing excellent results. Rushed work comes across as sloppy, and is unlikely to yield the top grades. Getting into the habit of allowing plenty of preparation time, and viewing that preparation time as fundamental to your future success, will stand you in good stead for school, university and beyond.

6. “I will not be afraid of failure”

While we certainly wouldn’t advocate preparing to fail as discussed in our previous point, it’s also true that being afraid of failure holds many people back from achieving their true potential. They’re afraid to try new things in case they’re no good at them, and afraid to express their opinion or make bold statements in case people disagree with them, sticking to bland essay-writing that sits on the fence and doesn’t excite the reader or break new ground. Successful students, on the other hand, are not afraid of failure; they know that success lies in experimentation, even if it doesn’t always go to plan. They don’t beat themselves up if they get a bad grade or negative feedback; they learn from it and do better next time (not everyone can be perfect all the time, after all). Winston Churchill (who didn’t do too well at school himself) summed up this sentiment with the words, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Bright students may not experience quite as much failure as this statement implies, but they nevertheless appreciate the importance of maintaining enthusiasm in the face of a setback. If at first you don’t succeed… try, try, try again.

7. “I will be interested in everything I study”

Image shows a student studying in a coffee shop.
Do your best to enjoy everything you study.

Do you feel that some of your subjects are boring? If so, the chances are that that says more about your attitude than it does about the subjects themselves.  Bearing in mind that you generally do better at subjects you find interesting, wouldn’t it be great if all your subjects were as fascinating to you as your favourite one? With a change in your way of thinking, they can be. Your misconceptions about the subject may have arisen from poor teaching early in life, or it could be that your present teacher doesn’t do enough to inspire your interest; or perhaps you can’t see a reason why you need to learn a subject that doesn’t appear to have any direct relevance to everyday life. If any of that is the case, the responsibility falls on your shoulders to look at the subject in a different light and to think about what makes what you learn interesting. Try to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge purely for its own sake; our pursuit of knowledge is, after all, one of the things that makes us human. If you make an effort to find interest in everything you study, you’ll soon find that learning is much easier, that facts stick in your mind more readily, and that your grades start improving, even for the subjects you previously didn’t care much for. If you approach a subject with the mindset that it is interesting and enjoyable, you’d be amazed at how much easier you find it to study and succeed.

8. “I choose not to be convinced by everything I read”

Moving on now to a couple of particularly academic ways of thinking, you can give your studies a massive boost by learning to think critically about everything you read. Critical thinking is vital for success at university, and the sooner you start cultivating this way of thinking, the better. Understanding that writers have an agenda – that they’re all trying to convince you of something (usually that their opinion is right) – is crucial in developing this way of thinking. For everything you read, ask yourself questions about what the writer wants you to believe, and approach everything skeptically. What is their background and agenda? What information have they used to form their opinion, and how reliable is that information? Be difficult to convince, and you’re well on the way to thinking critically. We’ve already covered critical thinking in a previous article, so take a look at this for some more ideas to help you learn this new way of thinking.

9. “I will form my own opinion”

Image shows a young woman reading.
Whenever and whatever you read, think about whether you agree with the writer.

Underpinning the concept of critical thinking is the idea of thinking for yourself. Following on from the notion that one should not be convinced by everything one reads, one of the most important ways of thinking you can adopt for academic success is the determination to form your own opinions about everything you learn. Rather than accepting the opinion of whatever scholar you happen to be reading at the time, you should try to read as wide a variety of opinions as you can, and then, having approached each text in the manner described in our previous point, you decide which argument you find most persuasive. Including your own intelligent opinions in your essays – adequately backed up with reasons and evidence, of course – will show your teachers or lecturers that you’ve thought about the subject in sufficient depth to decide what you actually think (rather than copying someone else’s opinion or sitting on the fence), and that’s the hallmark of a top student. Again, we’ve explained how to think more rationally and develop your own opinions in a previous article.

10. “I will believe in my future”

Finally, it’s easy to think negatively when your studies are getting you down and to imagine that your future is bleak (that you’ll fail all your exams, for example). Perhaps you’ve received a bad grade, feel overwhelmed with your workload or you’re struggling to get to grips with a difficult topic. At times like these, it’s important to believe in yourself and to believe that you have a bright future ahead of you. It may not feel like it right now, but success is well within your grasp. Keep that goal in mind, and the rest will follow.


Your email will not be shared and you can unsubscribe whenever you want with a simple click.

Image credits: banner; Rome; celebration; map; studying; reading.