If you’re a student on the cusp of starting a new semester, you may be contemplating how you’re going to up your game this school term. Whether you’re a C student or an A student, if you’re thinking about how to raise your grades this academic year, I’m sure that you’ve stopped to consider, “do I need to work harder?” I completely understand why you may be asking this question. “Work harder” is often the first piece of advice students get (or give themselves!), but unfortunately, it is also the most useless.
“Work Harder” is not a Plan
When I ask high school students how they plan to deal with the heightened expectations of university or when I work with undergraduates who are looking to improve their academic standing, I always ask how they plan to reach their academic goals. “Worker harder,” they often say.
The reason why “work harder” bothers me so much is because it’s not a plan. What does it really mean? Will you read more? Will you start working on your papers earlier? Is a lack of reading or procrastinating really the reason that you’re not doing as well as you’d like to? “Work harder” is too vague! It doesn’t tell you what steps you need to take each day to improve and it certainly doesn’t set a long-term goal that you can work toward.
To be honest, the only thing I have seen “work harder” do is induce stress by encouraging students to alter their work habits in unfocused ways (rather than building their skills incrementally). Setting tangible goals and understanding HOW to do well in university is the real method to success. Hard work is a complement to a plan, however, by itself, it is far from a plan.
Effort vs. Outcome
In my experience, many students feel that they are working hard. Indeed, I have seen that they are. However, there is an important difference between effort and outcome. The better that you understand this difference, the more likely you are to find the path to academic success.
If you are consistently seeing that your investment of time and effort is not getting you an outcome that is equal or greater to that effort, then “working harder” will not solve anything.
When the outcome (grades or feedback) you get is not equal to your effort, it’s time to look at your method of executing. Do you know what is expected of you? Do you know how you can meet, or exceed, those expectations? Do you know how your working time can be best spent?
Find a Mentor, Create Targets, and “Work Smarter”
This brings me to an important point: setting and meeting targets. If you’re not getting the results you want in university, it’s time to set a plan with someone who has the expertise that you are seeking to learn from. While this doesn’t have to be me (although I’d be happy if it is!), I’d encourage you to go beyond your immediate peers and family members. In most cases, I think student collaboration is a healthy thing. However, when it comes to helping you create success in university (which will have consequences for your future), you should really look for guidance from someone who truly knows what they are talking about.
The students that I work with have immense academic success because they benefit from having a mentor that has taught in a university. From my vantage point, I am able to mentor students to academic success in their current courses, but also put them on a path to confidently navigate future challenges. This type of guidance has immeasurable benefits for students.
Put simply, my advice is to find an informed mentor and let them help you to “work smarter” rather than “working harder”.
To learn about how Dr. Grafos can help you or your child succeed in university, visit the BridgesEDU curriculum page.