The Qualities of a Good Student

Kwick/ September 16, 2014/ Special Features

By: Michael Smith, Education Specialist at RNBC

What are the qualities of a good student?  Take a minute right now to answer that question.  Feel free to grab some scratch paper and jot down some of your ideas.  Done?  Great!  Now let’s see how your answers compare to those of some actual students…

Every summer, the Rush NeuroBehavioral Center offers Executive Functions Summer Workshops for Middle and High School students.  For the past several years I have been one of the lead instructors for these workshops and on the first day of the workshop, I always ask the students that question.  In fact it is one of the very first things we do, even before discussing the meaning of Executive Functions.  Here are some of the responses students have offered over the past few years:

Teacher:  “So what do you think are the qualities of a successful student?”


  • “They pay attention in class.”
  • “They do their homework.”
  • “They turn assignments in on time.”
  • “They can work well in a group.”
  • “They are open to new ideas.”
  • “They are good listeners.”
  • “They study for tests.”
  • “They keep their papers organized.”
  • “They ask for help when they need it.”
  • “They are always prepared for class.”
  • “They don’t leave things to the last minute.”
  • “They don’t give up, even when it’s hard.”

Every one of these statements was shared by one of our young participants.  It’s quite an insightful list, wouldn’t you say?  Did any of these items match some of the characteristics on your list?

What I always find even more interesting about this activity, however, is what the students don’t say.  After 7 years of teaching this workshop, not one student has ever responded to this question by saying…

  • “They have to be a really good reader.”
  • “They have to understand many scientific concepts.”
  • “They have to know a lot about important historical events.”
  • ‘They have to be able to solve math problems quickly.”
  • “They have to be really smart.”

Isn’t that interesting?  Kids seem to instinctually know that knowledge of the subject matter does not necessarily make someone a good student.  Whether they know it or not, kids realize early on that it is the skill set referred to as Executive Functions that matter most when it comes to succeeding in school.  But sometimes it’s hard to remember this amidst science projects, history packets, book reports and math tests.

Armed with this awareness, here are some Executive Function tips to help your child get off to a good start and maintain some helpful habits this school year:

  • Be sure students have a Materials Management system in place such as a binder and folders that are color coded and labeled by subject.
  • Encourage your child to use a school planner (assignment notebook) to keep track of homework, tests and projects.
  • Remind them that effective studying requires more than just one study session and one way of studying.  “Many ways, many days” is an easy way to remember that it takes several ways of studying over several days to thoroughly prepare for a test.
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