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What Makes a Good Student?

Q. How can my student do better?

I get this question quite a bit. Here are my common responses to the question. This response isn’t so much about doing better, but rather it’s more about my idea of what a good student does. There are students who get good grades, but aren’t good students. But, at some point, not having good habits that a good student has will adversely affect those who rely strictly on their “smarts”.

  • Come to my class ready to learn.
    • This means be seated immediately and open up your notes. Be sure that assignments that are due are also on your desk. Have pencils and erasers ready to go.
    • If you’re looking to have social conversations, this should be done before or after the class.
    • Be attentive and be engaged in class.
    • Ask questions you have. Don’t just observe. As a born introvert, I understand that this goes against some students’ nature. However, teachers in general, myself included, tend to gauge their responses by looking at the student who asked the question.
  • Treat homework assignments as an assessment.
    • Time yourself. Do your homework in a single sitting.
    • Once you’re done. Check your answers.
    • Redo incorrect answers using notes or other resources.
    • At a later time (preferably the next day), do unassigned questions that are similar to the problems you got wrong.
    • Without saying, you should be doing analysis of why you got the problem wrong. Keep a catalog of the types of mistakes you're making.
  • Come to the tutorial sessions immediately if there are any questions.
    • This means that the student should be engaged with the teacher.
    •  If the teacher is busy working with other students, then pair up and try to resolve the question while waiting for your teacher. This will speed up the process of resolving the issue.
  • Does your supporting work look like Mr. Yim’s or other students who are doing well?
    • Your goal isn’t to get the answer correct, but rather to understand and to achieve mastery of the mathematical concepts in the course that you’re enrolled in.
  • Focus on learning. Positive delta everyday!
    • I often see that students who focus on grades tend to cut corners. High achieving students focus on learning and not dwell on the grades. Grade will come when you begin to achieve mastery.
    • Sometimes Often a mastery of a concept may take longer as you study more difficult materials, focus on improvement each day. If you made an improvement today (even a small one), then you had a good day. If you did not improve today, you could have had a better day. Let's have a good day.
  • When a teacher give a general feedback,
  • First, ask “Does it apply to me?”
  • Second, if it doesn’t apply to me directly, how can I learn from the feedback given to others?
  • In other words, whether or not the feedback is directed at you, take opportunity to reflect on any feedback.


These are the things I say often in class. If I didn't, I really should.

  • Be mindful.
    • In the context of solving math problems, do not merely memorize the steps and procedure but be mindful of the ideas that manifest themselves in those steps.
    • Understand that practice makes permanent, not perfect. So, be sure to have perfect practice. Part that requires you to be deliberate and mindful of the practice. This means, don’t take shortcuts when you’re doing your homework.
  • Be like a cactus.
    • Be resilient and be resourceful.  
  • Achieve zero.
    • Zero represents the gap between your potential and your achievement.  Your potential is not static.  By working to achieve zero you are constantly striving to achieve your perceived potential, which in turn grows as you near it.  At times, your growth of your potential as well as your achievement can be exponential especially for young people.  A constant strive to achieve zero will yield a deep self-satisfaction that you've done everything you can to be the best that you can be.  Woeful regret of I would have, should have, could have done better if things were different only leads to unhappiness.  To achieve happiness, achieve zero!
  • An answer requires a question, so ask.
    • Often simply asking “why” or “how” will yield wonderful answers.
    • When you’re stuck, read the definition of the main idea of the question. For example, a question asks when an inflection point occurs. Some students would simply set f’’(x) to zero. In this case, the student is confusing correlation with cause and effect. Inflection point occurs when f’’(x) changes sign. The transition between the signs can be either zero or undefined.  In most cases, the transition point is zero. Hence, the confusion. Always look at the definition.
  • Recognizing the obvious is a sign of a genius.
    •  I'm not sure if we can all be a genius or if that's even a good thing. But, we should emulate all the positive attributes from those we can learn from. I suppose replacing the word genius with excellence would be more appropriate.
    • In the context of math class, rather than being satisfied with merely memorizing the steps and procedures, do your best to see the relationship between the topic at hand with ideas that we have learned in the past. If you're looking for a challenge, try to extend the idea. If you make this a habit, then what we do in the class will seem... obvious.