Improve your academic success: It is all a matter of balance

Improve your academic success: It is all a matter of balance

We students have all been there. We’re unsatisfied with our achievements and our grades plummet halfway through the year. Resolution: do better this year and make studying a priority. This goal initially seems achievable, but it’s harder than you think. Why?

Reports show that Dutch universities perform well overall. Their education is of high quality; they are accessible; and although students may take a bit longer over their studies than the European average, students’ job prospects are promising. Apparently our universities are “successful” in their academic achievements, but how does that apply to me? I am a student myself. What do I know of study success? As part of a Euniwell-funded research project, I discussed this topic with groups of students to learn more about how students quantify and think about their academic success.

What is academic success?

In research, academic success is often quantified and measured in terms of students’ grades, or grade point averages (GPAs). And in practice, students seem to agree, at least partially, with this view. One of the first associations of almost all students was obtaining good grades. This operationalization, however, does not seem to capture the whole spectrum of academic success. In fact, although grades remain the most prevalent measure of success, they are not the only one. When we asked students to reflect a bit further, they reported that other factors ended up being more relevant than one’s GPA. One thing students mentioned consistently was the sense of accomplishment and success that they experienced when reaching a specific goal. Knowing that you have learned something and have improved yourself by learning seem to be just as important as grades. This connects to recent UNESCO insights that show how important it is to stress students’ learning potential, which brings us back to the initial question: How can we improve both our grades and our broader academic accomplishments this year?

Wellbeing and academic success

When we look at academic performance we tend to narrow our focus and solely consider elements that are study-related. We intuitively associate better performance with studying more, and possibly with reducing time spent doing other activities, such as social outings, sports, or anything we may enjoy doing in our free time. However, what has been found is that the less time we devote to these positive health behaviors, the worse we perform. So here is the main tip that students mentioned. It may sound familiar, but it is nonetheless important. In order to succeed, you should not eliminate activities that have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing. For students, these include getting enough sleep, taking time for relaxation, exercising, eating well, ánd having meaningful social interactions. Actions that may benefit others, such as helping, sharing and cooperating, may help us to engage and connect with others, build and maintain friendships, and thus contribute to our health, well-being, and potentially academic success. The students I talked to, shared these views and mentioned that their social relationships benefited their study performance. For others, the act of helping others stimulated their performance at university. Nonetheless, it remains unknown how exactly prosocial actions benefit academic success and student wellbeing: more research is needed on this topic.

A matter of balance

So, to conclude, how can we do better than last year? We all want to achieve goals, and want to do this as best we can. As we have seen, the best way to succeed is not to focus only on your study. Make yourself a schedule that allows you to combine productive study days with social connections and moments of self-care. It’s all a matter of balance.