As a new university year swings into full gear, Saudi students should take the time to reflect on factors and strategies that will lead to success in their studies and in life. The long tradition of honoring education is complemented by considerable tangible support by society for post-secondary students. This comes in the tangible form of providing income, housing and meals, and transportation for female students. It comes also in the less tangible form of the trust and support of families and communities. The level of support that students receive here makes them truly privileged compared to many others in the world. In some countries, students struggle to support themselves by doing service-industry jobs while studying. Others end up in crippling financial debt. In our country, the tangible support that students receive places education in its correct and esteemed place in the consciousness of our entire society.
That alone does not guarantee success, however. The obligation to make the most of our university years by optimizing success cannot be met by good intentions alone. Like students around the world, Saudi students need solid strategies for academic success. What follows should be regarded as food for both thought and action:
Know Yourself. Any educator will tell you that students learn differently from one another. Whereas in elementary and high school it was up to the teacher to recognize and nurture those differences, university students must make necessary adjustments for themselves. So ask yourself — what helps you remember facts and figures? For some, it’s a matter of writing everything down. The motor activity, writing, actually lays down pathways in the mind. For some, a thorough cognitive understanding of concepts is the key; memorizing by rote just doesn’t work. It is up to you to discover these things about yourself and your learning, and then make the appropriate adjustments. Similarly, some students have a lower tolerance for sitting still and studying hour after hour. Shorter, more frequent study sessions with breaks in between will work better for them. At this level, it is not so much a matter of their being a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. You have to find what works for you.
Be consistent. Developing consistent habits is one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself. This includes not only regular class attendance, but also a regular pattern of study and recreation. The most successful students are not those who cram in information before an exam during marathon study sessions; they are the ones who study for a consistent period of time each day.
Do one thing at a time. Particularly when things seem overwhelming, it works best to break down tasks and commit to working on one thing at a time — a single paragraph, a single equation, and then the next. Much time is wasted if we try to compulsively multi-task, and do everything at once.
Finally, aim high but stay grounded. Saudi students receive a quality of education equivalent to that of any nation in the world. There is no limit to what we can accomplish, and our unique system of support for students ensures that education is not only for the elite. Everyone has a chance not only to succeed but also to excel. So dream big — but never forget the simple, everyday tasks and routines that are needed to achieve and maintain success.
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— Dr. Alaa Alghamdi is an Academic at Taibah University – Al-Madinah