What differentiates A+/A students from the rest, especially in your module?

A student wrote to me:

What differentiates A+/A students from the rest, especially in your module?

Here’s my answer!

It’s a bit hard to tell the difference between A+, A, and A-. So I’ll just make a distinction between A+/A and the rest. From my observations in teaching GET1050 for one year, I can say that IN GENERAL (remember: this is just a generalisation based on my observations) A+/A students in FASS exhibit very distinct personal qualities and work attitude/habits that are a class apart from the the others.

Here’s a list of some common traits that stand out to me (this list is not exhaustive – also, if you want to improve in your grades and as a person, it’s good to adopt some of these traits):

(1) They pay attention to detail. They carefully read every word that written by their profs/tutors and they are not afraid to ask and clarify when in doubt.

(2) They make it a point to actively engage with the content they are learning. They aren’t just blindly following examples laid out in lectures/tutorials. They are actually trying to understand and internalise what they are learning.

(3) And because they are actively trying to understand and internalise their learning, they are able to ask very high level questions that take their learning even further.

(4) They regularly doubt themselves and this provides them with a self-checking mechanism to identify when they might be wrong about their understanding or about their methods. These students can at least zoom in on their doubts. This is distinct from “kiasu” students who consult their profs/tutors because they want to “check” that their work is ok because they have a vague sense of uncertainty.

(5) They are very independent learners and will search for answers themselves. Another key distinction is that they aren’t just seeking answers to assessment questions just to get the marks. They are seeking answer to their doubts!

(6) These students are willing to work very hard and pour in additional hours of hard work just to make sure they get things right because they take pride in their work. One key difference that makes them stand out from the other students is that they are working smart as they work hard, they’re not just blindly wasting hours away in an unstrategic manner.

(7) They don’t shy away from a challenge, in fact, many of them enjoy a good challenge.

(8) Essentially, they have a very positive working attitude that has led them to develop these good work habits. They take ownership and responsibility for their learning.

A+/A students stand out from as early as Week 2 of the semester. It’s because they spend so many hours thinking about what they learnt, that they are able to ask questions that are a class apart from the kinds of questions other students ask. And you can tell that they spent many hours thinking about the issues because many of the things they consult me on cannot be easily arrived at just by watching the lecture videos alone: these question came from their reflections, experimentations, or attempts to apply their learning to other things.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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