How Do Top Students Study? (University of Toronto Edition)

by Sunny Hoi

Students studying at University of Toronto’s Robarts Library.

A common question I hear often is how do top students study, notably at the post-secondary level? What are their study tips, habits, and tactics? How are they able to achieve substantial academic success? Based on my own and other top students’ experiences I’ve observed during my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, I provide a variety of characteristics present in exceptional students.


  • Believing in yourself

– You must believe in yourself. If you don’t, the lack of self-confidence serves as a hindrance towards achieving your goals. By believing in yourself, you will become capable of overcoming the greatest obstacles in your life. The students in the top one percentile are extremely confident. He or she ultimately believes in themselves and their capabilities. Even a little bit of arrogance is good, but a bit too much can distance them from other people. Having a little faith is an absolute game changer.

Former Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on October 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


  • Attendance

– I have perceived topmost students having almost 100% attendance in class. When you are studying at one of the best post-secondary institutions in the world like the University of Toronto, it is important to attend the lectures. A lot of students, especially the ones that don’t well academically, skip many lectures or even skip every lecture and attend only the mid-term and final exams. They simply don’t care what they get in the class. I remember taking a third-year Sociology course where the professor said at the beginning of the final exam that she sees a lot of new faces. She sure wasn’t kidding. I sure noticed that a lot of people present in the final exam never attended any of the lectures at all.

– The topmost students are going to attend most of the lectures, which results in them having better retention of all of the course material. This gives them a huge advantage in remembering and recall specific details mentioned in the lecture. If you attend all the lectures, you will typically feel more prepared for the exams.

University of Toronto Convocation Hall Lecture.


  • Pay real close attention by listening

– The top students listen very carefully during the lectures. Why? Because paying close attention results in better absorption of the material by grasping it. Careful attention results in the material being processed in the brain.

University of Toronto Institute of Medical Science Lecture.


  • Taking notes

– The top students, especially the ones in the top one percentile, all take their own notes. Topmost students will never depend on other people providing them notes. They write their own notes. The students that I’ve met and become friends with that relied on someone else’s notes performed mediocrely in their undergraduate classes. If you do miss a class, you can borrow another person’s notes. But be sure to write everything down in your own handwriting. You are much more likely to retain and recall everything by doing so.

University of Toronto students taking notes in class.


  • Dedication, Persistence, and Purpose

– Topmost students are dedicated and persistent in achieving their goals. You must dedicate yourself to your academic studies and not be distracted. You may ask how to obtain these traits. It’s called a purpose. By dedicating in your studies and aiming to become a top student, you are doing so because of a purpose. That purpose alone can only be decided by you.

– Top tier students do not give up. They remain very persistent as they study from early on of the semester and will continue studying until the exam day and after. I’ve always begun studying at the beginning of the semester. More significantly, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of hours studying. If you want to be a top tier student and succeed, you ought to put in immense efforts. To truly understand something, you must take the time to understand it. Shortcuts do not exist.

There is no substitute for hard work. Surely some people say that luck plays a factor. But always remember that the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Remember hard work pays off.


  • Read books and pay attention to informative sources

– Exceptional students do not merely rely on course material and notes originating from a class. Topmost students read a lot, both from books and from sources like the news. They retrieve them from libraries or purchase them. If you choose not to spend the majority of your time reading books, you might not be comprehending the subject entirely. Not only do I read a lot of books, but I also have a Wall Street Journal subscription.

University of Toronto’s Robarts Library Stacks.

A student reading The Wall Street Journal.


  • Making connections by relating concepts to real life experiences.

– Relate concepts to other things such as your real life experiences. By doing so, you will be making faster progression towards a greater understanding of the concept and course material. Making connections are crucial in enhancing your grasp with the subject and ultimately contributes to significant retention of the information which leads to better recall on an exam. If you really understand something, it will take you less time to review it before an exam, and you will be able to elaborate on it more easily than something you haven’t entirely understood.

University of Toronto’s Trinity College Quadrangle.


  • Memorize

– Memorization is extremely significant in the learning process. By memorizing, you are increasing the potential of better recalling the information. However, do note that memorization is merely useful when you have truly understood the concepts.

Memorization and Meaning.


  • Utilizing mnemonic techniques

– Top tier students use mnemonic techniques. They use these techniques to memorize and grasp the concepts.

An example of a mnemonic technique being utilized.


  • Plans and time management

– Great students devise a plan on when they are going to do something and stick to it. They will put more efforts when compensating for a failed plan. For example, if they were unable to study on a certain day because of an issue then they will make up for that loss on another day.

University of Toronto student on the phone.


  • Exercise

– While not all top students exercise, it is important to stay fit as it contributes to a greater physical and mental health. Personally, I lift weights and do cardio. Exercise has been shown to contribute to better learning and helps eliminate stresses in your life.

University of Toronto’s Hart House Gym.


  • The weekend

– Exceptional students use the weekend to review something less complex which adds value to their life as both a student and human being. Top tier students will not waste their time. They utilize it to their advantage.

Student studying in the library.


  • A great environment to study in

– It is absolutely essential to be in an environment where there is no noise, cell phones, social media, and other distractions. Studying for extended hours is certainly possible when such an environment exists in your presence. Every hour spent in a great environment has a significant impact towards comprehension and memorization. Topmost students surround themselves in these ideal environments.

A student’s study desk.


  • Review and retain your information

– Smart students keep their notes and books. They will revisit the material which leads to the knowledge being retained after a long period of time.

– The material you have learned can come in handy in the future. The more effort you put into retaining the knowledge, the more value.

Reviewing is essential in retaining the information you have learned.


  • Striving for perfection in everything

– Students in the top one percentile ceaselessly look for ways in striving for perfection in everything they do. Evidently, no one can reach perfection, but this is how they achieve excellence.

The Perfectionist Scale.

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