Discover the 2 Daily Habits that Every Successful Student Knows About


As a continuation to my How to Prepare for University series of posts let’s take a look at the two study skills activities that, if you turn them into a daily habit, will help you to nail your college assignments.

By the way, if you missed my earlier articles on preparing to go to university don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! My posts University Can Wait, Right?  and Help for People Going to University as a Mature Student will help make the experience a whole lot less daunting.

Okay, let me start by asking you three questions:

  1. How would you like to go to university feeling confident about your research skills?
  2. What would it mean to you to be ahead of all the other newbie students?
  3. Would you like to be able to cut out some of the stress and get great grades for your first, yes, your first assignment?

What if I told you that all of this is not only possible, but it’s really not that difficult to achieve? (Okay, I know that’s four questions!)

That would be amazing, right? (Yes, yes, I know, we’re up to five questions now – I’m guessing you’re all maths students then!)

Well, if that’s what you want, that’s what I’ll give you…read on…

Today’s post is all about developing good study habits. It’s about creating a daily routine that will help you to get a head-start with your studies. Here’s what I’m going to tell you about:

  • How reading at university is different to reading for pleasure
  • How reading and note taking go together like Will & Jada Pinkett Smith (you know, you can’t have one without the other!)
  • How you can get ahead of the game and start to develop your research skills now


all you’ve got to do is get into the habit of spending 10 to 15 minutes a day (every day) reading quality magazine or online articles and making a few notes about what you’ve read.

You want some good news? I’ve made it even easier for you because I’ve already created a free workbook for you to download and use to make your notes and record your progress (you can download the workbook here). I’ve even included some links to some great articles to get you started so you haven’t even got to find your own reading material! Cool, huh?

Sound good?

Great, let’s get into it…

So, what are the two habits that you need to get to grips with if you want to get ahead before you go to university?


Photo of a pretty girl sitting on a rug on the floor reading a book. She is leaning against a wooden chair which contains a selection of other books
Just 10 to 15 minutes a day doing this – doesn’t look too taxing! Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

It’s quite simple really – all you’ve got to do is actively read and write every day.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I mean, everyone can read and write can’t they?

Well, yes, certainly most people can read and write but when you get to college and start working on those assignments you’ll soon realise that you’re going to have to develop a whole new skill-set if you’re going to get the good, no great grades that you want.

You’ll notice that I highlighted the word “actively” when I referred to the skills that you’ll need to work on, and that’s the difference between reading to study and reading to find out who’s up to what on Instagram. And therein lies the problem, reading on the internet has changed the way we read.

Let’s take a look at the problem


Back in 2015 Microsoft  carried out some research in Canada that found that the average attention span of readers had gone down from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015 (you can download a copy of the report here if you want to read more about Microsoft’s findings). That folks, is less than a goldfish, which came in at an impressive 9 seconds.

The decrease, Microsoft attests, is down to the rise of reading using technology instead of traditional printed media. Now, this claim has been discussed, argued and refuted over the last few years but the figures don’t actually matter that much. The fact is we read differently now.

A typical reader on the internet may read something like this:

Graphic showing how we read in a superficial way in the digital age. It shows that, for the most part, we only skim read the content we find


This type of reading is called skim or speed reading and it has it’s uses at university (I’ll talk more about this in another post). But, as we now know most of us already read in this way, I thought it would be helpful to give you more input at this stage on the next level of reading – active or engaged reading.

What do I mean by “Active” Reading and Writing?


Well hopefully we all know what reading is, because otherwise, well let’s face it, you wouldn’t have got this far if you didn’t know how to read, would you? So the question is what does it mean to be an active or engaged reader?

You become an active reader when you decide to actually take real notice of the content.

This happens when you:

  • Start to read more slowly
  • Start to actually think about what has been written
  • Start to ask questions about the content – What does it REALLY mean? Do I want to find out more about the subject? Where might I go to carry out more research? Do I agree with the writer? If not, why not? Where can I find some content that agrees with my viewpoint on the topic?

So, let’s move on to ‘Active or Engaged’ Writing

What does it mean to be an Active Writer?


An ‘active’ writer simply thinks about what they’re reading and what they’re writing as they write.

They ask questions about the text they are reading. Some examples of the types of questions an engaged writer might be asking are:

  • What facts were included in the article?
  • What was the author trying to prove?
  • Did I disagree with the author’s point of view? Why?
  • Did the article make me want to learn more?
  • If so, what do I want to know more about and where might I find that information?

Sometimes, when you’re writing your brain starts multi-tasking. It will start to think about other aspects of your study, something that you need to add to an assignment, something that may not be directly related to the research you’re working on.

Hot tip! If this happens to you, always make a brief note of the things that you need to do later (oftentimes just one or two trigger words are enough to create a reminder but not distract you from your work). If you don’t make a note of it immediately you will forget it!

One thing that an engaged writer never does is simply copy the text that they are reading – there’s no point! This is just the way that your brain tries to con you into thinking that you’re working. Don’t fall for it! If you’re just copying text, YOU ARE procrastinating!

One thing that an engaged writer never does is simply copy the text that they are reading - there's no point! This is just the way that your brain tries to con you into thinking that you're working. Don't fall for it! If you're just copying text, YOU ARE procrastinating!Click To Tweet

Okay, we’ve had a brief look at what it means to write in an active way, but why do we need to make a habit of doing it?


From Planking to Studying – Say what, now?


Photo of a woman carrying out a planking exercise. She's wearing a T shirt with the slogan "Train like a beast"
Love the slogan on her T shirt – we all need to “train like a beast!”

Just this morning I was ploughing through my emails and one popped up from the person who got me started on this crazy blogging idea, Caitlin Pyle. Caitlin runs a super successful business selling courses that teach people how to become freelance proofreaders (hmm…quick thought – would this be a good side-hustle while you’re studying? Check out her blog if you think you might be interested in becoming a freelance proofreader).

Ugh! I’ve wandered off on a tangent again!

Anyway, this particular email was about how to start to develop habits that will improve productivity in your business. Okay, I thought, this sounds interesting. So I read on.

The opening sentence read:

“I’ve always hated planks.”

“Wait! What? How can planking possibly be connected to improving business productivity habits?”

Actually, it was a brilliant introduction because it grabbed my attention and made me wonder how she was going to make the link. And make the link she did.

Caitlin’s point was that she hated planking and because of this she refused to do the exercises for a long time, despite the fact that she knew the exercise would be good for her.

Then, one day, she had an ‘aha!’ moment and said to herself, “Okay, I’ll do one plank for one minute every day for thirty days” which she did.

Go Caitlin!

So what changed? Why was she suddenly able to complete and even go beyond her original challenge when she’d previously found it impossible to do?

The difference was her mindset. She decided not to think about the bigger goal (completing the 30 days). Instead Caitlin chose to take it one day at a time.

One day completed lead to another day completed and eventually it became a habit – something that she HAS to do every day. Something that sets her up for the day and if she doesn’t do it, she feels miserable.

Okay, so this is all fine and dandy but what the *insert naughty word here if you wish* has planking got to do with studying?

Answer – absolutely nothing!

It’s not the planking that’s important, it’s turning something that you don’t want to do into something you would miss if you didn’t do it. You achieve this by turning it into a daily habit.


Screenshot from the film Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg's character talking to some nuns. They are all wearing their full habits. The top slogan reads "I'm telling you we've gotta start getting into good habits" the bottom text reads "Not just wear them!"


Okay, now we know a bit more about what it is to be an active and engaged reader and writer do you want to try it out for yourself?

Do you feel ready to start your training to study for real?



Let’s get into it!

Introducing the workbook, How to Build a Daily Active Reading and Writing Habit (in only 15 minutes per day)


Three simple steps are all you need to get you started:

Step 1 – Read the articles provided (or any quality content that takes your fancy) then close it down

Step 2Immediately after reading the article write down as much as you can remember about it. Also include any questions or other ideas that you may have had as you read the piece

Step 3 – Open the article back up and compare it to your notes. Did you catch the most important facts? Did you miss something that you wanted to include as you read the article?

It’s up to you how much time you set aside per day to do this – your game, your rules!

The important thing is that you to get into the habit of actively reading and writing on a daily basis. Start small – I want you to be able to do it every day (or at least most days – we’ve got to stay real here) and if you make it too difficult for yourself, you won’t keep going. Do as much or as little as you want, but try do the same amount (or more) EVERY day.

I know, we all have full and busy lives (and you are still on holiday) so don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day – just tell yourself that tomorrow is a fresh start, forget about the miss and move on!

If you’d like to give it a try you can download the free workbook to support you here. In it you’ll find more detailed help on how to get the most from the exercise.


The BIG IDEA is that by the time you get to university and you start your own research for your assignments you will already have a daily study habit in place.


And the news just keeps getting better!


I have set up our very own Facebook group so that we can chat about everything related to studying at university or college whenever we want to. Here’s an idea – you could kick us off by telling us how well you’re getting on with building your reading and writing habit. I’d love to hear from you!

It’s going to be a great community for students to help and support other students. I’ve made it a closed group, so anyone can find it but only members can see the posts. I want people to be able to talk freely about their work or concerns.

In addition to the regular discussions I’m going to be running live themed training events where you can ask me questions about anything you want – as long as it’s study skills related of course!

Why don’t you join us in the Study Buddies Facebook group now?

Hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading!

Nicki Walsh My Signature
Always learning!

Additional Resources

Pocket –  – this is a great resource for finding quality articles that you may wish to have a look at if you don’t like my choices (most of the ones we’ll be using will be from Pocket). It’s also fantastic as you can add a chrome extension or download the app and you can store articles that you want to read later. Even better, it’s free to sign up and use. What’s not to love?
Toggl –  – obviously for the purposes of this exercise all you need is a timer if you’ve decided to use this option rather than setting a word count. But I thought I’d tell you about Toggl because it’s a great tool if you want to really monitor how you’re spending your time online. Again, it’s free to sign up and use, so it might be worth a look if you keep getting distracted when you’re trying to work!

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