How to be a successful student

How to be a successful student

The secrets to academic success are attainable and within your reach. Swiss Hotel Management School’s Fiona Eade teaches these tried and tested techniques and habits that every student should know for a degree in hospitality.


By Fiona Eade

6 minutes
how to be a successful student, academic strategies, strategies for academic success, student success strategies


How effective are your study habits? Have you thought about your learning process or how you learn? Do you have a clear study strategy? The English Foundation Program (EFP) at Swiss Hotel Management School (SHMS) aims to not only improve students’ English ability for university-level studies, but also develop academic skills and preview hospitality topics. An essential element of the EFP is to look at effective study skills and learner awareness skills which are often overlooked.

The most successful students always have successful study strategies set in place. They understand their own learning processes and what study habits are particularly effective for them. As educator and leadership expert Terry Small (otherwise known as ‘The Brain Guy’) says, “Knowing how to study is the most important factor in school success.”

Many of the ideas and study techniques we use in the EFP are research-based, linking neuroscience and learning in ways that enable your brain to learn more effectively. You need to help your brain and think about your learning process. The next time you sit down to study, make it easier for your brain by following effective strategies and tips for successful learning.

1. Road map your course.

Get the bigger picture of your journey and know where you are going. For each course, make a mind map of key topics, creating a visual aid that shows the building blocks of your learning with the course content. First, you research topics, key words, and course objectives ahead of time. Then, as you progress through the course, add to the map: tick off or highlight important elements, and answer questions as you go! Successful students prepare and identify beforehand the main elements that will most likely be discussed in the next class. This way, time in class will be much more resourceful. You will follow concepts and ideas more easily. Your brain will already be familiar with much of the content, and you will be reinforcing the information for long-term retention and deeper learning.


2. Make a study plan.

Embrace your routine and be in control over your schedule. By creating a study plan you are taking the first step to being mentally prepared to study regularly and stick to a schedule. Studies show that on average it takes sixty-six days to create an effective habit (Lally, Philippa 2010, quoted in Wood 2015). Give it time and be consistent. Schedule your study blocks around the same time every day to avoid procrastination. By building these study strategies into a fixed schedule, you do not have to spend time and energy constantly trying to decide whether to ‘study now or after dinner’. Provide contexts to ´cue´ the decision to work – same time, same place, same routine, for example, a quick walk, a cup of tea and some chocolate at the same desk. When you get used to the routine, it becomes easier to do.

Bonus Tip: Try the ‘ninety-minute study block then rest technique’, otherwise known as ´pulsing´ (according to the ninety-minute rest-activity cycle, Kleitman, Nathan quoted Novotney, 2015). Set a timer and work towards the goal of intensive study for ninety minutes, then give yourself a rewarding break before starting another study block. 


3. Review regularly.

Plan for spaced repetition to ‘train’ your brain to absorb the new concepts. Daily or weekly review is important for long term retention and to avoid the stress of last-minute cramming. You can look over your notes at the end of the day or at the end of the week. You need to review to master new concepts. To help reinforce good habits, you should consider creating specific review goals for certain days of the week as well. For example, you can decide that Monday and Wednesday are lesson preview days, Tuesday and Thursday are Cornell note review days, etc.


4. Study smart.

Space out the revision of each topic – don't do it all at once. When you study for a long period of time, the brain slows down and gets more confused when presented with large amounts of similar information all at once. Instead, create shorter, manageable blocks of time for different subjects. Shorter but regular periods of study during the week allows for repetition, which gives your brain more time to absorb the material. For example, review Marketing, HR, Accounting, Hospitality and Cost Control each for short periods every day rather than only Marketing for a long time on Monday, Accounting for a long time on Tuesday, etc. Changing topics during your study block has the added benefit of keeping the brain awake, allowing it to learn more effectively.


5. Explain the concepts to yourself and others.

Challenge your brain with intensive self-testing. Form a study group or a ‘Buddy System’; two heads are better than one. Self-test yourselves by explaining key concepts to one another. If you can explain it well, this shows that you understand it. Prepare quiz-style questions together to test each other for short, intensive practice periods. If you build this up together, you will have a good set of exam review questions for intensive practice. If your friends are busy, you can self-test by explaining things out aloud to yourself (or to an imaginary audience). By testing yourself intensively, you are challenging yourself enough to keep your brain awake and find out whether the information has stuck. You know you’ve got it when you are able to explain it without looking at your notes.

Students learn how to study along with English skillsStudents learn both the English language as well as higher education study skills.

6. Note-taking and review with the Cornell Method.

Train yourself to organize your thoughts. Using the Cornell page layout, you take notes in the center of the page and then ´think like the teacher´ by creating quiz-style questions for each concept or item on one side. At the bottom of the page, you should summarize all the ideas and ask yourself why they are important. When you review, you should cover the notes section and look at the set questions to test yourself. Then, try to summarize the subject and check your answer against the summary you previously made. The Cornell method takes a bit of practice at first, but if you take time to do this, you will remember the information much better than by simply reading or looking through your notes.  


7. Set specific (SMART) goals for your study sessions.

Give yourself clear tasks to complete each session for focus and self-motivation. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Sit down at your desk with a specific topic already in mind to study for. Create a measurable and achievable goal for each study session. If you like, break it down into two or three goals. You can write each goal on separate post-it notes and put them on the wall in front of you. As you complete each goal, you will feel the satisfaction and reward in your progression. Attack the most difficult or challenging topic or task first. This will take the most mental effort and energy, so get started straightaway with a clear mind.


8. Pay attention to brain health.

Improve your brain health for all the thinking and memorizing needed for your studies. Take care of your brain by exercising, eating, and sleeping well. Social media doesn’t work as a purposeful brain break (Cornell University, 2023)! Instead, stand up, go for a walk, open the window, take a shower, listen to your favorite music, or do 20 jumping jacks. This helps refresh your brain, increasing your energy and ability to focus for your next study session. Do left and right brain exercises such as touching your right elbow to your left knee. Eat omega-3 found in nuts and fish. Drink lots of water to hydrate the brain. If you are dehydrated, your brain becomes ‘sleepy’. Keep your place of study at the optimum temperature for the brain to learn – 17C (according to the Brain Guy, 2023). Plan for this in your study schedule. 

The secret of success at school or university is really no secret at all; it lies with tried and tested techniques and habits that you need to train yourself (or rather, your brain) to practice effectively and regularly (Kline, 2020). Taking the time to look carefully at study skills at the start of your degree program will better set you up for success in your degree studies. And be patient! These habits may take time and perseverance to develop, but you should soon see that you are able to learn, assimilate, and retain information more effectively. Always remember that highly successful students have a successful study process. Effective study skills will pave the way to your success in all your hotel management courses!

Words of wisdom from some of our top students

Thaniya (Advanced Learning Program Study Skills Student Advisor)

"It can be difficult to organize your notes and keep a clear perspective on several assignments when you have a lot on your plate. I think the best approach to manage your time is in a manner you can handle. When taking notes, separate the material you are certain of from that which you aren't so sure about so that you can think about it or ask the teacher to explain it to you after class. Mark it differently or make a section on your notes for each. When you rely on your notes for projects, this helps ensure that you don't overlook anything."

Antonia (Advanced Learning Program Study Skills Student Advisor)

"You have to think learning is fun so you can learn. When reading the textbook, think of examples. If you don't have examples that explain the theory, do some research online! You may find treasures for your papers and reports! It's also a good idea to ask a lecturer to confirm your idea, they are more than happy to help! Poor English? Translate it into your familiar language and learn English words!"

Pan (ex-SAF President)

"Emphasize taking notes during lectures. I always find it easier to revise when I have the Lecturer's information as well. Do not be afraid to approach your Lecturers and ask them questions. As the weeks pass it gets very progressively busier so it's a good idea to plan ahead and prioritize what needs to be studied first. Find that one activity that makes you feel good and takes your mind off studying for a short, needed rest. Lastly, enjoy the whole process. Try not to stress as much. These are some of the best years in our lives and you should try to have fun and spend as much time as you can with your friends and peers."

Anson (BA4 Top Honors grade student)

"Find your learning style. There are 4 types of learning styles, and after you identify yours, memorizing the study content is much easier. Learn bit by bit every day. Watch interesting videos about the topic during your free time. By doing this, it combines learning and leisure. Make studying more fun and relaxing. You will learn way more than the others. About language, immerse yourself in the language environment. Change the language setting of your mobile phone and laptop, watch movies in English, and study in international environments. Get yourself used to the language and create chances of practicing. Lastly, be active with learning. Ask if you have doubts, ask if you are not sure, ask to reconfirm, search if you don't understand, and do everything until you do. Normalize making mistakes. Knowledge is your best asset and language is your best friend."

Dèsirée Ayón (Current SAF President & SHMS Ambassador)

"Successful study requires not just hard effort but also smart work. Here are some tips that I use for smart studying: Establish reasonable and attainable goals and break down your major goals into smaller ones. Take 10-15 minute pauses: walk around and drink water, but do not use your phone! Another useful tip is getting a study buddy. This will help you remain motivated and prevent procrastination. Sufficient sleep is a must; if you do not rest enough, you will be tired and your brain will not work at 100%. Do not be afraid to ask for help; you might get useful tips and see things from a different perspective. Studying can be fun! Once you learn how to properly do it, you will enjoy it!"



By Fiona Eade