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Jul 1998  Vol. 2  No. 2

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Teachers on Good Students

The overriding quality of a good student is that he/she should be motivated by the subject matter, not primarily by examination results.

—Leung Hing Man, FBA


Good students are active rather than passive. They try to understand in class rather than just taking notes in class and leaving understanding for later. They are curious and ask questions. Lecturers often only give one way to solve a problem; good students look for alternative ways to solve it. When they don’t understand something, they get it clarified as soon as possible, rather than leaving it for the day before the exam. They don’t try to concentrate on “important” topics but read everything. They don’t study for exams, but for knowledge. In the long run, they find that this pays off even for scoring in exams.

—Sanjay Jain, SOC


A good student displays strong interest in the subject; without enthusiasm, he/she will not become the best in any field. Good students also set short-term and long-term goals and try to achieve them step by step.

—Su Jui-lung, FASS


We all like smart students, but smart students are not necessarily good students. Good students have a learning mind-set: i.e., an eagerness and willingness to question and to contribute or share their opinions, experiences and views. They are willing to argue with others and yet are not offended if their own ideas are not accepted. They nourish or enable their fellow students to be better people.

—Shu Moo Yoong, FBA


Good students are pathologically curious. They will not accept everything they are told at face value and constantly search for the best answers (the eternal quest for truth). They demand more of themselves than of their teachers and they have great initiative. They do not expect to be told the basics. If they want to know or learn something, they will take the first step and try to find out as much as they can themselves before engaging their teachers in further discussion.

—Kevin Tan, LAW


Good students ask questions which other students wish they dared to ask.

—Tang Loon Ching, ENG


Good students are proactive and prepared. In a tutorial, for example, the student who is prepared will benefit far more than the student who sits back and waits for information and is unable to take part in any meaningful discussion.

—Alice Christudason, FABRE


One of my expectations of a good student is one that Confucious described: “When given one example, return with three more.” A good student should have the ability and initiative to read up or think of three more examples to support or counter the one taught by the teacher. I also expect good students to have the ability to analyse and re-synthesise what is taught, and to present or communicate the knowledge in alternate forms. It is a re-creation process that requires the student to have a good understanding of the subject. Creativity from the student is also manifested this way.

—Lim Tit Meng, SCI


A good student is willing to follow her/his passions in academics, and is open-minded in learning. He/she is willing to make mistakes; in particular, this means asking frank questions in class when she/he cannot follow something. This also means that he/she doesn’t judge fellow students when they ask questions that seem “stupid”. Overall, this should lead to a lively learning environment that is by no means a monologue by the lecturer.



A good student has a critical mind and likes to challenge the lecturer. He/she is vocal during tutorial sessions, rather than sitting quietly waiting for answers from the tutor.



A good student: comes to NUS to learn as well as to achieve a paper qualification; is open-minded in expecting that at least some learning will be exciting; accepts that learning involves some hard work and that education is not a branch of the entertainment industry; looks at learning in a systems context, not as a series of info-bytes; seeks out ways to grow as a whole person.

—Ann Wee, FASS


What makes good students good? The differentiation lies in the intention. Good students work towards gaining a firm foundation of the basics with the intention of applying such information to applications which are of service to the nation, organization, etc. Smart students do so for the sake of scoring well in exams so that there will be short cuts to success. The educational system must work to close the loopholes which allow the “smart” student to appear to outperform the “good” student.

—Ng Tuck Wah, ENG


A good student has an inquiring mind and thinks through issues raised during lectures and tutorials.

—Janet Lim, CELC


A good student will attempt to directly solve problems assigned as homework and will not “hunt around” for solutions from seniors. Focused, consistent and unrelenting hard work are indispensable for a student who wishes to perform well in exams as well as master the subject matter.

—Belal E. Baaquie, SCI


I appreciate students with the courage to admit they’re confused; a quizzical look from a student during lecture can be a significant contribution to its final clarity. In general, strong students seem to be mentally active during lecture. Instead of just absorbing the material at face value, they are considering alternative solutions and otherwise questioning what is being presented. I also enjoy cases where students put a little extra into their work, bypassing the straightforward solution to find a more elegant or efficient one.

—Phil Long, SOC


Good students are responsive and show enthusiasm for their subjects. They take initiative in learning and clarifying any doubts with the lecturer. They regard doing presentations and speaking in class and tutorials as a precious opportunity to practice one’s communication skills, not as something that one is forced to do.

—Ni Yibin, FASS


A good student never lets the lecturer get away with an unclear explanation.

—Marcelo H. Ang Jr., ENG


A good student is: more interested in understanding than knowing; will not accept an unsupported statement as fact but probe its basis, exploring alternatives and their consequences; spends more effort listening and thinking about what is being said than copying notes; is not afraid to voice a question or objection; wonders how a theory, model, issue or problem can be viewed or constructed in a different way; is less worried about passing an exam than in failing to see how the pieces fit together.

—John R. Potter, ENG


What makes good students good? Of course some inborn intelligence is needed, but this needs to be used in the right way; some use their cleverness to minimize the amount of work needed to get a good grade. Good students have a combination of intellectual curiosity and persistence that makes them try to understand things and work them out for themselves, no matter how long it takes.



Good students are students who read. They read the relevant chapters in the text, they read the material in the reading list, they read any extra relevant material they can get their hands on. Only when they read will they learn—and they will be learning on their own, without being hand-held by their lecturers. This is infinitely more rewarding.
Good students ask questions. Teachers clarify concepts and facts which the students are unsure of, but students must ask questions. Reading ensures that they ask challenging ones.
Good students are good listeners; they pay attention in class, instead of talking or daydreaming. This is a chicken and egg issue. Sometimes students don’t listen because the teachers aren’t good and can’t capture their attention. Still, I place the burden on the students to pay attention in class. If they find lectures boring or even useless, they shouldn’t attend rather than turning up, talking in class and disturbing other students.
Good students talk to other students; this helps clarify their ideas and makes learning fun.

—William Koh Loh Kiang, FBA


Good students are willing to unravel the why, not just the how of things. They pursue knowledge for its own sake rather than just wanting to pass.

—Norman N. Lim, ENG


Good students have fortitude and do not easily succumb to failure. They confront hurdles of learning with great determination and have the courage to learn from problems and try again.

—Winston Lee Piak Nam, FBA


Some advice for students.

  1. Love the subject. Notice the extent to which people pursue a beloved interest? Treat the subject of your study as your most cherished hobby.
  2. Learn to organize data mentally.
  3. Speak well. Learn to expound on any subject with panache, style and confidence. Be convincing. Learn to present what you know impressively even though it may not be much.
  4. Be disciplined in study. Set and achieve daily objectives. Never cram at the last minute.
  5. Exams are a game which one must learn to play and enjoy. Learn to be exam orientated and focused when you study. Always play to win and score, not just to pass.
  6. Be competitive; not necessarily violently so. Enjoy surpassing your colleagues.
  7. Think laterally, be innovative, take short cuts and do the unconventional. Who dares—wins!

—Peter Goh, MED


Good students treat each class as a learning experience. They look forward to class and prepare themselves to learn (e.g., sleep well so they won’t be tired; avoid distractions such as getting a page during class). They feel responsible for contributing to the learning experience. In discussion, they flow along with the thought process of the class, ask relevant questions and challenge possible flaws in logic so that everyone will gain. Good students are polite to fellow students and the instructors. Learning can only take place if there is mutual respect.

—Lau Geok Theng, FBA


Regardless of their year of study, good students behave like professionals. They realise that when they get out of university, the only difference between them and others is not so much the fact that one has a better grade point average than the other, but that one acts as a professional. We must make sure that university education takes the student away from “kiasuism” and into professionalism.

—Gambhir Bhatta, FASS





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