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What universities consider to be the most valuable characteristics in new students

An interesting study was conducted among several universities to find out what they really valued in new students fresh out of the schooling system. As we've seen again and again in the past, high academic achievement, although helpful in a university context, is not always the most valuable predictor of success at a tertiary level. Instead, the universities agreed on a list of ten characteristics that were most helpful to their new intake.

  1. Effective time management (1,2,3,5) - first-year university students spend on average less than half the number of hours in class than final year school students. If they haven't learned at school how to effectively manage their time, the additional 'free' time at university is used recklessly in excessive socialising. It is imperative that we train our children in time management to complete tasks within set time limits, to predict how long tasks will take and to plan a timeline for a multi-step project.

  2. Good study habits (1,2,3,4) - there is not necessarily a 'one-size-fits-all' for studying effectively. However, it is important to work out optimum conditions - the study environment, summaries/spider diagrams/key notes, revision and testing, as well as frequency and duration of study breaks. Parents should be helping their children with this from Grade Four onwards.

  3. The ability to set attainable goals(3,4) - goal-setting need not be limited only to the attainment of results in tests and exams. We can help our children in this area by encouraging them to set goals for themselves in sport and recreation or even in social activities. Then we should cheer them along and ensure that they follow through on their commitments.

  4. Concentration(3,4,5) - great students have learned how to remain focused during a task. They eliminate distractions and are aware of things that will hinder their progress. We can assist our children by ensuring that they have a healthy diet, follow good sleep patterns and exercise regularly. Children who are easily distracted may benefit from certain medications prescribed by a neurologist.

  5. Good note-taking(2,3,4) - our own High School students are exposed to many classes where they are required to take their own notes. Primary School students are expected to be able to take notes accurately off the board or from dictation. This is training for tertiary level lectures where students must be able to listen attentively and record summary notes in an independent manner.

  6. Completion of assignments(1,2,4) - Is your child able to complete assignments on his own when the assignment requires a number of smaller tasks that need to be consolidated into a complete work? We are aware that at the younger ages, we receive many such school assignments which have been completed by parents. Please make sure that you pass more and more of that work on to your child as he gets older.

  7. Review of daily notes(2,3) - this is a great habit for students of any age to get into. We can help our children to start to develop this habit by creating a session at home to orally review what we've learnt at school that day. In the Intermediate Phase, this review should become subject-specific and by the High School, students should start with a written review of daily notes.

  8. Organisational skills(2,3) - there's a place for everything and everything in its place, they say. Parents, children MUST be expected to keep their rooms tidy and MUST be responsible to use a diary from an early age. These are basic organisational skills that children will build on for their future in tertiary education.

  9. Motivation(1-5) - students that are successful at university have developed a strong intrinsic motivation to help them maintain a great consistent work rate. Parents can help their children in this development by initially providing extrinsic motivation in the form of firm discipline, regular routines and clear rules. As children grow older, we can aid the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation by providing a steady stream of positive encouragement and rewards for tasks completed without the 'push' of extrinsic motivation.

  10. Commitment (1-5) - if you're a sports fan, you know how important this factor is to success. A steely determination, a relentless perseverance and a tireless effort are invaluable. The Bible speaks so often of striving and perseverance and perhaps the best way to assist our children in this regard is to build their faith and their longing to respond to the call of God on their lives. The King's School is uncompromising in its devotion to Christ-centred education.

(Just as an aside: the numbers in brackets for each of these characteristics refer to our Executive Functioning Skills. We are actively coaching all of the above habits through our Executive Functioning Skills programme. Our aim is that they become second nature to our students, that they indeed become self-regulation skills.)

Ken Langley


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