6 Mental Study Traps that Cause Poor Results

Psychologists have identified “invisible scripts” in our mindset, which we use to inhibit ourselves. These mental traps cause a range of problems, from poor career advancement to bad school grades. Here are the most dangerous ones to get rid of:




1. I need to know what’s in the exam to start studying


No you don’t – top students are studying from the first day of class. The reason you think this way is because you rely on rote learning; you want the easier option of finding out which pages to memorise.


A better way is to immerse yourself in the topic from day one. Read texts from outside the school list, practice applying what you learned (e.g. if it’s percentages, practice converting everything to a percentage of your allowance on the way home), and even watch educational videos on the general topic.


You don’t need to wait for specifics before you start putting in effort. The sooner you develop a general learning of a subject, the faster you will pick up on specific areas later.


2. X is my strongest subject, so I can ignore it and pay more attention to others


This is overconfidence. Bear in mind that the difficulty of subjects can change quite dramatically between grade levels – it is possible to perform well in Biology in Secondary 2, but find yourself struggling in Secondary 4. Don’t assume that you won’t have to maintain your efforts, or that you won’t have difficult new things to learn.


So by all means, pay more attention to your weaker subjects – but never ignore the strong ones altogether.


First, this is because your stronger subjects are the ones you’re probably more passionate about; they can keep you motivated in tough times. Second, paying less attention doesn’t mean ignoring the subject altogether. Never get so overconfident that you completely skip studying a strong subject to do something else.




3. If I complete X assessments or exam papers, I have studied for the subject


Never set a quantity goal when doing revision work. You haven’t finished studying when you’ve completed 5 or 7 or 10 mock papers – you’ve finished studying when you understand a concept and can articulate it.


Your goals should read like the following:


  • Be able to explain the process of photosynthesis
  • Be able to label the parts of a plant
  • Be able to describe the three ways in which plants reproduce


The goals should never be “complete assessment books X, Y, and Z”. Note that this is also a time saving method – if you grasp the essential concepts, then don’t waste too much time mindlessly repeating it. Move on to the next topic.


4. My next goal is to get an A (or other unrealistic goal) for a subject I’m failing


This sort of goal setting is negative, because it makes you less driven. Your brain will never buy it (inherently, you’re not silly enough to believe a fantasy) – the consequence is a lot of daydreaming and another eventual failure.


When you set a goal, establish a base and a time frame. For example, you could say you want to raise your score by 20%, and that you want to do it within three months.


By using small, measurable goals, your progress will feel more tangible. Small, repeated successes also build up your confidence, which keeps you motivated. So always think of progress as a railway track: no one rips up the whole track and replaces it at once, they replace it one segment at a time. And over the course of a year, you’ll look up and suddenly realise a whole shiny new track is in place!




For more on effective goal setting, like us on Facebook and we’ll give you some tips.


5. This tutor worked great for my friend, so there’s something wrong with me if I don’t get him


Different people have different learning methods. It is the tutor’s responsibility to find the best way to teach a student (and the student’s responsibility to co-operate as much as possible).


Sometimes, a tutor’s methods may work for your friends or acquaintances, but not for you. You may have problems with tutors who are too academic, because you like tangible examples. Or you may take issue with tutors who micromanage, because you are a big picture person.


Don’t trap yourself in a sour, grade-destroying relationship. Change your tutor, and find one who caters to you specifically. You can use our database to find one in minutes.


6. XYZ gets good grades and studies in a particular way. If I follow, I will get good grades too.

As we mentioned in point 5, people learn in different ways. Some people learn better by skimming chapters and getting the big picture. Others learn better by poring over specifics. Even factors such as time of day, ambient noise, and your experiences over the past week can dramatically alter your learning style.


Never assume that, because you imitate the study methods of a successful student, you will become successful too. You should try to pick up some tips from such students, but do not stubbornly imitate them if it does you no good.


Which study traps do you most often fall for? Let us know so we can help!


Image Credits:

Racetams.net, Pixgood.com, Into Global Education Partners