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Oxford University My Most Important Master Student Qualities Discussion


Learning Goal: I’m working on a writing discussion question and need a sample draft to help me learn.

Image: Sign post with various life skillsSign post with various life skillsAfter reading the Master Student article on pages 3-6,

(1) Think about and define three of your most important master student qualities. 

(2)  Justify your decision for choosing these qualities by describing a time  in your life when you exhibited these characteristics.

  • Describe three details of the situation, including the place, time, and people involved. 
  • Describe how you felt about it, emotionally and physically. 

(3) From this experience, tell us what you discovered, starting with the sentence, “I discovered that…….” 

(4) Then tell us what you intend to do about this discovery, starting with the sentence, “I intend to………..”


Mastery means attaining a level of skill that goes beyond technique. For a master, work is effortless. Struggle evaporates. The master carpenter is so familiar with her tools that they are part of her. To a master chef, utensils are old friends. Because these masters don’t have to think about the details of the process, they bring more of themselves to their work.

Mastery can lead to flashy results: an incredible painting, for example, or a gem of a short story. In basketball, mastery might result in an unbelievable shot at the buzzer. For a musician, it might be the performance of a lifetime, the moment when everything comes together. You could describe the experience as “flow” or “being in the zone.”

Often, the result of mastery is a sense of profound satisfaction, wellbeing, and timelessness. Distractions fade. Time stops. Work becomes play. After hours of patient practice, after setting clear goals and getting precise feedback, the master has learned to be fully in control.

At the same time, he lets go of control. Results happen without effort, struggle, or worry. Work seems self-propelled. The master is in control by being out of control. He lets go and allows the creative process to take over. That’s why after a spectacular performance by an athlete or performer, observers often say, “He played full out—and made it look like he wasn’t even trying.”

Likewise, the master student is one who makes learning look easy. She works hard without seeming to make any effort. She’s relaxed and alert, disciplined and spontaneous, focused and fun-loving.

You might say that those statements don’t make sense. Actually, mastery does not make sense. It cannot be captured with words. It defies analysis. Mastery cannot be taught. It can only be learned and experienced.

By design, you are a learning machine. As an infant, you learned to walk. As a toddler, you learned to talk. By the time you reached age 5, you’d mastered many skills needed to thrive in the world. And you learned all these things without formal instruction, without lectures, without books, without conscious effort, and without fear. You can rediscover that natural learner within you. Each chapter of this book is about a step you can take on this path.

Master students share certain qualities. These are attitudes and core values. Although they imply various strategies for learning, they ultimately go beyond what you do. Master student qualities are ways of being exceptional.

Following is a list of master student qualities. Remember that the list is not complete. It merely points in a direction. As you read, look to yourself. Put a check mark next to each quality that you’ve already demonstrated. Put another mark—say, an exclamation point—next to each quality you want to actively work on possessing. This is not a test. It is simply a chance to celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far—and start thinking about what’s possible for your future.

  • ?Inquisitive. The master student is curious about everything. By posing questions, she can generate interest in the most mundane, humdrum situations. When she is bored during a biology lecture, she thinks to herself, “I always get bored when I listen to this instructor. Why is that? Maybe it’s because he reminds me of my boring Uncle Ralph, who always tells those endless fishing stories. He even looks like Uncle Ralph. Amazing! Boredom is certainly interesting.” Then she asks herself, “What can I do to get value out of this lecture, even though it seems boring?” And she finds an answer.
  • ?Able to Focus Attention. Watch a 2-year-old at play. Pay attention to his eyes. The wide-eyed look reveals an energy and a capacity for amazement that keep his attention absolutely focused in the here and now. The master student’s focused attention has a childlike quality. The world, to a child, is always new. Because the master student can focus attention, to him the world is always new too.
  • ?Willing to Change. The unknown does not frighten the master student. In fact, she welcomes it—even the unknown in herself. We all have pictures of who we think we are, and these pictures can be useful. But they also can prevent learning and growth. The master student embraces new ideas and new strategies for success.
  • ?Able to Organize and Sort. The master student can take a large body of information and sift through it to discover relationships. He can play with information, organizing data by size, color, function, timeliness, and hundreds of other categories. He has the guts to set big goals—and the precision to plan carefully so that those goals can be achieved.
  • ?Competent. Mastery of skills is important to the master student. When she learns mathematical formulas, she studies them until they become second nature. She practices until she knows them cold—then puts in a few extra minutes. She also is able to apply what she learns to new and different situations.
  • ?Joyful. More often than not, the master student is seen with a smile on his face—sometimes a smile at nothing in particular other than amazement at the world and his experience of it.
  • ?Able to Suspend Judgment. The master student has opinions and positions, and she is able to let go of them when appropriate. She realizes she is more than her thoughts. She can quiet her internal dialogue and listen to an opposing viewpoint. She doesn’t let judgment get in the way of learning. Rather than approaching discussions with a “prove it to me and then I’ll believe it” attitude, she asks herself, “What if this is true?” and explores possibilities.
  • ?Energetic. Notice the master student with a spring in his step, the one who is enthusiastic and involved in class. When he reads, he often sits on the very edge of his chair, and he plays with the same intensity. He is determined and persistent.
  • ?Well. Health is important to the master student, though not necessarily in the sense of being free of illness. Rather, she values her body and treats it with respect. She tends to her emotional and spiritual health as well as her physical health.
  • ?Self-Aware. The master student is willing to evaluate himself and his behavior. He regularly tells the truth about his strengths and those aspects that could be improved.
  • ?Responsible. There is a difference between responsibility and blame, and the master student knows it well. She is willing to take responsibility for everything in her life—even for events that most people would blame on others. For example, if a master student takes a required class that most students consider boring, she chooses to take responsibility for her interest level. She looks for ways to link the class to one of her goals and experiments with new study techniques that will enhance her performance in any course.
  • ?Willing to Take Risks. The master student often takes on projects, with no guarantee of success. He participates in class dialogues at the risk of looking foolish. He tackles difficult subjects in term papers. He welcomes the risk of a challenging course.
  • ?Willing to Participate. Don’t look for the master student on the sidelines. She’s a collaborator—a team player who can be counted on. She is engaged at school, at work, and with friends and family. She is willing to make a commitment and to follow through on it.
  • ?A Generalist. The master student is interested in everything around him. In the classroom, he is fully present. Outside the classroom, he actively seeks out ways to deepen his learning—through study groups, campus events, student organizations, and team-based projects. Through such experiences, he develops a broad base of knowledge in many fields that can apply to his specialties.
  • ?Willing to Accept Paradox. The word paradox comes from two Greek words, para (“beyond”) and doxen (“opinion”). A paradox is something that is beyond opinion or, more accurately, something that might seem contradictory or absurd yet might actually have meaning. For example, the master student can be committed to managing money and reaching her financial goals. At the same time, she can be totally detached from money, knowing that her real worth is independent of how much money she has.
  • ?Courageous. The master student admits his fear and fully experiences it. For example, he will approach a tough exam as an opportunity to explore feelings of anxiety and tension related to the pressure to perform. He does not deny fear; he embraces it. If he doesn’t understand something or if he makes a mistake, he admits it. When he faces a challenge and bumps into his limits, he asks for help. And he’s just as willing to give help as to receive it.
  • ?Self-Directed. Rewards or punishments provided by others do not motivate the master student. Her desire to learn comes from within, and her goals come from herself. She competes like a star athlete—not to defeat other people, but to push herself to the next level of excellence.
  • ?Spontaneous. The master student is truly in the here and now. He is able to respond to the moment in fresh, surprising, and unplanned ways.
  • ?Relaxed about Grades. Grades make the master student neither depressed nor euphoric. She recognizes that sometimes grades are important. At the same time, grades are not the only reason she studies. She does not measure her worth as a human being by the grades she receives.
  • ?“Tech” Savvy. A master student defines technology as any tool that’s used to achieve a human purpose. From this point of view, computers become tools for deeper learning, higher productivity, and greater success. When faced with a task to accomplish, the master student chooses effectively from the latest options in hardware and software. He doesn’t get overwhelmed with unfamiliar technology. Instead, he embraces learning about the new technology and finding ways to use it to help him succeed at the given task. He also knows when to go “offline” and fully engage with his personal community of friends, family members, classmates, instructors, and coworkers.
  • ?Intuitive. The master student has an inner sense that cannot be explained by logic alone. She trusts her “gut instincts” as well as her mind.
  • ?Creative. Where others see dull details and trivia, the master student sees opportunities to create. He can gather pieces of knowledge from a wide range of subjects and put them together in new ways. The master student is creative in every aspect of his life.
  • ?Willing to Be Uncomfortable. The master student does not place comfort first. When discomfort is necessary to reach a goal, she is willing to experience it. She can endure personal hardships and can look at unpleasant things with detachment.
  • ?Optimistic. The master student sees setbacks as temporary and isolated, knowing that he can choose his response to any circumstance.
  • ?Willing to Laugh. The master student might laugh at any moment, and her sense of humor includes the ability to laugh at herself. Although going to school is a big investment, with high stakes, you don’t have to enroll in the deferred-fun program. A master student celebrates learning, and one of the best ways of doing that is to laugh now and then.
  • ?Hungry. Human beings begin life with a natural appetite for knowledge. In some people, it soon gets dulled. The master student has tapped that hunger, and it gives him a desire to learn for the sake of learning.
  • ?Willing to Work. Once inspired, the master student is willing to follow through with sweat. She knows that genius and creativity are the result of persistence and work. When in high gear, the master student works with the intensity of a child at play.
  • ?Caring. A master student cares about knowledge and has a passion for ideas. He also cares about people and appreciates learning from others. He collaborates on projects and thrives on teams. He flourishes in a community that values win–win outcomes, cooperation, and love.Practicing Critical Thinking 2


The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate to yourself that you truly are a master student. Start by remembering a time in your life when you learned something well or demonstrated mastery. This experience does not have to relate to school. It might be a time when you aced a test, played a flawless soccer game, created a work of art that won recognition, or burst forth with a blazing guitar solo. It might be a time when you spoke from your heart in a way that moved someone else. Or it might be a time when you listened deeply to another person who was in pain, comforted him, and connected with him at a level beyond words.Step 1

Describe the details of such an experience in your life. Include the place, time, and people involved. Describe what happened and how you felt about it.

Step 2

Now, review the article “Master student qualities,” and take a look at the master student qualities that you checked off. These are the qualities that apply to you. Give a brief example of how you demonstrated at least one of those qualities.

Step 3

Now think of other qualities of a master student—characteristics that were not mentioned in the article. List those qualities along with a one-sentence description of each. 


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