I've always been a "good" student. The main problem was that I cared about the grades more than the learning. I didn't realize this was a problem until recently. Usually doing well and learning go hand in hand, but not always. How exactly does a C- in Calculus translate into knowledge gained? If I could do the easy problems but nothing with fractions or square roots, for example, did I really understand it?
I have a feeling I was one of those students that make instructors shake their heads a little, thinking, "She could do better than this."
I've come to this realization after thinking the same thing about some of my students. After the exam grading, I definitely thought in a handful of cases, "Oh, you're smarter than that!" And they probably are. Perhaps this class is the bottom of their priorities right now. Maybe they're perfectly happy to get a B with minimal effort instead of an A with a bit more effort. Then again, this was the first exam. Maybe they thought it would be cake and it wasn't quite cake, maybe it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Still elementary, but a bit sticky in places, a bit crunchy in other places. (I think that's probably a terrible metaphor, but it's early).
I see in some of these students myself at that stage. Intelligent and apathetic, we want to slam through the lab material and get out. Maybe something from lecture will click better along the way, but that's a bonus. As long as we get a B, maybe an A-, we're happy. We want the degree in our hands and to be off to the next stage.
This is not the way to go about learning in college. Sadly, I think I've retained very little from my undergrad years. Certainly I gained a foundation in biology to build upon. How membranes function and what mitochondria do, how Hox genes support evolution in vertebrates, F=MA, why carbon is the basis of life etc etc. But if you asked me to teach my freshman bio lab, could I? Not without a lot of review. Genetics was a joke, and I place half the blame on myself and half on a professor that truly couldn't teach the subject, though I know she was at least a decent geneticist.
I went about my graduate level classes the same way. Just pass the exams and get through it. This time around I saved all my notes at least, out of fear for the qualifying exams. Most of it wound up in short-term memory, to be washed away by the next class. I think one of my saving graces has been that I can re-learn a subject or concept quickly if I had a lecture on it before. But obviously that quick refresher doesn't provide deeper understanding of the subject matter.
I think a lot of students have the same mindset that I did. That school is just this necessary evil you must finish before you can get to the "real world." We pick up some knowledge on the way, but that's just icing on the cake.