I know, a semester just ended and the last thing you want to think about right now are your grades for next semester. In fact, you’re probably in the process of receiving this semester’s grades and you’re either doing a happy dance with your laptop or wondering what could have been if you had done a few things differently. Or maybe you worked super hard and still didn’t get the grades you wanted. I have been in all of those positions at some point since starting college, and of the two not-so-good ones, the latter is sometimes harder to fix.
I know our generation is all like, “a letter grade shouldn’t define who you are,” “a number is not representative of your abilities,” and I agree that we shouldn’t label ourselves as “not smart” because of a B or C in a class. Getting high grades, however, helps you become eligible for scholarships (yay for saving money!), honor societies, certain organizations on campus (including some Greek Life orgs.), and on-campus jobs and internships to name a few. So while I promise you you’re still a beautiful genius no matter what grade you got in English class, it’s also not a great idea to throw your transcript to the wind.
I recently received grades in my classes that I’m extremely proud of and I know that it’s difficult and there isn’t exactly one set, cookie-cutter method that will work for everyone, but I figured I could try to share my tips for getting A’s because maybe you’ll find something in here that takes your college academics to a new level, or something. I know, I’m trying way too hard to convince you to keep reading, so here are my tips!
1. Understand the expectations of every assignment.
This is essential to making sure you get full credit for everything. If you don’t understand what’s being asked of you, you’ll leave out some required aspects and, thus, get lower grades. Read the assignment requirements in their entirety (even if they seem to go on and on forever). When the assignment instructions are lengthy, I like to give it a read and then create a checklist of all the required elements to summarize things. This way, I know I’m not missing anything. If something’s unclear, ask the professor.
2. Procrastinate smartly.
Okay, I know that smart procrastination sounds like an oxymoron but hear me out. This semester, I found that doing assignments for certain classes the night before actually helped me produce quality work and I went on to get A’s in those classes. So basically here’s the (short) story with me: I had this multimedia skills class where I had to use camera equipment to work on a new video every week to help build our skills with Final Cut Pro. It was tedious and shooting the footage required A LOT of planning ahead, however, I always waited until the night before to edit the footage because I found that I was able to sit down and take my time through all of it. Sure it was a long walk from the lab back to my dorm room at midnight, but in that moment I could just focus on what I was doing and nothing else. Didn’t have to worry about rushing to my next class, didn’t have to worry about another class coming into the lab — I could just go at my own pace, take breaks as needed, and basically leave whenever I felt happy with my work. The setting was also very peaceful and quiet and I was able to give my assignments my undivided attention.
If you can find this type of assignment bliss in any of your classes, I highly suggest going with it. You will produce higher quality work because you’re able to take your time while still on a deadline. Does the math building have that one special room that’s always quiet after 9pm? Maybe the atrium in your favorite building is the best place to study Thursday mornings. This really worked for me and I know I’ll be taking classes of the same nature next semester, so I’ll definitely keep doing this.
3. Use a planner to stay on top of your tasks.
I am totally the type of person to pour their life into a planner or an organization app, and I pretty much do this on the daily. I’m definitely a meticulous planner and I like to list all of my tasks and even write them down in the order I want to complete them. You don’t have to be as hardcore as I am, but investing in a planner definitely helps keep you on top of everything. My planner lets me create daily to-do lists, jot down due dates on the monthly calendar, and record birthdays and events so I never miss anything. If you aren’t a paper and pen kinda person, utilize your phone’s calendar app or download Google Calendar (another Godsent).
4. Ask questions that go beyond the professor’s lecture.
Sometimes asking questions about things that take the lecture a little further is key to unlocking that extra knowledge that can really save your ass on an exam. I usually asked my one professor about additional techniques when editing, just for my personal knowledge if I, say, decided to start a YouTube channel. Then, later on I was actually able to use those answers to really make my projects impressive. Asking these kinds of questions can also clarify a concept for you, and likely for others, especially if you feel that the professor moves too quickly or discusses obscure points.
5. Don’t do all of the readings.
Especially not if you have to read like 500 pages in a medieval textbook in one weekend. My one professor would assign an entire book for us to finish and then in class would go over important sections and quotations that would be on the test. So if the book was really long or boring, I’d check out Sparknotes (that thing our high school teachers forbade us from using) to get an idea of what happened in the book, then I’d highlight and jot down the quotes as well as the full discussion on them as the professor spoke. This saves a lot of time and energy. Also, be very observant during the first few weeks of class because this can tell you if you should be reading the textbook or not. Some professors comprise their exams entirely out of lecture material, so textbooks are often a waste of time in this situation. Pay close attention to know what to do.
6. Don’t skip class.
There are very few things that would make me actually feel like skipping class. I’d have to be really, really sick to decide to not leave my room. When you skip class you miss out on a day’s worth of notes. I know it can be tempting to just ask your friend in class to text you a picture of their notes, but everyone’s note-taking style is different and it may not benefit you. If you’re the type of person who has to write down EVERYTHING in order to understand something, you aren’t going to enjoy reading notes from someone who only writes down a couple of words here and there. Go to class and take your own notes. Plus, if you skip class you’ll definitely miss out on important announcements, including ones involving extra credit!
7. Don’t do work if you’re not in the zone.
I know no one actually ever says, “OMG I’m so excited to start that 10-page paper now!” but just simply being focused and having the words and thoughts and calculations and whatnots flow out of you is as close to the zone as you could possibly ask for. If I know my mind isn’t in it then I don’t do work unless it’s something that I urgently need to pay attention to. You need to be in the mindset to work and if you aren’t then you’ll be very unfocused and it’ll take longer for you to finish the assignment. You’ll read the words on a page without actually understanding what they mean. Then, you’ll have to go right back to that page another day because you didn’t understand it the first time. If you don’t feel focused, there are some things that you can do to nudge yourself in the right direction.
- Go to the gym for a quick workout
- Build focus by building up a daily routine
- Read articles
- Take out your books and class material
- Keep your to-do list in front of you
- Study in the company of people who also need to study
8. Get your sleep.
As I’m typing this, I should probably start making my way into bed…but I’m really in the zone for writing right now and I just can’t stop! Anyway, I know this is where people run into some trouble because some people work better at night while others work better during the day. Personally, I’m terrible at staying up late so I usually go to bed early so I can wake up early and start my day. There have been fewer than five instances this semester where I actually got fewer than six hours of sleep because I know I can’t operate throughout the day with limited sleep. Sleeping will ensure that you’re more alert, retain more information, and have more energy to do assignments. Nothing — not even coffee — beats a good night’s sleep.
9. Get group projects out of the way ASAP.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone has a love-hate relationship with group projects for any class. Because now you don’t have to just rely on yourself; you have to rely on at least two other people to pull their weight, keep the group informed, and basically continue being a student at least until the project is over. Take the lead on all projects and make sure your group starts thinking about them early and not at the last minute. This way, if there needs to be any adjustments or if there are disagreements, they happen early on and not when you should be putting on finishing touches. In my experience with working with others, every group needs that one person to be assertive and get the ball rolling, otherwise nothing will get done. I’m definitely a take-charge person but I do feel that there’s a fine line between staying on top of things and babysitting people. Guess which of the two I DON’T do… Maybe I’ll write a post on how to survive group projects later on — I’ve got a mouthful for that one!
10. Find a study method that works for you and stick to it.
I know this one’s been said many times before, but I have found that a lot of times, it can be easy to succumb to other peoples’ study methods because they seem to be doing far less work and are getting good grades. The phrase “work smarter, not harder,” only works if it actually works. I had this one class where we had a ton of reading everyday from the front page of the newspaper and we were quizzed on all the content every week. When I have readings like this to do, I like to take notes on all the major points. And right before my quiz or exam, I re-read the notes I took and I do really well. A lot of people would say that this is a lot of work — just re-read all the articles twice and you should be good. But simply reading the text doesn’t work for me. You need to just stick with what works best for you. I definitely spent an average of maybe three or four hours per week (which was a lot compared to the time some of my other classmates spent studying) preparing for those quizzes, but I did so in my favorite study spot (aka Starbucks) with an iced coffee in hand and a comfy seat under my butt, so the work actually wasn’t so bad.
11. Put your phone face down while studying or working.
When sitting down to study or work, I only look at my phone when I take small breaks. Otherwise, I keep the screen hidden so I don’t see any notifications that can distract me. I have studied with so many people who snatch up their phones the instant they see a Snapchat notification or a text from a friend. By the end of our study session, they’ve barely ticked anything off their to-do list. Learn the art of ignoring. It’ll help you finish your work much faster.
12. Read the syllabus and don’t miss homework assignments.
This is another one that’s been said before but keeping up with the syllabus will help you never miss homework assignments. Some professors weigh a significant amount of your grade on those homework assignments. And even if they don’t, you’re leaving stray points on the table (more on that below) every time you fail to turn in an assignment. Your syllabus will also tell you how to turn in homework assignments. Do you email them to your professor? Do you submit them through an online system? Does your professor accept hard paper copies of your homework?
13. Don’t leave stray points on the table!
This is a huge mistake that a lot of people (including myself) have made. Stray points are defined by Jasmin’s Dictionary of College Terms as:
stray points /n./ The little things that you can and should do throughout the semester to get a better grade, but you don’t because your lazy ass has convinced you to do it next time (and you still don’t).
That is all too familiar to me! These little things can be as simple as raising your hand one time every class for those participation points. In one of my classes from this semester, the professor told us that an easy way to get participation points if we’re shy and don’t like talking in class is to leave comments on online presentations done by our classmates. I kept telling myself I’d do it next weekend and the other weekend until I eventually forgot to do it. My grade in the class went from an A to an A- just from that. That, my friends, is why you should never leave those stray points dwindling.
What are your tips for getting good grades in class?