Tuesday, March 5, 2013

12 Insider Secrets of Getting Good Grades in College

Grades are the measure of college success.  Like the salary at a job, a batting average in baseball, or the price of a stock, your GPA is an objective indication of how you’re doing—plain for all to see (including you).  And yet, there’s surprisingly little good information – least of all from professors—about just what you need to do to get good grades.   We go where others fear to tread.  And so, here are the 12 secrets of getting really good grades in college (A’s, we mean):
1.  Take control of your destiny.  Your grade destiny, that is.  There’s no teacher or parent to remind you every day of what you need to do, or to make sure you’ve studied for exams.  It’s all in your hands.  So step up to bat and take responsibility.  What grades you get will depend on what you yourself do.
2.  Don’t overload.  Some students think it’s a mark of pride to take as many hours as the college allows.  It isn’t.  Take four or at the most five courses each semester.  That way, you’ll be able to devote all your energies to a manageable number of subjects and you won’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity.
3.  Get your a** to class.  Most students have a cutting budget:  the number of lectures they think they can miss in each course and still do well.  But if there are 35 class meetings, each class contains 3 percent of the content:  miss seven, and that’s 20 percent.  How can you get good grades then?
  • Best Kept Secret .  Some not-so-nice professors want to penalize students who blow off the class right before Easter or Spring Break.  So they pick an essay question for the midterm or final from that very lecture.  Next result?  You wind up doing major damage to your GPA for the price of just one class.
4.  Take really good notes.  In many intro courses, the professor’s lectures form the major part of the material tested on the midterm and final.  So, as you’re taking notes you’re really writing the textbook for the course – which in many cases is more important than the official textbook.  Be sure to get down everything the professor says, and to maintain your notes in an organized and readable form.  After all, these are the notes you’ll have to study a number of times later in the course.
5.  Study like you mean it.  There’s a difference between studying and “studying” – and you know what it is.  When you’re studying, you’re 100 percent focused on, and engaged with, the material:  a total immersion in what you’re doing and a strong desire to get it right.  When you’re only “studying” – that is, pretending to study – you’re 35 percent involved, with the other 65 percent of your attention divided among tweeting your friend about how much you’re studying, scoping out the surrounding tables to see who else might be around (and how attractive they are), and daydreaming about all the fun things you’ll do when you finish this God-awful studying.  Look, we know studying can be painful, but all students who get A’s do it (no matter what they tell you).
6.  Do all the homework.  You might have thought that the homework and problem sets – each of which is worth maybe one-tenth of one percent of the grade – are just busy work – something the professor assigns just to make sure you’re doing something in the course each week. But, really, the homework provides applications of the concepts, principles, and methods of the field to actual examples.  The same sort of examples that will come up on the bigger tests.  If you do well on the homework – that is, get 10 out of 10 on the problem sets, or a check-plus on the little writing exercises—you’re putting yourself in a good position to get a 100 when it really counts – on the midterm or final.
7.  Take each test three times.  When done right, taking a test is really three activities:  preparing for the test, taking the actual exam, then going over the comments to see what mistakes you made.  Each activity furnishes important – and grade-improving – information:  The studying  gives you practice in questions very similar to the those that will be on the test;  the actual test is where the A is earned (at least in the best case);  and the review of the comments is an investment in an A on the next test.
8.  Always answer the question asked.  More points are lost on tests – and, even more so, on papers – by not answering the question asked than by giving the wrong answer.  That’s because students often have strong – and wrong – preconceptions about what the professor should be asking.  “How can the question be so specific,” they wonder.  “How can the professor not be asking a question about last week’s classes, especially since he or she seemed so interested in that topic?”  “Can the professor really be asking about that journal article we were supposed to read, or about the discussion in section?”  Don’t try to psych out the professor or distrust what you see before your very eyes.
9.  Play all four quarters.  Many college courses are “back-loaded.”   More than half the grade is left to assignments due the last month of the semester:  a third test, 15 percent;  the term- or research paper, 25 percent;  the cumulative final, 30 percent.  You get the idea.  Pace yourself and don’t run out of gas just as you’re coming into the home stretch.
10.  Do all the “extras.”  In some courses, there are special, end-of-the-semester activities that can improve your grade.  Review sessions, extra office hours, rewrites of papers, extra credit work – all of these can be grade-boosters.   Especially in schools where there are no pluses and minuses, even a few extra points can push your border-line grade over the hump (say, from a B + to an A-minus – that is, an A).
11.  Join a community.   Many students improve their grades with “study buddies” or study groups.  Try to meet at least once a week – especially in courses in which there are weekly problem sets or quizzes.  Students can improve their grades one level (or more) when they commit to working in an organized way with other students.
12.  Resolve to get at least one “A” each semester.  Getting even a single “A” will change the way you think about yourself.  You’ll be more confident about your abilities and more hopeful for future semesters.  If you’re at all close, in even one course, work really hard to do it.  It will change things forever.
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