Written by John Wesley
Getting straight A’s won’t guarantee success, but it sure doesn’t hurt. A high GPA will help you make more money, pursue further education, or change career paths. If you’re going to spend many thousands of dollars on a college education, you might as well make the most of it. Right?
Being smart will help you get good grades, but it isn’t required. Neither is studying nonstop. The key to academic success is being disciplined and efficient in your study habits. These 7 strategies will help you raise your GPA while minimizing stress and overall study time.
1. Go to class – I know this one is mind-numbingly obvious but it’s important. Many professors lecture directly from PowerPoint and post the slides to the internet. This makes it tempting to skip class, download the lecture notes, and learn the material on your own. Although you can probably get away with this in easy courses, you’ll face problems in challenging ones. By skipping class, you miss out on a few important things:
- Detailed verbal explanations that are key to understanding the material
- The chance to ask questions and listen to the Q&A of other students
- Special announcements
- Opportunities for extra credit
It’s also important to consider how skipping class affects your reputation. In most classes, grades are somewhat subjective. This means that the grader’s perception of you can make or break your grade. If you frequently miss class, you’ll be perceived as someone who lacks respect for the professor and the subject matter. Why should they give you the benefit of the doubt or round that B+ up to an A-?
2. Sit in the front row – Not only will sitting in the front row build self confidence, it will automatically engage you in the lecture. You’ll appear to be an eager student and highly visible to the teacher. This will help your academic reputation and make it more likely you’ll develop a relationship with the professor. You’ll have a much easier time maintaining focus and will feel more like a participant than a passive observer.
3. Take notes by hand – Another unfortunate side effect of the PowerPoint revolution is that it discourages students from taking notes. Taking notes by hand will improve your grades because a) it forces you to pay attention, and b) the physical act of writing aids memorization. If you take notes, you’ll find it much easier to stay engaged. Your notes also provide a point of reference that will help you build a mental link between a written concept and the professor’s verbal explanation. This is key for efficient studying.
4. Do a weekly review – A common problem students encounter is trying to learn an enormous amount of material right before the midterm or final exam. This is practically impossible. You’ll find it much easier if you take a gradual approach to studying. At least once a week, review your notes starting from the beginning of the course. This only needs to take 15 or 20 minutes, just enough time to build familiarity with the material.
By doing a weekly review you’ll gradually memorize everything and will better understand how one concept builds on the next. Putting in small amounts of effort on a consistent basis will drastically reduce the amount of studying you need to do right before the test.
5. Go to office hours – Professors and TA’s usually make themselves available at regular times during the week for students to ask questions about assignments. Do yourself a favor by taking advantage of this opportunity. First, attending office hours will motivate you to get ahead on your work and prepare questions to ask. This will give you a huge edge in understanding problems that aren’t clearly explained in the lectures. Second, it will build your reputation as a high-effort student who deserves high grades.
6. Find smart people to work with – In courses that involve group work, this is essential. No one wants to get stuck with a bunch slackers, have to do all the work themselves, and end up with a poor grade to show for it. The quality of the your learning experience is directly related to the attitudes of the people you work with. Working with smart people will facilitate discussion. The best way to understand an idea is talking about it with other intelligent people.
Who you work with also affects your academic reputation. If you associate with students that aren’t interested in learning, teachers and graders will assume you feel the same way. It’s also a great way to connect with people who have similar interests and ambitions.
7. Avoid all-nighters – Generally, having to pull an all-nighter means that you slacked off all semester and need to fit 3 months of learning into one day. If you use a gradual study strategy this will never be necessary. All-nighters don’t work! Yes, it might be possible to get a good grade if the course is easy, but it’s much more likely that your grade will be significantly lower. All-nighters harm performance because they make you tired and stressed. You’ll also forget most of what you learn right after the test, decreasing the practical value of your education.
Good points, but I disagree with some of them. My views below.
2. There is no reasonable explanation on how where you sit affects your grade. What matters is how much attention you are paying. I know top students who sit in the back row.
3. This is the 21 century. Think about fires, floods or simply losing things. It happens. Digital is the way to go. Get a good laptop with a decent keyboard (e.g. Thinkpad) and type your notes using a program like Onenote or Evernote.
5. Office hours are good to clear doubts, if you have them. Don’t go just for the sake of going. If you go, take a real problem with you. One that you can learn from. If you can solve problems yourself, don’t bother.
6. What separates smart from the not so smart? Its a small amount of knowledge, which can be easily gained with some time and effort. Find people who are keen to learn, discuss and explore. It doesn’t matter if they know little to begin with, if they are eager, they will soon become smart. Enthusiasm and industry are far more important than smart.