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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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).


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.