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When I started my freshman year, I had no idea how much of a struggle it would be to get good grades in college. After getting straight A’s in high school, I was overconfident in my abilities.
It soon became clear that my public school education did not prepare me well for the rigor of college courses. My study habits and essay-writing skills did not even compare to those of my classmates. After getting a B my first semester in college (in engineering physics, so cut me a break), I was able to turn around and make the dean’s list the following three semesters.
So, if you’re looking to turn your GPA around, I’m here to tell you it’s possible. It’s best not to worry about one or two bad grades in the beginning of your college career, especially if they’re in gen ed classes. Prospective employers will like to see that you’ve grown and improved throughout your time in college.
If you don’t know, many college classes are graded on a curve. This means that your grade in the class is relative to that of your peers. In short, not everyone can get an A. If you want to get good grades in college, you need to be willing to put in the work.
Now on to my top 10 tips for getting good grades in college.
Go to Class
Right off the bat, this may seem ridiculous. Obviously if you actually go to class, you’re going to learn the material and perform better in the class. What you don’t know, is that professors make it possible to never attend class and still get a decent grade. Basically, professors post lecture notes online and the class sizes are so big that they can’t tell if students are missing.
However, there are significant advantages to attending class lectures. For most people, hearing and writing down information is a highly effective learning strategy. If you learn better by reading, you can always go through the lecture notes prior to or after class as a supplement attending class. Also, sometimes professors will say something that isn’t in their online notes that you’ll need to know on the exam.
You’ll want to figure out what type of schedule works best for you. Lots of people like taking classes first thing so they can get them over with, but morning classes are only a good idea if you can actually wake up for them. If you’re not a morning person, don’t pick a class at 8:00 am or you’ll just sleep through it.
Remember, you’re paying thousands of dollars for your education, so make the most of it!
Plan Out Your Semester
Keeping an organized schedule is key to getting good grades in college. It is not your professor’s job to remind you when assignments are due. You are the only one responsible for doing your work in college. Also, college professors are not lenient when it comes to accepting late work.
Writing everything down and making a habit of checking it will ensure that you don’t miss a crucial assignment and cost yourself your grade. I recommend using a planner or calendar app because it will conveniently store all your information in one place.
During the first week of class, record all the important dates for your classes. This includes exam dates, due dates, presentation dates, and more. All this information can be found on your class syllabi. From there, you can plan out your semester in more detail. You may see that you have multiple midterms in the same week, which is something to keep in mind for the future. For long-term projects it is helpful to set weekly goals to keep yourself on track.
Focus on Exams
Exams are a HUGE portion of your grade. That’s why doing well on exams is so important if you want to get good grades in college. Typically, each exam ranges from 20-35% of your overall course grade, with final exams on the higher end. A single class will have three or four exams (or papers, depending on the subject) in a given semester.
If you do the math, you’ll realize that homework comes out to be very small percentage of your overall grade. That’s because in college homework is something you’re just expected to do. The purpose of homework is to simply reinforce the concepts you learn in class, not to be overly challenging. You still need do your homework, but don’t obsess over it.
Don’t wait until the day before your exam to start studying. College exams are heavily weighted for a reason—they’re hard. College classes pack a ton of information into each lecture, so it’s important you leave enough time to review your notes, make a study guide, do a practice exam, etc. I usually start studying the weekend before an exam, knowing it’ll be harder to make time during the week.
Make Friends in Your Classes
Making friends in your classes is extremely beneficial. Not only can they send you notes if you have to miss a class, but you can all keep each other in check when it comes to staying on top of assignments. When midterm week rolls around, you can all compile notes to make a super in-depth study guide.
Everyone is super open to meeting new people in college, so you’ll have no trouble making friends in your classes. You can start by getting to know the people who sit near you in class and asking for their numbers. One tip when getting someone’s number is to write the class you have together in their contact, that way you won’t forget where you know them from (you’ll meet a lot of people).
Take Detailed Notes
A lot of people will tell you to handwrite your notes, but taking notes on a computer is way faster. Digital notes can’t get misplaced and are easy to reorganize as well. Whichever method you prefer, make sure to use headers and date your notes so it will be easy to find information you need later on. Drawings and diagrams can also be a great addition to you notes and make them extra useful.
Taking notes helps you learn. Your brain hears the information and picks out the important parts to record. Being able to summarize information shows you understand it and will have an easier time recalling it in the future.
Don’t be lazy when it comes to taking notes. Even if you think you already know the information, write a few bullet points down so you remember the topic will be covered on the exam. Taking notes also helps you stay engaged in class, which will in turn make the time pass more quickly.
Go to Office Hours
If you’re looking to boost your participation grade but don’t like speaking in class, another option is to attend your professor’s office hours. This is something your professors with not specifically acknowledge in the syllabus, but they understand that people can be too nervous to talk in class.
Professors usually hold office hours two or three times a week. Office hours are a great way to get to know your professor and show them you care about the class. Forming relationships with professors is important because they can give you career advice and write letters of recommendation, on top of controlling your course grades.
Sit in the Front
You may find this seriously terrifying, but sitting in the front of a class is a great way to enforce yourself to be a good student. If you sit in the front, you’re more likely to be engaged and less likely to go on your phone. While many people do use their phones during class, it is definitely a distraction that detracts from your learning.
I’ve found that people who sit in the front rarely get cold called (the worst thing ever) because the professor automatically perceives them as paying closer attention. Sitting in the front also helps your professor get to know your face, which may help you earn a few extra participation points.
Find the Right Study Spot
It is crucial to find a study spot that works for you if want to get good grades in college. Some people like the background noise of the student center, while others prefer the peace and quiet of the library. Another option is to go to one of your school’s smaller libraries, such as the math, business, or law library. Academic buildings also have tables and seating areas dispersed throughout.
Even though you may be tempted to do work in your dorm room, it’s important to make a habit of going to your study spot every day. If you do this, your brain will begin to associate the location with doing work. This will help you become more focused and productive. Doing work between classes will also maximize your time so that you can hang out with your friends at night.
Get Peer Recommendations
Getting professor or course recommendations from your peers can make all the difference in your grades. Usually the more basic courses that you’re required to take are taught by multiple professors in the same semester. Each professor has a different teaching and grading style, so getting information from someone who has taken their class before can be super helpful. You can ask upperclassmen in your dorm or sorority, older siblings, classmates, or resort to Rate My Professor (which isn’t as accurate).
Make sure you differentiate between the easiest professor and the best professor. Opting for an “easy” professor or class that doesn’t teach you anything is not a good idea. Especially for classes that pertain to your major, you’ll need to know that information in future whether in a more advanced class or in your career. Instead, you want a teacher that will keep you engaged and get across the information.
Be Willing to Learn
Having the right mindset when it comes to school can make a big impact on your grades. If all you care about is doing well in your classes, you won’t see the same results as someone who is genuinely interested in the content.
The best way to solve this problem is to study something you’re passionate about. If you choose a major that interests you, you’ll be absorbed by your classes and professors, hanging on their every word. You’ll be all the more motivated to learn, build relationships with your professors, and ultimately perform well in your classes.