15 Secrets of Getting Good Grades in College
Grades are the measure of college success. Like the salary at a job, the batting average in baseball, or the price of a stock, your grade-point average is an objective indication of how you're doing. And yet, there's surprisingly little good information—least of all from professors—about just what you should do to get good grades at college. Here are the 15 best tips from our Professors' Guide to Getting Good Grades in College—with our best wishes that you get all A's as you start your college year:
1. Take charge of this thing. College isn't like high school. There's no teacher or parent to remind you every day of what you need to do. So step up to bat and take responsibility. What grades you get will depend on what you yourself do.
2. Select, don't settle. To get good grades in college, it's very important that you pick the right courses. Pick classes that you think you can do. And be sure to pick the right level in required courses such as math, English comp, sciences, and languages (in some colleges, there are five courses all bearing the name "college math"). Most of all, don't accept some "standard freshman program" from your adviser. Pick your courses one by one, paying careful attention that some fulfill distribution requirements, some count to a possible major, some satisfy some interest of yours, and at least one is something that somehow "sounds interesting." You'll do better if you've made the right choices.
3. 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. And, unless you are very special, don't take more than one major. Each major comes equipped with 10 or 12 required courses, and you can really kill your GPA if you're taking lots of required—that is, forced—courses in a major that you're only half-interested in.
4. Make a plan. Part of getting good grades is balancing off the various things you have to do, week by week. So get a calendar—electronic is good—and enter in all your classes, exams, and papers, and professors' office hours (more on that later). For the brave, also enter in the hours you plan to study each week for each course. That way, you'll have a plan for (or at least a fantasy about) what you'll be doing as the semester progresses.
5. Get your a** to class. Most students have a cutting budget: the number of lectures they can miss in each course and still do well. But if there are 35 class meetings, each class has about 3 percent of the content. Miss seven, and that's 20 percent. And, if you blow off the class right before Thanksgiving and the professor picks the essay question for the final from that very class . . . well, you can really do major damage to your GPA for the price of one class.
6. Be a robo-notetaker. In many intro courses, the professor's lectures form the major part of the material tested on the midterm and final. So you should be writing down everything the professor says in the lecture. Don't worry too much about the structure, and forget about special "note-taking systems" (Cornell Note-Taking System, Mind Mapping, or the "five R's of good note taking"). Just get it all down—you can always fix it up later.
4-Star Tip. Pay special attention to writing down anything the prof writes on the board and any PowerPoints he or she might use. Be sure to capture any explanations given, as you might have trouble understanding the code words provided without the professor's explanations.
7. Avoid do-overs. It's a really bad idea to plan to do things twice: recording the lectures with the idea of listening to them again when you get home, doing the reading three times, copying over your notes the day before the test. Focus as hard as you can the first time and do a really good job.
8. Study like you mean it. At college, you're expected to prepare an hour or two (sometimes more) for each class...
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