General Education

This Fall I Want to Get Better Grades

This Fall I Want to Get Better Grades
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Carolyn Heneghan August 20, 2014

A new semester is the perfect time for new goals. Read on to find tips and tricks to ace your classes this fall.

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Didn’t get the GPA you hoped for last year? All that can change this year, this semester.

You’ve most likely heard tips like study to your strengths, thoroughly read the syllabus, practice test-taking skills, and do all of the readings, assignments, and study questions. They’re essential, but there’s a lot more to getting better grades than the basics. Here are seven other tips to consider when making your plan for better grades this semester.

1. Select the right classes.

First and foremost, select not only the classes you need but also the classes you can handle, in terms of course load, subject matter, and difficulty. Don’t overload, whether that means too many total hours, or too many difficult and time-consuming subjects all in one semester.

Don’t take extra classes for a GPA boost, since you may end up not spending the extra time you need on these less important courses to make them worth it. They could end up hurting your GPA in the end. Focus on making better grades in your main classes.

Selecting the right classes also means selecting the right professors. All professors have different teaching styles and value certain types of schoolwork more than others. For example, if you’re better at writing essays than taking exams, find out which professors align with your skills, whenever possible.

You can read more about strategies to pick your courses here.

2. Try not to miss class.

Before even attending class, prepare accordingly, including doing all readings and homework the professor assigns. Be on time; arriving a few minutes early is even better. You never know what types of discussions might pop up between students or the professor before class begins. You can also ask questions if you have any. This sounds like obvious advice, but keeping up with assignments and participating in class discussions can make the difference between receiving an B or B+ and an A at the end of the semester.

During class, actively listen to your professor and discussions, and take notes. When you can, participate in the learning process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or share insightful comments during group discussions.

3. Make a homework/study plan.

Time management is essential to getting the best grades possible. If you don’t schedule a specific time for something, such as reading or homework, chances are you won’t do it. Between school, work, extracurriculars, and your social life, your time is limited and needs to be scheduled to fit everything in.

Realistically allot enough time for each subject, class, and assignment. Some professors suggest spending about three hours outside of class for every hour you spend in class. However, this depends on the workload of the class and your own schedule. If you have doubts about what would be best for a specific class, make sure to ask your professor for suggestion.

Within your scheduled schoolwork time, prioritize each task. Ask yourself questions about what assignments can be done most quickly, are due soonest, and are the most difficult. Prioritizing your school tasks makes the best use of your time and ensures that you retain momentum.

Also, take breaks to reward yourself and re-energize your mind. Studying for too long can slow your comprehension and lower your retention rate. Take a few minutes to stretch your legs, walk around, get a drink of water or healthy snack — anything long enough to refresh and refocus your mind.

Avoid all-nighters and get a healthy amount of sleep. Also, eat right and consume more than just caffeine for energy.

Bonus tip: Review the material before you sleep to boost your retention rate.

4. Take smart, legible notes.

Strike a balance between taking down as many notes as possible, actively listening to the lecture without writing, and participating in class discussion. It’s especially important to take down what the professor writes on the board or include in a PowerPoint. But be sure to jot down the significance and meaning she goes into so you don’t forget while staring at a loose skeleton of notes with little substance.

Don’t worry about having a rigid structure in your notes, as you can always go back later and fix them. Do take notes that you’ll be able to understand later. Use a version of shorthand that you will remember the meaning of.

Having trouble keeping up with all of the note-taking during class or missed a particular section? Ask your professor if she minds you recording the lecture so you can review, and fill in your notes later.

5. Spend some time with your professors.

Professors are one of the most untapped resources for information and comprehension outside of the classroom. If you’re having trouble with a particular concept, schedule a visit with your professor during office hours instead of researching it online. You can also stay a few minutes after class (or arrive a few minutes early), or send her an email. Figure out the best mode of communication for that particular professor.

Most importantly, ask all the questions you need answers to, both in class and out. Asking them doesn’t reflect a lack of intelligence, it shows that you want to learn more and comprehend the subject thoroughly.

Bonus tip: If you ask, sometimes professors will share model papers and old tests to assimilate you into the question format they use and writing style they expect from their students.

6. Team up with other students.

In addition to looking to your professors, other students can be another valuable resource. Compare notes, or discuss lectures right after class to better understand and retain that information from the get-go.

Organize study group sessions, particularly before exams. Sharing knowledge and understanding with other students not only can boost your retention of the material, but it can also offer a different perspective — which may improve your own comprehension of the concepts.

7. Take advantage of bonuses.

In addition to doing all normal readings and assignments, keep an eye out for any extra credit the professor may offer. Allot time to complete those projects, especially if you’re not at the grade you hoped for.

More than just boosting your grade, extra credit can offer additional or even deeper insight into the material, which may be beneficial for the upcoming final project, paper, or exam.

Also take advantage of extra review sessions and office hours, which offer you more out-of-class time with your professor so you can ask questions and solidify your understanding of the coursework. Most importantly, when it comes to making better grades, you must maintain a positive attitude, believe you can achieve that GPA, and stay motivated despite any obstacles you encounter along the way.

If you are thinking of other ways to fulfill your goals for the fall, check out our previous post in this series: This Fall I Want to Be More Involved on Campus


Hansen, Randall S, Ph.D. “10 Tips for Getting Good (or Better Grades). Quintessential Careers. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from Quintessential Careers.

“How to Get Straight A’s in College – Tips That Worked for Me (Even When I Skipped Some Lectures). Mind Your Decisions. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from Mind Your Decisions.

How to Study in College. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from How to Study in College.

Jacobs, Lynn F. “15 Secrets of Getting Good Grades in College." U.S. News: Education. 19 August 2009. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from U.S. News.

Jacobs, Peter. “How to Get Straight A’s in College." Business Insider. 10 October 2013. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from Business Insider.

Payne, Jessica D. et al. “Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake." PLOS One. 22 March 2012. Web. 12 August 2014. Retrieved from PLOS One.


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