I’m going to be honest. When I started college, I went out a lot. A lot. Every weekend, my friends and I went to parties and found fun things to do in town, but my homework never got done. My GPA was far from perfect.
As a person who got great grades throughout high school, this wasn’t going to fly for my mom, and I was a little embarrassed. So, during my second semester, I started changing my habits and I watched my grades improve. By my sophomore year, I was on the Dean’s List, and I still am after four semesters.
Unfortunately, I keep watching my friends and other students making the same, stupid mistakes that lead to mediocre grades. And they always react to their mediocre grades in the same ways: Saying they aren’t smart enough to do better, thinking the work load is impossible to tackle, or just getting upset about their grades and making zero changes to fix it.
After watching this tragic narrative way too many times, I’d like to give some examples of things I did that were relatively painless and led to better grades. I promise you, making these few small changes can really make a difference.
1.) Make friends. Join study groups. If you have one or two people who you sit next to/talk to in your class, ask them if they want to meet up one or two nights before the exam. Chances are, they’ll be flattered that you asked, and they’ll jump at the opportunity to work with someone else. A study group makes you a much stronger student because you can ask each other questions about the hard stuff, brainstorm possible essay questions, and have people around that will force you to get work done.
2.) Start prioritizing paper and exams. Make sure you never start a paper the same night your start studying for an exam. Always check your homework schedules for all your classes on Sunday night. If you have two big assignments or tests on the same day, DO NOT, start them both the night before. You’ll end up staying awake all night and doing poorly on both. If you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate on just one. The other, do it in advance.
3.) Take better notes. If a professor doesn’t allow laptops, I record lectures on my cellphone with the phone turned over on my desk. That way, professors in small classes don’t get mad at you because they think you’re texting or surfing the web, but you still have lecture notes at the end of class.When I can use my laptop, I take notes in google docs. This makes my notes super easy to share and I can add collaborators. Then, when exam time comes, I share my notes with other people and they share their notes with me. We check for discrepancies or see what information is repeated in everyone’s notes. Discrepancies indicate that the people in your study group don’t really understand a concept and you should probably ask about it during review or office hours. If you see everyone took down a similar note, it’s probably worth remembering. It’s going to be on the exam.
4.) Go to office hours consistently. This isn’t true for all professors, but most of them chose this job because they want to have an impact on students. Thus, office hours really do exist for your benefit and professors often feel annoyed or disappointed when nobody shows up. By going to office hours, you brighten your professor’s day, show that you actually care about the course, and get help with any issues you may have. Even if office hours doesn’t translate to a better grade on an exam, a professor is more likely to give you decent grades on papers or round your grade up at the end of the semester if you show them that you care.
5.) Go to the class that seems skippable. I know so many people who don’t show up to class if it’s a big lecture with no attendance policy. It may seem fun in the short run to catch up on sleep during your huge 8 am lecture, but it isn’t worth it. It’s better to drag your half-asleep body to class and try to listen. Even if you don’t take the best notes that day or you only remember a couple of things, that’s still better than knowing nothing.
6.) Stop trying to motivate and start trying to change. According to a 2015 study, people who do well academically are the ones who practice self-compassion and self-regulation. Most people who are struggling with school blame themselves by saying, “I’m just not motivated. I don’t know how to make myself care.” But here’s the thing: You probably do care. You’re just blaming your problems on a personal character flaw instead of reminding yourself that you can do it, and making a change. So, instead of questioning and complaining about your level of motivation, you should do two things: 1. Tell yourself that you are perfectly capable of handling your classwork and 2. Figure out what’s getting in you way. For example, last week, I went to bed frustrated because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough done in the day. To fix it, I sat down and thought about everything I did that day and how long I did it for. In the end, I realized I was spending a disproportionate amount of time playing a computer game I don’t even like that much, just because someone gave it to me as a gift. I realized that was time I could spend doing something more fulfilling or getting more work done, so I cut it out of my routine.
7.) Stop trying to do every little thing. A lot of students feel extremely stressed because they are trying to do a million things. They want to get good grades, be popular, play a sport, join three clubs, and perform in a musical all in one semester. But that’s just impossible. Most of the time, when you have way too many things on your plate, school work is the first thing to get sacrificed because it isn’t always fun — but it still needs to get done! If you find yourself sweating all the stuff you need to do and your grades aren’t coming out very well, you need to look at all your extra-curricular activities and find something to drop. Just remember that deciding to quit a club sports team or taking a semester off from your sorority doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you smart. Taking time to invest in your grades will make you feel happier in the long run, and you might just realize that some of your old activities weren’t even worth the all-nighters.