My Dear Reader,
As a college graduate, I feel that it is my duty to pass on the grade-earning scores that I have acquired over the years. It turned out to be a pretty long list, so I've cut it into two easy-to-digest installments. While I can't exactly say that all of these items are listed in the order of importance, I would say that these first five are the absolute basics, meaning that if you don't do these, you're probably not doing well at all.
1. Know Yourself and Plan Accordingly
Are you a morning person? Take early classes so you can get the most out of your day. Are you easily distracted when you study at a computer? Finish your pen-and-paper/book studying first. Everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses, and only time and experience will tell what they are. Capitalize on your strengths and find a way to work through your weaknesses. Making excuses for yourself doesn’t help anybody, and it sure won’t get you that A.
2. Befriend your Syllabus
Your syllabus can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. It contains all of the basic information that your professor expects you to know. In most cases, it also has your due dates and instructions for homework. Professors put a lot of care and thought into their syllabi, and they sometimes they get frustrated when you ask questions that they have pre-answered and handed you on a piece of paper. Then, if you miss a deadline or do something wrong, they have every right to hold it against you. You should read your syllabus all the way through on the first day of class, asking questions about anything you don’t understand. Then, pull out the syllabus daily during the last five minutes of class and review it quickly while the professor is droning on about useless nonsense. Trust me on this one; the more you re-read your syllabus, the better you will do in class, guaranteed.
3. Go to Class and Make it Count
You’d be surprised at how many people never learn this concept, but you really miss out on a lot of information when you don’t go. And it’s not just the lecture itself that you’re missing. As an English major, I knew that missing one class could mean that I would never know about due date changes, or I wouldn’t get additional instructions on papers or projects. Of course, things come up, and sometimes it’s better to spend an extra hour finishing a paper than to sit in class. So I allowed myself to miss only one class per test, which worked out fairly well. That way, I gave myself a little flexibility without letting myself get lazy, which is key. Also, don't forget that being there physically is meaningless if you're not there mentally. Trust me on this: if you let the material really sink in the first time you hear it, you can save hours of time studying later.
4. Take Copious Notes
I used to get compliments on my note-taking skills all of the time. “Wow!” they would say, “It’s like you’ve got the entire lecture written down!” People just couldn’t believe that I could get that much detail on paper. I did it that way because of the Humanities 101 class I had my first semester, when the teacher mentioned off-handedly that the word “Catholic” means “universal.” We didn’t think to write it down, but did it turn up on the test? Heck yes! Here’s the thing: if you take notes in class, you have a physical copy of the lecture that you can read over and over again until all of the information gets into your brain and stays there. Plus, it means that you’re paying attention and really soaking it in the first time. Don’t short-change yourself by only copying the board; everything that comes out of the professor’s mouth is fair game for tests. I know some people who take a tape recorder to class and listen to each lecture multiple times. It didn’t work for me, but you might want to try it.
5. Befriend a Classmate
I find it amazing how two people can sit in the same lecture and get two entirely different things out of it, but it happens all of the time. Even if you attend every class and write down every word, someone else is getting something that you’re not. If you make friends with that person, he or she will more than likely share that something with you, and you will be even more prepared than you were before. Besides, this friend can also give you the notes from the day you missed, or help you interpret the professor’s handwriting. You can never underestimate the power of teamwork in getting an A out of a professor.
And there you have it: the basics. Join me next week, Gentle Reader, when I detail some of the extra methods you can use to change an okay grade into a great grade.
Regards, best wishes, and academic achievement,