It seems simple on its face: to get into a good college, get good grades in high school. If you know what kinds of schools you’re aiming for, you probably have an idea of what your GPA should be. But how exactly do you get where you need to be?
A good grade is a reflection of both hard work and comprehension of the material. In the short term, it shows colleges that you’re a good student who can succeed in a highly rigorous academic environment, which is what they offer. In the long term, working towards good grades teaches you important skills in studying, preparation, discipline, and self-advocacy. These are lifelong skills that will serve you even when you’re no longer taking math tests and writing book reports.
Whether you’re trying to raise your current grades or are just looking toward future success, following this step-by-step guide will ensure that you’re in the best possible position to thrive in your academic courses, now and in the future.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? To get better grades, do the homework assignments. Yet, you would be surprised by how many high school students don’t do their homework, leaving assignments unfinished or waiting until right before the test to do them. That might have worked in middle school, but it’s unlikely to fly in high school.
If you’re in a rigorous class, it’s covering a lot of material, and your teacher assumes you are going to learn some of it on your own. This is excellent preparation for college, when your classes will meet much less frequently, but you will have much more work to do outside of class. High school teachers are trying to prepare you for this shift by encouraging you to maintain and expand your knowledge through homework.
Finally, if you aren’t doing the homework, you won’t know what you don’t understand, which means you won’t be able to ask the right questions and get the right help. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ll never learn it!
Everyone knows that it’s easier to pay attention to something if you’re active and involved. Particularly in a classroom, passively listening often makes it harder for you to remember what was said because you weren’t actively participating.
Of course, your ability to participate depends somewhat on your teacher, the class, and your own personality. Some teachers prefer to lecture, with minimal input from their classrooms, while some students feel uncomfortable speaking in front of others. Nevertheless, these days almost all educators recognize the importance of active learning and making such participation inclusive for all students.
Whether it’s answering a question, asking a question, participating actively in group work, or otherwise being involved in the classroom, participation in class is a great way to master the material and show your teacher that you’re trying hard.
It’s a near-universal fact: straight-A students take good notes. That said, note-taking is not necessarily something all high school students know how to do, and not all schools do a good job of teaching it. Learning to take notes may be something you need to undertake on your own, but it’s absolutely crucial to getting better grades.
Not everyone takes notes the same way. Some students find it helpful to write long-hand, while others record lectures and take notes later, when they can pause. In general, though, it’s best not to write down everything the teacher says. Rather, truly good note-takers digest what’s important and write down just the key facts.
Don’t worry if this doesn’t come naturally right away; note-taking is a skill that takes time to develop. As you improve, you’ll likely earn higher grades as well.
There’s a common misconception among high school students that you should only ask for extra help if the teacher specifically recommends it or if you’re getting really bad grades. In fact, all good teachers would love to help you whenever you need it!
Whether you’re trying to understand your test scores, essay comments, homework assignments, or class involvement, setting up a time to talk to your teacher out of class is always a good use of your time. They don’t want to give you bad grades; they want to help you learn the material. It’s why they teach!
That said, if you do go in for extra help, you’ll get more out of it if you have specific questions. Don’t ask the teacher to give his or her lesson all over again; pinpoint what you’re struggling with and ask for advice or additional problems.
Another truth about getting better grades is that it isn’t just about one test or one paper. A strong final grade is the product of a lot of good grades all strung together, which means you need to stay motivated throughout the year.
Staying focused on schoolwork isn’t always easy. Things come up in and outside of school that take away from your focus, and it’s easy to give into procrastination when you have a lot on your plate, a situation you’re sure to encounter at some point.
Bear in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint; once in a while, you won’t finish your homework, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you are striving toward your best academic performance by doing as much of this as you can.
Staying on top of your schoolwork isn’t always easy; you have extracurricular activities, service commitments, family responsibilities, and more. Time management can be the best tool in your arsenal for getting better grades.
Creating a study schedule can help you manage your time and keep from cramming. By learning and studying in small chunks, rather than trying to do so all at once, you’ll be less overwhelmed and better able to master the material. For each class, consider setting out a certain amount of time each day, maybe in a calendar or agenda book. Doing a little every day is miles better than cramming.
A study schedule should be flexible to both your learning style and your life. But even if it gets disrupted sometimes, just having made it can be enormously helpful.
Getting the most out of studying means staying focused, which in turn means minimizing distractions. These days, it’s hard not to get distracted by notifications on your phone, computer, or other screen. But maintaining productive study time means filtering all this out to focus on your schoolwork.
To that end, do what you can to minimize distractions and build good study habits. Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb so you don’t get notifications and alerts. Use anti-procrastination browser extensions like StayFocusd to keep yourself off social media and other distracting websites. Sign out of instant messaging.
Distractions can be physical, too. Keeping your desk organized can help boost your productivity and lead to higher grades, as can organizing your notes and materials. Managing your space can be as important as managing your time.
When we imagine studying, we often picture someone alone at a desk. But just as being an active class participant can help you connect more deeply to the material, so too can studying with a partner, group, or tutor help your grades!
Forming a study group or partnership can be a particularly great way to work toward higher grades. Rather than just quizzing yourself with flash cards, studying in a group allows you both to ask questions of another student and to explain concepts to a peer, which will really test whether you understand the material or not.
Beyond a study group, working with a private tutor is also a way to manage your schedule and get help with your homework. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet with your teacher or a group, a tutor might be a good option for you.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do to get good grades in school is to take care of yourself. Getting burned out and overwhelmed will not increase your grade point average! At a certain point, everyone needs some self-care.
Good health—physical and mental—is critically important to success in school. Eating well, getting regular exercise, and managing any stress or anxiety are all essential factors in setting yourself up for academic success.
In fact, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get a good night’s sleep! Try not to let your schoolwork or extracurricular activities interrupt your sleep schedule. Rest will help you focus and keep you healthy for the long term.
Your grade point average isn’t the only thing colleges care about; even if you’re one of the best students in your class, you still need to develop a leadership profile, earn good standardized test scores, be involved in your community, and put together outstanding essays. Nevertheless, if you don’t have the academic qualifications colleges expect, having all those things won’t do you any good, either.
For all but the most selective schools, you don’t need perfect grades or straight As in every single class. But you should strive to perform at the highest academic level you can. By staying engaged, motivated, and healthy, you can raise your grades and show admissions officers that you’re ready for college!
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