One of the funniest things that has been said to me recently is “I can’t believe you just naturally do so well in school.” It’s funny because it’s actually pretty far from the truth. Getting good grades may have come naturally to me in middle school, but getting good grades in college is a result of a lot of hard work. As we get a few weeks into the semester, building the habits that set you up for success when final grades to come out are crucial.
Go to class (and be present!)
The first part of this sentence sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to fall into the temptation of skipping class, especially when class attendance is optional. The second part of this – being present – is a bit more difficult. When you’re in class, you should be paying attention and participating rather than messing around on your laptop. If you think that you’ll get sucked into Facebook or Twitter during class, put the computer away. If you’re going to make the trek to campus, you might as well be fully present in the class and actually absorb the information.
Participate in some way
In high school, participation grades are often an easy A; in college, this is no longer the case. Professors who grade for participation expect frequent and valuable contributions to the class. While this concept definitely takes some getting used to, it’s important to force yourself out of your comfort zone. If you’re not quite comfortable speaking out in class regularly (and participation isn’t being graded strictly), participate in class by talking with the professor after class or during office hours.
Go to office hours
On that note, I cannot stress the importance of office hours enough. Getting face-to-face interaction with your professors is invaluable, and will help your grades tremendously. It can seem a bit intimidating, but most professors are more than willing to help. I’d really suggest going to office hours early in the semester – maybe for guidance on a homework assignment or to discuss something mentioned in class. That way, when the end of the semester comes around, your professor has a good impression of you and doesn’t think you’re visiting them in hopes of begging for a higher grade. Get to know your professors at the start of the semester and show them that you’re willing to put in the work, and it will pay off.
Don’t let bad grades sit
I’m not suggesting petitioning for a higher grade or blaming the professor. Granted, if there’s a grading error, then by all means, get that fixed. But in most cases, you probably messed up somehow, not the professor. One bad grade won’t doom your semester, but multiple bad grades will. As soon as you can, meet with the professor, discuss what you got wrong and determine what you need to do in the future to get the grade you’re looking for. Case in point: I got a C- on my first assignment in a class last fall, but because I was proactive about the bad grade, I finished the class with an A.
Set up a study schedule
You’ve probably heard this everywhere, but cramming isn’t really an effective way to study. To really understand the material, it helps to learn things a little bit at a time. If I were able to study exactly the way I want to, I’d say you should look over your notes and work for 15 minutes per day. But I’m not perfect and that rarely ever happens for me. I do try to start studying for exams about 1.5-2 weeks in advance though. I find that that’s way more helpful than staying up until 3 am the night before.
Know how you learn best
As I mentioned in my LSAT prep post, there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach to studying. So I’m not going to provide some rigid set of instructions, because the best study tactics for you depend on how you learn best. I learn well from reading and writing, so I find that rewriting my notes is the way I study best. If you’re an auditory learner, reading your notes out loud may work better. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.
I hope these tips are helpful! At the end of the day, getting good grades in college is really just a result of hard work – so get out there and do just that.