4 Tips for Better Grades in College

As I write this, it is May 8, 2020, so it might seem like a strange time to be talking about how to make better grades. At my school, Walters State Community College, the semester literally ended yesterday. Thus, it’s like I am closing the barn door after the horse has failed his classes.

On the other hand, it is sometimes when students get their grades that the soul searching really begins. Hard questions are asked, by them and their loved ones, about the path forward. Do they want to complete a college degree? Can they complete their college degree?

I have long maintained that for most people, it is not a question of being smart enough for college; it is a question of being willing to put in the work.

When students make bad grades, it is usually a result of some combination of the following: ignoring due dates/not completing assignments or low test grades. Here are four tips for turning that around:

1. The 8 to 5 Rule

When I was in college, someone smart suggested to some of my friends that they should treat college like an 8 to 5 job. Be up and ready to go by 8:00 in the morning, take your classes, and then do work for them until 5:00 with a nice lunch break in there somewhere. You would never get behind, you could relax and hang out with your friends in the evening, and you would never have to pull an all-nighter writing a paper or cramming for a test.

Obviously, if you have school and a job, this plan might not work perfectly for you. be you still might be able to apply the mindset of treating school like a main priority instead of just something you cram into your otherwise busy schedule.

2. Study Like it’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

Most people cram for tests. They begin to study in earnest either the night before or the day of an exam. But if that worked for everybody, then, well, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. When I was a student, one of my professors said this: If we put in about three hours of studying three nights before the test, then studied for that long two nights before it, we would only need about a half hour the night before the test, and we would be fine.

That plan seemed unrealistic. I just didn’t think it showed a good understanding of human nature, and I still feel that way.

That said, just cramming the night before doesn’t always work, so what are we left with?

How about this: Every day after class, spend 10 minutes or so rereading the notes you wrote down that day. If you put in that extra 10 minutes multiple times a week for several weeks, then when you do sit down to study for the test, the material will be more familiar to you.

3. Write Stuff Down

Number two only works if you do number three. There are professors like me who post notes online, and there are other professors who have all their material displayed in class in PowerPoints or Prezi presentations or whatever. Students today are increasingly likely to print off notes, type on a laptop, or take pictures in class with their phones, rather than hand write the material. Writing stuff down helps you keep your mind from wandering, and the act of thinking about what you are hearing, and putting it in your own words, all works together to help you remember content.

4. Be Willing to Vary Your Approach

What worked for one class might not work for another. Our temptation when we do bad on a test is to say, “Oh, well, I’m not good at this subject,” or “This professor is too hard.” Instead of accepting defeat, we might just need to do something differently. Maybe studying in a group works for Class A, but the mix of students in your study group doesn’t stay on task when you get together for Class B. Maybe creating flashcards worked in Biology, but it doesn’t work for your English course. If you did poorly on the first test, then what do you have to lose if you try something different to prepare for the second one?

“There are no guarantees in life, only opportunities.” I read that on a poster once, and I thought it was cool. I can’t guarantee you success here, but at least now you have some more tools in your tool chest as you try to navigate through college.