Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ask Isa: The simplest way to get good grades

From the Ask Isa inbox:

Dear Isa,

I'm having a rough time getting good grades; how do you do it? What are the easy classes you took so far? Thank you.


Struggling Student

Dear Struggling Student,

Getting good grades is hard. Really hard. But I'm glad you're asking about this because it is possible.

People tend to think getting good grades is about being 'naturally' smart. It's not. 

I've known very smart people who get mediocre grades, and people who may not be as naturally academically inclined but who work for their A's and become the top stars on their campuses. 

The first thing I want to address is the question of what "easy classes" I took. 

I think a lot of my classes were easy but not in the way you might expect. I consider them "easy" not because they weren't very hard work, but because they were in subjects I liked so much that I enjoyed the learning process. It was challenging, but it was fun. 

When possible I did avoid classes that seemed uninteresting and unrelated to my primary goals. 

In your first two years you have less choice, but if you think back to high school it's usually pretty easy to decide whether you prefer biology or chemistry (I chose chemistry).

Choosing a class because it's supposedly "easy" is not a good strategy. Choose classes that interest you and that you think you have some natural strengths in.  

Then, the simplest way to get good grades in the classes you choose?

Schedule daily time to study.

Duh, right? But seriously. Students underestimate this, especially busy ones. 

They feel good enough that they are able to fit class into their schedule that they can't imagine making much more time to study (aside from late nights after work when they're exhausted)

I have tremendous respect for students who have to balance work and other responsibilities with college, which today is the majority. 

However, it's a huge obstacle. And the only way to overcome it personally is to make studying a priority. Not just the week of exams, but every single day. 

I spent at least two hours in the library every weekday without fail. It was scheduled into my calendar and I treated the time like any other class.

I showed up every day. And on the days I didn't have any homework I'd get ahead on a class project or essay. The result?

A stress-free 4.0 and weekends to work and relax. (I also worked weeknights as a nanny and was able to study when the kids went to sleep - while in college do everything you can to find a job that works with your college goals and not against them). 

(Note: to make the most of that time it's vital to be organized, have a planner with due dates, and seek out constant tutoring and feedback from professors when you're struggling). 

Having the commitment required to get good grades requires an understanding of how your sacrifices now will pay off in the long run. 

Making college a priority will require sacrifices. But if you're dedicated to your college education, those sacrifices will pay off big time. 

Note: My favorite book on getting good grades is How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport. 

There are no shortcuts to getting good grades; there are no short cuts to become successful in anything. 

The effort you put in today and consistently every day is what makes all the difference. 

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