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How to Make an "A" in any Subject

Updated on September 29, 2014

You show up for class and study hard, but you find you're struggling more than you would like. You need an "A" to maintain your grade point average for your GPA, eligibility for a scholarship, sport, or organization, or just to meet your personal goals.

So, how do you make an "A" in any subject, more especially when that subject is in an area of academic weakness? The reality is that there are smart strategies you can and should take advantage of to dramatically increase your chances of making a "A" whether the course be in microbiology or macroeconomics, personal finance or world history.

I can show you the way, because I've been where you are and I've succeeded. Even though I struggled with a few classes in my college curriculum - Accounting I and II [online], Business Law, and Music Appreciation [I'm serious - our professor was hard-core and did not make this your typical general arts class], I earned a 4.0 GPA. If you want to learn how to make "A's consistently, even when the coursework is challenging, let's begin.

1. Rest. No kidding - this is VERY IMPORTANT. Get enough rest. Researchers say that means 7 to 8 hours a night. If you're sleep deprived, you seriously decrease your ability to learn and remember what you have learned. College students are notorious for "burning the candle at both ends." Burning your candle at both ends may seem fun at the time, but it will burn you out and result in poor grades.

2. Follow your natural rhythms. This is closely related to #1. Schedule your most challenging classes at the time of the day when you are at your rested and energetic - and therefore, at your best. Do this without exception. Take advantage of your body's natural rhythms instead of having them work against you. If you are mentally more alert and and more focused in the afternoon than in the morning [night owl], take the class you could sleep through and still make a "A" mid-to-late morning and the more challenging class in the afternoon. Make any necessary adjustments to your schedule to make this strategy work.

Study Smarter

3. Do not overload. Make certain your course load is manageable. Some students schedule themselves to complete a four year load in three years or take heavy loads for other reasons. You can wait another year to graduate and get your first real job; the real world is not going anywhere. If you wish to make "A"s and actually receive long-term benefit from your studies, it would be best to slow down and pare down a heavy academic load.

4. Find your ideal instructor. Sometimes, the instructor makes a world of difference. If you have a choice, find the instructor whose style you like best. Usually - but not always - you will learn better from someone you like and enjoy listening to. If your choices at your college are limited and you cannot do well with the available instructor for whatever reason - maybe he puts you to sleep or he doesn't give "A's" as a matter of principle - find another institution that offers the same course or equivalent and take the course there. Just be sure to check with your advisor to make certain you will receive credit for the course before registering and paying tuition.

5. Pass-Fail Option. If a course has a pass-fail option, as opposed to a traditional A-F grading option, by all means take advantage of this option. As long as you pass, it won't affect your grade point average at all.

6. Audit. If you think that a course is going to be difficult to master in one semester, why not take it once for practice and then again for your grade? Auditing a course gives you an obvious advantage. If you learn the material while auditing a course - with no grade penalty attached - you can take it again for credit and be confident of doing as well or better, assuming all other factors to be equal. If you do so, try to take the course from the same instructor with whom you audited the class.

7. Be on time all the time. Show up ON TIME and to ALL classes in a subject in which you're struggling. If the instructor gives credit for class attendance, so much the better. You'll get credit toward an "A" every time you attend class. However, even if this is not the case, you will want the benefit of being present at every lecture, to receive every handout, etc. If you cannot attend a class for a good reason, let the instructor know ahead of time - when possible - and ask how you can make up the missed class time. Can you attend another section of the same course, will the instructor give you lecture notes, etc?

8. Adopt an effective note-taking strategy. Take a different approach to lectures. Instead of writing lecture notes madly during class, listen carefullyand highlight in your textbook the points being stressed in the lecture. If you already underline or highlight your text, highlight lecture points in a different color, so you'll know what the instructor stressed when you're studying later. If the professor brings up anything that is NOT in the text, PAY ATTENTION and get it down. Assume that you WILL be tested on the material the instructor emphasizes in his or her lectures.

Baroque Music for Studying

9. Study in 15-20 minute sessions. Peruse your highlights and study your textbook and notes a couple of times a week for no longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. Regular short spurts of study will give you the best returns on your study time. Research indicates that our powers of concentration and recall are greatest in the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of study efforts. Work with this principle. After 15-20 minutes of studying, get up. Get a snack - one with protein for mental alertness. Take a break. Come back later, which you can do if you're studying on a regular basis instead of "cramming" the night before a test.

10. Ask. "Ask and you shall receive." Ask your instructor for specifics on what you should study for your test or exam. Visit your instructor during office hours, make an appointment, or email your instructor with questions. If your cumulative average is sitting on the fence, your sincere interest could make the difference between your instructor deciding to give you an "A" or a "B" when he or she is submitting your grade to the registrar at the end of the semester.

11. Find sample test questions. Go online and look for sample test questions in your subject. If you are taking a course that parallels a CLEP examination subject, you can purchase or check out CLEP examination prep guides. also offers a very good online CLEP and DSST exam prep service offered for a monthly subscription rate. The service provides an effective question-based interactive approach to achieving fundamental mastery in a number of lower and upper level college courses. You learn by answering questions from a generous database of ready-made test questions with detailed explanations. InstantCert is currently offering this service for a total of 56 college-level courses, in both lower and upper levels. Although this service targets students who are CLEP candidates, there is no reason you can't take advantage of the service as an effective and very affordable on-demand "tutor."

Take a Break: Comic Relief

12. Drop. If you have followed the very good advice found in this article, but see that you are not doing as well as you would like prior to your college deadline for dropping a course, you have the option to either drop the course (or maybe even request a change in status to audit the class). Dropping prior to the deadline for dropping with no penalty may relieve the pressure of a difficult course and avoid an outcome of receiving a grade that you can't live with.

13. CLEP out. If you feel your performance in the traditional classroom setting may be less than stellar enough to garner you an "A," you may have the option to test out of the class. While most colleges require some evidence of personal or professional proficiency in a subject area before you will be allowed to test out of related coursework, many colleges give credit for CLEP examinations in a number of course areas, There are currently 34 CLEP exams offered, mostly lower level courses. There is generally no prerequisite to take a CLEP exam. You can register for the CLEP, study, take the exam, and have the passing score reported to your college. Always check with your advisor prior to taking a CLEP exam to make certain that your college will grant credit for the exam and for the specific course for which you intend to CLEP out. These are two different issues - you'll usually want to receive credit for the specific course - not just elective credits in the general area of study, such as business or humanities. The CLEP option can be invaluable in testing out of certain subject areas that most students find challenging, such as English composition, foreign language, economics, calculus, and chemistry.

No matter what kind of grades you are currently making, you can employ effective strategies to earn "A's" in school or college. By following the advice in this Hub, you will be empowered to earn an "A" in any subject or earn credits that don't have an accompanying grade (and don't impact your overall GPA).


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    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 6 years ago from Northeastern United States

      This is very good advice. Voted up!

    • profile image

      Shantanu Bala 6 years ago

      I find that taking notes on a computer makes it a lot easier to study. I've used Evernote and OneNote, but I developed Quicklyst specifically for students like myself. It's a web-based note-taking tool -- check it out at

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      There are some valuable ideas here.. great post!!!!

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile image

      Staci-Barbo7 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Red Elf and Dolores, Thank you for stopping by. I agree - comic relief is great. Bean is hilarious!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I like the suggestion that it's better to study in short bursts - seems like that would work. And the comic relief was great. A good laugh really clears the mind.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Wow - great info. Wish I had known this back when I was in school.

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile image

      Staci-Barbo7 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, bc99, I believe that where there's a will, there's an "A."