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How to Get Good Grades: Studying and Learning Effectively

Updated on July 15, 2016
kbdressman profile image

Katie graduated with both a BA in Chemistry from BYU and a BA in Spanish from UVU in 2016. She will graduate from medical school in 2020.

Good Grades are the Results of Daily, Productive Study

If good grades are you're goal, you need to make a personal study plan that has you in your books, practicing the material, on a daily basis, in a distraction free environment, when you're at your best.
If good grades are you're goal, you need to make a personal study plan that has you in your books, practicing the material, on a daily basis, in a distraction free environment, when you're at your best. | Source

Tips on How to Get Good Grades

How to Get Good Grades in College

Getting good grades can open opportunities for you later in life. Even once you get into college, grades are important. It takes a little bit of effort, but if you learn how to study smarter, instead of studying harder, you can achieve the grades you need to succeed.

College classes aren't structured the same way that high school classes are and getting good grades in college takes more effort than getting good grades in high school. In college, the professor publishes a syllabus listing what concepts the students need to understand and the work required. They lecture on the more important concepts and grade papers. Sound similar to what happens in a High School? It is, except for one small, but very important, difference. The responsibility for learning lies on the shoulders of the student and grades are weighted more heavily on accuracy and understanding, rather than completion. The professor now provides a map that charts the way through the course and is available to give help when sought out along the way but is no longer the tour guide high school teachers tend to be.

This change can be daunting and discouraging for students. Students who received top grades and were the top of their high school classes find themselves to be average students at their university. Don't let this diminish your sense of self worth. The existence of other smart people doesn't make you any less smart. Meet with advisers and professors to determine the adjustments you need to make to be as successful as you can and make them. Many students struggle at the beginning of their university pathway. Typically these students struggle because they don't know how to effectively navigate the university classroom, not because they aren't capable of mastering the material. Don't hesitate to be proactive in solving this problem. Meet with your professors, ask for their advice and implement it. Continue to tweak your methods until they're perfectly optimized for your success!

Most importantly, take responsibility for your own learning. Make a list of the topics and concepts you need to learn and use your resources to understand them. Below are some suggestions in how to most effectively do this.

Good Grades come When Basic Study Skills are Mastered

Be Responsible
Be Engaged
Study Smart
Use a planner and stay on top of due dates
Prepare outlines of important material in assigned reading
Study material until you can teach it to someone else
Don't procrastinate
Make glossaries of key terminology
Quiz yourself before tests in as realistic environments as possible
Do your homework, assignments and reading
Take good notes as you read or listen to lectures
Seek out additional resources when needed
Communicate with group members, parents and other involved individuals with plenty of time
Make a list of things you don't understand and seek out the answers
Break down big projects and give yourself deadlines for each task
Study graded material until you understand why you missed any points you missed; ask your teachers if you're unsure why you got the grade you got; don't make the same mistake on subsequent assignments
Make a list of things you need repetition with and practice them regularly in short chunks
Don't Cram; begin studying for tests at least a week in advance
Eat right, stay hydrated, get enough sleep and exercise
Seek out feedback from teachers, parents and other trustworthy individuals early in the learning process
Study what you don't like and what you don't know; time studying what you already know is time not well spent
Always do your best
Actively look for connections between what you are learning and what you already know
Study in a distraction free environment that is equipped with everything you may need

The Syllabus is your Guide to Good Grades

Most professors provide students with a syllabus on the first day. Go through it and read it carefully. Make sure you understand what assignments, projects and tests are due when and how the class is set up. Take the time to study your syllabus. Ask yourself why your professor outlined the course the way he did. What topics are most important? What topics are built upon by later topics? Take note of this and be sure to set aside extra study and review time for these important topics. Calculus is hard enough on its own. It's impossible if you don't understand arithmetic.

You should also be sure that you know how to contact your professors by the end of the first week. Know where their offices are, when they hold office hours, and how to contact them via email. You should also know whether or not the class has a TA and how to contact him or her.

Don't hesitate to ask professors for their recommendations for success in their class. If you don't find these tips in the syllabus and they aren't addressed in the first class period, go to your professors office hour and ask him. Make sure you understand his expectations. Failing to do so usually results in poor grades on assignments down the road.

Once you have a general idea of what will be required on each assignment and test, make a to do list that includes all of your due dates. Break larger projects down into smaller chunks and assign each chunk a due date. If you're unable to do so until closer to the deadline, put a reminder to read through the assignment instructions and get clarification 1-2 weeks before the deadline. You'll move assignments around as things change throughout the semester, but it's a great way to stay organized and avoid missing deadlines or procrastinating on large assignments.

Read through the course objectives and seek to understand them. Look up the meaning of any new words. Identify course activities designed to help you understand or meet each objective. As you do these assignments be sure you're using them to understand the objectives efficiently. Ask for TA and professor feedback on your success in this goal as you go throughout the course.

With Grades or Anything Else, Giving Up Rarely Leads to Success. Keep Trying!

When the going gets rough, and grades are looking tough, just keep putting one foot in front of the other!  Change what isn't working, but never give up!
When the going gets rough, and grades are looking tough, just keep putting one foot in front of the other! Change what isn't working, but never give up!

To Get Good Grades You Need to Utilize Your Resources

Textbooks work best when they are used as study aids and not as novels. They aren't meant to be read just once. Read the assigned material before class. Prepare a list of important words and an outline of the important concepts. These are valuable study tools before tests. Make a list of questions you have and be prepared to listen for the answers in lecture. If they aren't addressed in lecture, take them to the TA or professor's office hours.

15 minutes of lecture should result in a page of notes if your notes are adequately detailed. Try to identify main concepts and the relationships between each concept as the lecture progresses. This makes your notes more helpful come test time. Write your notes as if you were taking notes for a friend who were missing class. Don't assume you'll understand what you meant in a few weeks, chances are you won't. Make another list of questions you have to take to the professor and be sure to make the time to get your answers.

After lecture, re-read the assignment in the book. Be sure there are no loose ends. Consider reading about difficult or complicated topics in a second textbook, to be sure you completely understand it. In addition, Khan academy is a great place to get videos on many topics. These videos are great for a little extra help in understanding topics or in test review.

Do any practice problems and homework assignments assigned. Consider doing extra problems to be sure you understand the concepts, particularly if you struggled on some of the problems assigned. If you don't understand material at this point, make a note of it and take the time to find the answer before the night before the test. That is review time, not understand time.

Some universities offer free or inexpensive tutoring. Use this service early. It is much easier to keep up than to catch up. If you're really struggling, consider hiring a tutor. It can be expensive, but paying to retake the class or not understanding the material well enough for future classes is more expensive!

Ask your advisor, upper-classman, TAs and Professors what resources are available to you and what they recommend. Take the initiative to find out what is available to you and then use it!

Review Tests and Assignments For Clues on How to Boost Your Grade on the Next Assignment or Test

As soon as a test or assignment has been graded go through it carefully. Make sure points have been added up and recorded correctly and that you understand exactly why you missed the points you did. Take the time to study concepts you didn't understand before the next quiz or test. And don't make the same mistakes on the next assignment or test that you made earlier in the semester. It's unfortunately to lose points because you misunderstood something. It's even more unfortunate to lose points multiple times for the same reason!

Studying in a Group is both Rewarding and Fun!

Studying in a group is a fun and effective way to improve your grades!
Studying in a group is a fun and effective way to improve your grades! | Source

Study Groups are a Fun Way to Improve Your Grades

Don't underestimate the power of forming a study group. One of the hardest parts of doing well in college is doing poorly on tests because you thought you understood something you didn't. Forming study groups allows you to ask each other concepts and explain the material to each other. If you can teach something well, you understand it. If you can't teach it, then as a group you can work together to come to understand the material.

Want an A Grade? Go the Extra Mile!

The bare minimum won't cut it. Doing all of the assignments and a little review before tests usually results in a C at major universities. You will have to do additional research on the topics. You will have to do extra problems. You will have to actively participate in class and attend office hours with well thought out questions. Plan to put in 3-4 hours outside of class per hour in class to receive a B or a C. A's will usually require even more time.

It's Not Officially Calculated into Your Grade, but In Order to Do Well, You Need to Learn How You Learn

Learn how you learn. If you learn by listening to lectures, ask your professors if you can tape their lectures for later review. Attend lecture, take good notes, and then watch their lectures again later as you're running on a treadmill or preparing for a test.

If you learn by reading, read. Read your textbook and find a textbook that is used by other sections of the same class, has been used in the past, or is recommended by your professor. Having multiple perspectives will help correct incorrect notions you gain by only reading your assigned textbook.

If your class involves doing, you need to do. You can't learn math or science without actually practicing the problems. Do the practice problems in your textbook and consider purchasing the solutions manual so you can make sure you're doing them right. Do extra problems of the types of problems you don't like. Do them until you are comfortable with those types of problems. They are the ones that will cost you points on the test if you don't get comfortable with them!

If the class is a prerequisite for a standardized test, like the MCAT or DAT, consider purchasing a prep book in your subject and doing extra problems from that book. They might not be the same types of problems your teacher will test on, but they will help you make sure you understand the concepts.

No matter how you learn, make sure you understand how you learn, and adapt your study to your unique learning style. Studying smarter is better than simply studying harder!

Don't Forget, This is About Learning, Not Just About Getting a Good Grade! Learn How to Learn-A TEDx Talk

Share Your Opinion

What Is Your Favorite Study Tip?

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    • Jay Walker Jr profile image

      Jay Walker Jr 

      4 years ago from Midhurst, UK

      A great article. I just got a really good idea how to format an article with Pictures and video. Thanks. Keep em coming.

    • kbdressman profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Harlem, New York

      I'm so glad to hear that your foreign exchange students are doing so well! Lots of American students struggle in school. It can be even harder for foreign exchange students to do well in our schools. I'm glad to hear that wasn't the case for them!

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      This is great advice. I have two students from France who came here to attend Utah Valley University (UVU) along with 30,000 other US and foreign UVU students. They have been taught, and otherwise learned, to do what you are teaching in this article. They are 3.95 and 4.0 students who will be on academic scholarships having completed their first two years at UVU.

      By the way, they both studied, prayed, and were literally loved into their decisions to be baptized and join the LDS church by a singles ward they are active in here as well as working 20 hours a week and being active in UVU's Multicultural Student Association.


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