Seven Keys to Getting Better Grades

It would be outstanding if you could mix a few chemicals and make a potion that would get you better grades. Unfortunately, those of us not named Harry Potter can't rely on magic — we need to work at it.

Fortunately, there are some best practices that will help you do better next semester. Make these seven keys your New Year's resolution and you'll have a better report card come springtime.

  • Show up — You'd be amazed at how much credit you can get just for showing up to each class, and how much you can lose for skipping. (I had an 8am class in my freshman year; I lost a full letter grade just because I skipped a few classes and showed up late for the rest.) Showing up tells your instructor that you're at least willing to make some effort in the class, and that counts.
  • Listen — This is 'Part B' of the first key. While you're in the class every day, listen to what's going on. Again, when taking a test, you'd be surprised what you'll recall from some lecture.
  • Participate — Say you have five friends and only two doughnuts left. Assuming you've had your fill, you'll typically give doughnuts to the two friends that you like best, right? Well, it's sort of the same thing with teachers. They generally want to give out good grades and are often willing to give you a break, and letting them know who you are makes that easier. Ask questions in class, volunteer answers, and offer comments. If the teacher knows who you are, chances are you'll get a break when you need one. (Just don't set anything on fire…)
  • Pace yourself — Spend a little time after each class organizing your notes, reading the materials, or otherwise reviewing what was covered in class. (Cramlets™ can definitely help here!) Jot down in the back of your notebook anything covered that you think might make a good essay question. Spend a little time during the semester so you won't need to spend a lot of time at the end.
  • Leave some breathing room — When putting together your course schedule, keep from getting swamped by limiting yourself to only one or two tough courses per semester. Better yet, if you have any that you expect to be killer (like pre-calculus was for me) try to take it by itself during the summer. Face it, you only have so many hours in the day — you don't want to plan on overloading yourself before you've even attended the first class.
  • Be the Boss — Attending school is like running your own business, so treat it as such. There's always room for socializing and making life-long friends, but once in a while you need to roll up your sleeves a get to work. How well your business performs will be dictated by how seriously you take your courses, so it's your choice — do you want to be an Apple or an Enron?
  • Have Fun — Two great 1980's teen movies sum this up quite nicely. As Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves too fast. If you don't slow down you might miss it." On the flip side, don't end up like Anthony Michael Hall's character on the Breakfast Club. He contemplated suicide because his 'perfect' grades were threatened by shop class. The bottom line is, work hard but remember to have fun. Your college years may seem tough, but they can be the most enjoyable experience of your lives.

By itself, no trick or technique is going to be a magic bullet. Still, following these seven keys will get you better grades next semester or my name isn't Professor Cram!

Unlocking your success,
Professor Cram