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How to Get an A

It might seem like some students are just naturally good at school. They appear to sail through their classes getting top grades with little or no effort while the rest of us are cramming for exams. What is their secret?

It's no secret. They may appear like they aren't working hard, but more likely they have learned some of the habits of A students that lead to good grades. Following these tips can deepen your understanding of a subject while lowering your stress level so you can do what you came to do - learn!

Here are twelve tips to becoming an A student.

 

Decide to earn an A. The first step in achieving any goal is to define it. Make a personal commitment to yourself to earn an A. Remember that your primary purpose is to learn the subject and that your grade is a reflection of how well you have mastered it. Define your goal in these terms. Commit to mastering the subject of the class to the level that deserves an A grade. Do the work, learn the subject, and the good grades will follow.

 

Show up. Are there students in your classes you only see on the first day of class and at the exams? Do you think they're getting A's? Probably not. It seems like obvious advice, but going to class is one of the most important things you can do.

It is in class that much of the real learning takes place. Teachers use class time to go into greater depth on the subject and to answer questions from students. It is your best opportunity to interact with your classmates and an expert on the subject you have decided to master. Showing up in class also sends a signal to your professor that you are interested in the subject and committed to the class.

 

Engage and Participate. Showing up is important, but engaging and participating in the class is perhaps just as crucial. Professors will have different styles in class. Some may lecture and ask for questions at the end, some may encourage questions during the lecture. Some may not lecture at all but lead the class in discussion. Whatever your teacher's style, be prepared to participate. Ask questions about anything that is not clear. Participate in class discussions. You will not only gain a deeper knowledge of the subject, but will also demonstrate your commitment to understanding the subject at the level you need to get an A.

Engaging in the class means removing anything that might distract you from giving it your full attention. Laptops and cell phones are common sources of distraction. Turn them off and do not use class time for messaging friends or browsing the Internet.

Taking notes is an excellent way to engage in the class, but trying to write down everything the teacher says divides your time between listening and writing. Be smart about note taking. Focus on understanding the key concepts being explained and summarize them in your notes. Use any handouts or presentations as a framework for your notes. There is no need to waste your time copying out a professor's full class presentation if you can download the file from the class webpage. Your time might be better spent listening and asking questions. Many college classes make lectures available online, giving you an opportunity to review them for any important notes you missed.

 

Stay ahead of the class. Every class has a syllabus and an assignment schedule, usually given out at the first class and posted on the class website. These usually lay out the topic of each class and lecture, the reading for the class, the due dates for assignments and the dates of exams. Many A students keep a class planner or use a large calendar to transfer all the important exam and assignment due dates for all their classes to one place. Managing your study time will help you avoid last-minute surprises and stress that can affect your class performance.

 

Do the reading. It's another bit of seemingly obvious advice, but doing the assigned reading beforehand is key to doing well in class. Perhaps you have been in the stressful class situation where you cannot follow the discussion because you have not done the reading, or you spend the class hoping you are not called on to answer a question because you are not prepared. By staying ahead of the class and arriving prepared, you can avoid this stress and focus on learning.

 

Do the assignments. Along with completing the assigned reading, it almost goes without saying that finishing all the required assignments is a must if you want to earn an A. Use the syllabus and your planner to look ahead to upcoming assignments so you will be familiar with them when it comes time to complete them. Start working on them as early as possible. You might find that beginning an assignment immediately after the class that introduces the topic will help you make a strong start while the subject is fresh in your mind.

You should manage your time so you can always turn your assignments in on time. It is common for teachers to lower an assignment grade when it is turned in after the due date. Don't turn your A-plus paper into a B by handing it in a week late.

On the other hand, professors will usually understand that life can interrupt even the most organized student. If you have a valid reason for needing more time, talk to your professor as soon as possible about an extension.

 

Study. For every hour in a college class, you should expect to spend at least three hours studying. Students who get A's often spend four hours or more per class hour. Studying includes the time you spend reading and completing assignments for a class, as well as time spent reviewing the subject and deepening your understanding of the subject.

 

Get help. Believe it or not, your professor would probably love to give you an A. Teachers get a lot of satisfaction when they see their students applying themselves and fully grasping a subject, and are usually willing to offer their help. Take advantage of your professor's open office hours to ask specific questions you may have on the subject or to get clarification on a difficult topic. Many classes also hold study sessions with teaching assistants or older students who can provide specific help. Your school may offer other services like a writing center where you can get help writing papers and essays and get feedback on editing and revising your writing assignments.

Forming a study group with others in the same class is a good way to gain a wider range of perspectives on the class subject and to help one another.

 

Do not plagiarize. While there is nothing wrong at all with seeking out help, you must always be certain that the work you turn in is entirely your own. Using someone else's work or words without proper credit is considered plagiarism, and is a very serious offense. If you are not clear on whether something can be used as part of your assignments or writing projects, ask for help. Your professor may issue guidelines for providing citations to other works. The writing center may be able to help you incorporate your research into your paper while making sure you attribute everything correctly.

 

Do not cram. Cramming for an exam is a very inefficient way to learn. You may hold on to enough information to pass a test in the short term, but your goal is to master the subject and earn an A, not simply to memorize just enough to pass. By following some of the other guidelines above like staying ahead of the class and studying effectively, you should be able to avoid situations where you are not prepared for an exam. A-students can often be found enjoying a full night's sleep the night before an exam while the C-students try to cram a semester's worth of learning into one long overnight session.

 

Take a balanced approach. Some professors will weight their grading heavily toward performance on exams, some more toward assignments. Knowing this from the first day of class will help you understand what is expected of you in order to earn an A, but do not assume that this is just the minimum requirement. In a class where the final exam counts for most of your grade, you might be tempted to focus just on acing that single test and not bother trying too hard on the assignments.

Remember your commitment to master the subject. While the assignments might not contribute directly to your grade average as much as the test, completing them and mastering the subject will set you up to perform well on the final exam. By gradually building on what you learn over the semester you will have a deeper knowledge of the subject going into the test.

 

Assess your performance. If you are staying ahead of the class, completing your assignments and reading on time, and participating and engaging in the class, you should always have a pretty good idea of your progress in understanding the subject. It never hurts to get an outside opinion, though, and the most important opinion is probably that of your professor. Check in during office hours after the first few assignments and ask your professor how they would judge your progress. If they identify some areas you need to work on, ask for some advice or outside resources that might help you. Again, your professor would love to give you an A, and showing them you are serious about their class and that you want to do well will often pay off.

What if you have been trying your best but are approaching the final few weeks a bit short of your A grade? This is where speaking with your professor is important. Share your commitment to mastering the class and ask if there is any extra work you might complete to strengthen your final grade. Be realistic, however, and don't take on extra work you don't have time to complete.

 

And what if after all your hard work your final grade is not an A? Again, get an assessment from your professor. Find out where you fell short. Use the experience to tailor your approach to your next class, and commit to getting an A in it.

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