Looking to improve your grades to the next level? Here are the five best tips we know.
In the immortal words of every relative you’ve ever encountered at a family gathering, “How’s school?”
If the honest answer to that question bums you out, know those feelings of disappointment can actually be a good thing. A Concordia University study found that students who experience bouts of negative emotions throughout their undergrad—like stress or frustration over their academics—end up getting better marks than those who are consistently happy or unhappy. The defeat you’re feeling now is the proven best motivator for you to improve your grades before the semester ends! Science literally says so.
Whether you’re trying to bump your B to an A or narrowly avoid academic probation, here’s a guide every student can follow to raise their GPA.
1. Figure out what you’re doing wrong.
Some cases are open and shut. Are you…
→ Going to class regularly?
→ Handing in assignments on time?
→ Trying your best?
If you said “no” to any of the above, that’s where you can start improving. Go through the course syllabus and pinpoint which lessons you grasped and which were lost on you. Still don’t know what you don’t know? Find a friend and compare their A paper to yours. See any differences?
Sometimes the issue is merely an oversight on your part. In one of my liberal electives, for example, I had to do weekly critical reflections. I got 3 out of 4 on the first few and, even though I thought I deserved higher than 75%, didn’t want to make a fuss. It was just one mark, after all. Midway through the semester, I struck up a conversation with a TA while waiting for class to start. When I told her my name, she said, “Your reflections are good, but you always forget to add page numbers!” Turns out, I had been making a stupid in-text citation mistake all along. After making that minor adjustment, I went up an entire letter grade in the course.
If you’re genuinely putting in the effort and not reaping rewards, though, something else might be up. It’s time to visit the gatekeeper of your grade: your professor.
2. Recruit your teacher’s help.
How oh how could a philosophy PHD possibly help you with your essay on Plato’s Symposium? Believe it or not, most of your professors want (or are at the very least, are contractually obligated) to assist you. In fact, they spend hours with their office doors wide open every week, waiting for students like you to drop in with questions and concerns. Okay, maybe more ‘metaphorically open’ in 2020 but you get the idea. Office hours are the lifesaver so many drowning students don’t reach for. Grab onto it!
Look through your assignments together, dissect the lecture material and get feedback on your plans for upcoming projects. If you don’t think you can implement their advice yourself, ask if they think you’d benefit from tutoring. (They might even be able to connect you with a former student who can serve as a mentor!)
? HOT TIP: If your teacher happens to be a total jerk you can’t work with, get in touch with another professor or instructor in the department. They probably aren’t the only one teaching that subject or even that exact course. Search your university or college’s program directory and find someone else with the same expertise and seek them out.
3. Make use of your school’s academic supports.
Nearly every post-secondary school offers Student Learning Support: a group of services and programs dedicated to helping students engage more effectively in their studies. They usually arrange academic accommodations for students with disabilities, work with ESL students to improve their communication skills and facilitate the scheduling of make-up tests/exams. Sound familiar? Many don’t realize these initiatives also often include math and writing support where anyone can go for one-on-one tutoring or to simply have an essay proofread. Hmmm, those sound suspiciously like the kind of things that would immediately help you improve your grades.
If you’re not taking advantage of these free opportunities to better engage with your coursework, improve your learning skills and remove barriers that might be getting in your way to improve your grades, you’re honestly just playing yourself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
4. Take better notes.
There are a million and one different ways to take notes during class. Find the method that works best for you! Some experts and our very own bloggers insist handwritten notes are the way to go. Others find it most helpful to make them with friends in mind, reasoning that breaking down concepts for others helps us retain the information better ourselves. (Find our full guide to A+ notetaking here.)
If you still can’t muster any motivation during that gruesome Monday morning lecture of yours, kick yourself in the ass by becoming an official note-taker in your course. Many schools need volunteers to share their notes with classmates who may need assistance completing theirs for disability-related reasons. It’s a win-win—helping yourself and others!
5. Become a grade grubber. Apologize to no one.
If you’ve come this far, it’s time to adopt the mentality that every mark counts. Do the damn discussion post worth 1/100 of your grade and actually go to the seminar where attendance is taken even though only, like, four other students show up. When it comes to asking teachers to consider re-grading your assignment or rounding you up a letter level, put on your best smile and follow these steps:
What mark would you have given your essay? If you genuinely think you deserved better—even just slightly better—than what you were given, you can make a case for yourself.
Review the rubric.
See how you scored category by category and determine where the grader might’ve been a little harsh. Were you docked more than a couple points in the spelling and grammar section, but only made a few typos and errors? Note that and all other specific reasons you think you were underscored.
Unpack it with your professor.
During an office visit or over an email conversation, list out your areas of discrepancy and respectfully ask them to reevaluate you. Many will have you sit there quietly while they reread your work.
Brace for the worst.
Any good teacher will hear you out and sincerely consider your argument, but they don’t have to oblige. If they decide the grade you were given is accurate, don’t end the conversation before having them explain why. Ask them to classify an A paper from a B, and make sure your next assignment meets those standards.
REMEMBER: Being a good student includes seeking help and re-evaluating yourself from time to time. Surrendering to the broken system that values us from 0 to 4.0 sucks, but is an unavoidable part of student life.
Follow the aforementioned steps and, hopefully, when Aunt Brenda asks “How’s school?” during the next holiday, you can say “good” and actually mean it.
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.