Introduction: How to Get Good Grades
Improving your grades requires three things: Your teacher's good will, your work, and good timing. Okay, just the first two.
During this instructable I will teach you how get on your teacher's good side and stay there. I'll teach you how to choose courses you are most likely to get good grades in, what NOT to do, and why this instructable will work for you. I'll also dispell some myths about good grades. In short, I'll tell you how to raise your GPA.
Just for the sake of experiential evidence, I was one of 17 valedictorians from my high school and I've been a consistent Dean's Lister in college. I have also interviewed a few of my friends that teach and their comments coincide with what I have learned through trial and error. You can now benefit from our decades of experience and increase your GPA.
As this isn't an exact science I can't guarantee that you will get all A's from following these steps. Anyone who claims he can guarantee all A's for you is selling something. Instead, I guarantee that if you follow these steps, you will see a marked improvement in your scores. How much of an improvement largely depends on how many of these techniques you have already been using and how consistently you employ these techniques. I believe this advice is well researched and upheld by common sense. I hope by the time you are finished reading this instructable, you'll agree.
The following steps are not strictly in sequential order, nor should you think of them as such.
**One disclaimer of importance**
This self-help instructable is written from my perspective and my experience. Someone of drastically different personalty type or circumstances might find that what worked best for me will not work best for them. Such is life.
**A disclaimer of not so much importance**
I've tried to write this with a bit of humor, in a conversational tone. I've also simplified my pronoun use to avoid cumbersome he/she references. Any comments to improve the tone and message would be greatly appreciated.
Step 1: Get a Feel for Things
The first day of class is crucial! First impressions really are important! Show up late on the first day and you may have to work hard to reverse the bad vibes a teacher has for you. Vice Versa, give a great first impression and it will take a lot of bad behavior for most teachers to turn on you. If you think your first day of class doesn't affect your final grade, you're either 1) dead wrong or 2) you're so smart, you don't need this instructable.
Step 2: Why Your Teacher Is Your Best Friend
Your teacher determines your grade, not you, nor your neighbor, nor the teacher's assistant. So, your teacher is either your best friend when it comes to grades, or your worst enemy. I'd like to show you how to make them your friend. Even if all your tests are standardized and graded by machine, your teacher's handwriting in his or her little grade book is the final word on your grade. Your teacher is the end of the grading road.
Just like a judge and jury, you need to sway your teacher in your favor. Even if you are Einstein, a teacher that hates you will give you poor grades. (Einstein flunked out of middle school. Too bad he didn't have this instructable....) On the other hand, how well the teacher likes you will determine how much mercy they feel for you, how much makeup work they will give you, and how much you can persuade them in your favor. Follow the two steps below to find a friend in every teacher.
1) Make sure your teacher can put your name with your face. The professor sees a minimum of 90 unique faces a day, an average of 150, and as many as 500. If you're an anonymous face amongst the masses, you'll never get on her good side. They have to know your name to like you or hate you.
2) Ask questions. This is a compliment to your teacher, and will definitely affect her feelings about you. Asking a question allows the teacher to express her expertise by looking knowledgeable in front of the class, strokes her ego a bit, emphasizes that you want to learn, and strengthens a name/face relationship with the teacher. Remember: Asking questions is key. Just make sure the question is asked respectfully (e.g. at an appropriate time in the lecture, when the teacher asks for questions, or after raising your hand and waiting to be recognized.)
Step 3: Your Teacher's Personality Means Work for You
What type of personality your teacher has will determine how hard you will have to work to get a good grade. Try to surmise as soon as possible what their personality is. For this instructable, I lump all teachers into three basic categories: Hippies , By-the-Bookers , and In-Betweeners.
Hippies are easy to spot. They generally are very relaxed about deadlines, content, quality, tardiness, absences . . it would be easier to list what they DO feel strongly about: A good sob story . . . and politics. Generally you don't work as hard in these classes and you consequently don't learn as much in them. But they're easy. And should you ever get in a pinch, just:
1) Explain your situation to your easy going teach and she'll help you out. Hippies are good like that.
By-the-Bookers usually show up exactly on time. A rare few 'Bookers masquerade as Hippies by talking "cool" and "relaxed", but they'll give themselves away the first time someone's late and they overreact to it. Classes taught by 'Bookers will require more work from you, but you'll usually learn more. Be careful, though; whatever class policies the teacher has, she WILL STICK TO.
The best thing to do in a strict teacher's class is to:
1) Never be late. And always let her know ahead of time when you'll be absent.
2) ALWAYS turn your work on time. Let me repeat; ALWAYS turn your work in on time. A common trait of 'Bookers is the habit of dropping your scores 10 points for every day your work is late. Much better to turn in a B+ paper on the day of than a perfect paper a day late. Oh, and ask questions about anything that might possibly interest you. All that still won't be enough to save you from a strict teacher if you have bad work. So no lie, you will have to work hard, and double check your work.
It's a lot like the real world, where people get mad if you make the right kind of burger only 97% of the time--because that 3% that got the wrong burger didn't ORDER mustard on it. So it's good training for real jobs.
3) If you get in a pinch, admit openly and quickly that it's a problem and that you'll have to deal with the consequences. This won't increase your grade any at this point, but it will please 'Bookers. They expect everyone to deal with their own consequences. A sob story is the wrong way to go here. You might mention briefly the cause of your problem, but that's it. Tears will do you no good whatsoever, and will in fact annoy a 'Booker. You're an adult for Pete's sake (is their thinking).
The In-Betweeners: Most teachers are in this category--you'll learn as much as you want to, have to do a little bit of work, and can influence your grades a little. Every 'Tweener has the potential to turn to a Hippie or 'Booker depending on how much you've annoyed or befriended her. The teachers I've counted as friends were all 'Tweeners that truly cared about us as people (and you could tell). So do some of the things you'd do for a 'Booker:
1) Try not to be late,
2) Turn your stuff in on time, and
3) Ask questions.
Also, ask questions about the teacher's background. Get to know her a bit. If you get in a pinch and you're on her good side,
4) Explain your situation to them and she'll usually help you out. Do not do this more than a couple times or she may think you're trying to take advantage of her good will and quickly turn into a vengeful 'Booker. Why? Because she feels you're lying to her and not respecting her time and energy in class.
Step 4: Teacher's Pet Peeves
Every person has little things that annoy them. I don't like getting a haircut. So I get it cut as short as I think looks OK and let it grow until I can stand the tangled mess no longer. Your teacher has pet peeves, too. You'll want to avoid causing pet peeves for your teachers, but how do you find out what their pet peeves are? This is usually incredibly simple. Most teachers will tell you, in order, on the first day of class what their pet peeves are. Most students just simply don't listen. All you have to do is write down the pet peeves and remember them. That way you can allocate your time most effectively to fit each teacher's needs.
For example, I once had a professor that would give any homework assignment an A as long as it was turned in on time. Not 10 minutes late. Not 30 seconds late. Do that, and it could be genius work, but you'd get a B. I turned in a lot of so-so work on time that got me an A. I also had a professor that didn't care when I turned something in as long as it was good. So I took my time and turned in good work when it was done, and not before. She would berate other students for turning in shoddy work on time. When she'd ask of my progress on due day, I'd just tell her I was working on it and what problems I was having with it and she'd be satisfied. Avoid your professors' pet peeves and you'll make life easier for you and make your professors a little happier.
Also, if there are any things that you notice they really like, try to meet that need. For example, on American Idol, Simon always rates pretty brunettes in slightly revealing clothing better, though the singing does have to be competent, and has begun to take personality into account this year. Paula judges mostly on personality, and Randy, a mix of personality, clothing and singing. Kelly Clarkeson was a shoe-in. If you're a guy, or not a pretty brunette willing to wear a skimpy dress, singing is crucial, and personality is important. Be cool, be relaxed and talk to the judges like you'd talk to a good acquaintance. Anyone whose had a job in sales should be fine on the personality front. And that's all I'm going to say about this analogy.
Step 5: Don't Be a Sycophant
By this point, some readers will have decided I am teaching them how to be a suck-up.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
I am teaching that teachers are human, they feel emotion, and if they get to know you they will help you in your academic goals. I am asking you, dear reader, to step out of your shell a little bit and get to know this person, your teacher. Your teacher has to deal with dozens of disinterested people every day, some hateful people, mortgages and bills, school and office politics to deal with, gossip from the student body, medical and marriage problems, and all the challenges anyone faces.
Teachers LOVE teaching, though. When can they truly teach? Teachers can teach only when they have students that want to learn. Any other time, they're just lecturing to an apathetic crowd. Do your teacher a favor and become a student that wants to learn. If you do her small acts of service by asking questions and paying attention she will reciprocate with small acts of service of her own (an opportunity to make up work, for example). By helping each other get through the day, you will both be happier for your efforts. You end up with better grades, and your teacher ends up with a good feeling because she has truly taught someone that day. That's a win-win situation!
Step 6: The Class You're in Affects Your Grade
1) Sign up for classes you like. It's a simple fact that if you're interested in a subject, your learning will be faster, easier, and more enjoyable. So never sign up for some easy elective that doesn't interest you if you have a harder, interesting alternative available! Your interest in the subject will make a harder class seem easier and the work won't be all drudgery. Plus, when you're done, you'll have learned something you WANTED to know in the first place! The alternative is practically never ending boredom. Who goes to school to be bored? Who wants a boring job? Start now by making a habit of pursuing challenging, interesting work and you'll end up choosing a challenging, interesting career. You'll surely enjoy such a job (and get paid more) than someone in a boring but easy job.
2) If stuck in a boring class, change your perspective. Sometimes you have no alternative but to take a class with subject matter you find boring. In this case, keep an eye open for how such a class could help you in your long-term goals. Taking geometry? Can't think how you'd ever use it in "real life"? Please don't think this way. I've had plenty of classmates that complained about a subject every time they entered the classroom. Consequently, they trained themselves to think that the class was pointless, boring, and useless. Do something different than those pessimists. When in geometry class, I thought about how some of the equations might be used in video games I played, and geometry suddenly became very interesting to me. In an art history class, I thought about how the class would help me understand some of the artists I'd work with in my career, and paying attention was far easier. Do the same. Find a way to look at the class that DOES interest you. If you can't think of a way to make the class a little more interesting, you're probably keeping your mind closed to that possibility. In that case, open your mind and have a more enjoyable class, learn faster, and get better grades!
3) Stay away from 'Bookers in boring classes. Sometimes we're all close-minded. And that's okay. If you were completely open-minded, you might drop all the good you've learned and let in all the bad. So sometimes you might be stuck in a class you hate, and you won't change your mind about it. If you have a Hippie professor, you'll still be alright. A 'Tweener prof. might require some drudgery from you to get through the class. The deadliest combination, though, is deadbeat class with a 'Booker prof. You should be able to ascertain on the first day if the teacher is a 'Booker by the tardiness response. In such a situation you're guaranteed lower grades unless you work yourself silly. So transfer to a different teacher. Or take the class a different semester when you might be able to get a better teacher. If you can't take the class a different semester, can't transfer to a different teacher, or aren't willing to work your little hiney off, expect lower grades.
Step 7: Transfer Techniques
There are several techniques you can use to get into the class you need at the time you need.
1) Wrestle the Red Tape. Say you want to get into a particular class, ("I want to get into a particular class") but it's already full. Every school has a procedure to allow overflow students (this means you) into the class. At my school, students must ask the professor (preferably in person, works best with a Hippie) and then fill out a form. The first time I visited the registrar's office, I grabbed twelve copies of every form I could get my hands on, just in case. This is the easiest method to get into a class you couldn't register for normally.
2) Show Up Uninvited. Signed up for a class during a time that's not convenient for you? Show up to the class that would be convenient on the first day. Before the professor arrives, make a public anouncement to the effect of, "Excuse me, I'm signed up for this class at a different time, but I work full time (or whatever your situation is) and I really need to attend this time period. Will someone please switch with me?" Then wait silently. Usually someone will offer to switch. If not, mention that you'll pay someone $10 to switch classes. If no one answers, raise the stakes. You can go as high as $50, but I wouldn't go any higher. Actually, I've never had to give money to anyone. Simply offering the money shows you're really serious, and prompts someone to offer to switch.
3) Beat the Bureaucrat with Kindness. The third method to take a class you're not normally allowed to take (like World History II before World History I) involves getting the bureaucracy to make an exception for you. Ask any school authority that you're friends with to go to bat for you. Ask them to contact the authority that could make it happen. I've asked my academic advisor, my scholarship advisor, the ombudsman, and my Visual Effects major advisor for such help.
In my case, my school required me to take a life drawing class, drawing naked people that I am not married to. That is completely incompatible with my religious beliefs, so I went to the administration and persisted, and instead took a much harder class, "Drawing for Sequential Art". As long as you do everything very politely and continue persisting, this method will almost always work. Unless the red tape is just too strong to cut through . . .
4) Change Your Major. Sometimes there's some system policy that's so rooted and so tied up in red tape you can't get around it no matter who you've talked to or how many people you've asked for help. In such a case, it's time to call in the bigwigs. I'm speaking of your department chair. She can do some major miracles, but is most likely a very busy person, so you only want to go to her after you've exhausted all other options. When you visit, mention that you've already talked to everyone else, concisely state your problem, and offer at least three possible solutions to the problem. This prompts your chair to start thinking about possible solutions . . . and usually gets the problem solved, though not immediately. If even this fails, you might try to get a meeting with the college board or college president and repeat the same information to them.
At SCAD (the college I attended) I was constantly having problems registering for the classes I needed at the times I needed. I worked full-time, had a wife and kids, and was a full-time student. Scheduling classes was a major challenge. My problem was finally solved when the department reorganized the course work for my major and eliminated many prerequisites, drastically decreasing demand on the classes I needed to get into. If I had contacted the department chair with three possible solutions to my problem, I'm sure she could have solved it with an exception in this manner. I didn't think of contacting her about my situation, but you can learn from my hard knocks.
Step 8: Memory Aids
Based on a comment I received, I added some studying techniques or habits that might be useful. I'll divide them into two groups: memory aids, and study aids.
These are techniques that help one to memorize a long speech, an odd pattern, or your password.
1) Use Mnemonics or Sentence Compression. Utfliewoasaanl26ate. <--This is a complete sentence. Well, it's the first letter of each word in the sentence, and a number. It stands for "Use the first letter in every word of a sentence and add a number like 26 at the end." This is a GREAT way to create a difficult to decrypt password or memorize a paragraph word for word. Really. What you do is write out the compressed sentence on a card and use that to memorize from. You could memorize the Gettysburg Address in no time using this technique. This also works for an odd pattern that you need to memorize; ROY G. BIV is an example of this. You might recognize it as the pattern of colors in a rainbow.
2) Act Like a Crazy Person. When you're memorizing, talk to yourself out loud. Repeat the phrase loudly, not quietly. I don't recommend you do this in the subway, however. This technique uses several of your senses at once. The more senses you involve in the memorization process, the better your "total recall" will be come test time. Isn't the combinative nature of neural networks neat?
3) Cling Tenaciously to Additive Memorizing. All this means is to memorize the first sentence, then memorize the first and second sentences, then the first through the third, etc. Slowly add a little bit to the end of what you are memorizing, and each time you repeat your paragraph, start over from the beginning. This type of memorization helps you keep the whole piece in order and helps each sentence flow to the next. When you finish memorizing, the first few sentences will come out without even thinking about it. You will have trained your mouth to say the words. Come test time, you'll be mouthing the words as you write them rapidly down.
**Additionally, as eimat sugested,
"Try it the opposite way: memorize the last sentence (of, let's say, a soliloquy) then the second-to-last and last sentence, etc. working backward. That way, you're working toward the material you're most comfortable with.
Picked this up in a drama class, but I'm sure that it applies to other subjects, like politics, history, etc."
I think this is a great idea!
4) Make a Little Song. Pick a tune you like and put the paragraph to memorize in place of the original lyrics. Personally, I don't use this technique much, but if are constantly singing along with your radio, you may find this method simply *awesome*.
5) Opposites Do NOT Attract. This technique will help you keep things that are opposite straight, so that come test time, those tricky True False questions don't sting you. If you are memorizing a pair of opposite facts like, "Zebras have stripes, horses are brown," only memorize one half of the pair. This is especially important if you are cramming right before a test. If you memorize "Zebras have stripes" you won't be caught by any "Horses have stripes" trickery.
6) Combine Techniques. These techniques are powerful individually, but by their powers combined, your memorizing rapidly improves. At my job I regularly have to adjust projectors using a lightmeter, and some obtuse opposite commands on the projector adjustment menu. To remember which adjustments to use I repeat to myself the compressed phrase "DDC." This stands for Day, Drive, Contrast. That means when the projector is set for a Daytime scene, I only adjust the Drive and Contrast of the projector. When set for Night, I adjust the opposite settings, which happen to be G2 and Brightness. This combines Sentence Compression and Opposites Do NOT Attract.
7) Strive for Perfection. A really interesting thing about the way our brains make neural connections is this: if you never accept a mistake, you'll only know the right way to do something. If you always follow the same path to the outhouse, you can find it in the dark. So when you're memorizing, when you make a mistake, start over from the beginning. This will prevent that mistake from getting stuck in your mind. It may seem like a slower way to learn things, but over the long haul, this is actually a much faster way to learn. You will be building perfection upon perfection instead of mediocrity upon mediocrity. In the end your skills will be at a much higher level than someone who settles for less from themselves. Now don't take this to mean you gotta be a perfect person or something. But if you use this method for learning a skill, you will become skillful.
8) Take Notes. Another modality to get you involved in memorization is your sense of touch and muscle memory. So write down the important parts. I constantly take notes and then throw them away. Just the act of taking notes helps me remember.
Step 9: Study Aids
These are tips and techniques that can improve the quality of your studying over the long term.
1) Relax. It's almost impossible to study effectively if you are stressed. Try think only about the process of studying, when you are studying. A quiet area to study is a good thing. Preferably this will be the same place you study every time. You might listen to a little relaxing music for a couple minutes before you start (just getting into a relazed groove), but do not play music in the background as you study. This makes memorizing much harder and slows down your thinking as your brain tries to interpret everything at once. So, do yourself a favor, and relax. Oh, and try to study in a place with a mild (not strong), pleasant smell.
2) Become a Marathoner. Humans are creatures of habit. Habits are what allow us to reuse solutions to problems we've already figured out, saving us valuable time and energy. We can also get stuck in bad habits, that consistently cause us problems. Making studying a habit is a good thing. You want to train your mind and your body to study like a marathoner trains her body to run. If you put forth a little effort to make as many aspects about your study time as consistent as possible, your body will begin to respond better every time you study. When you enter your study nook, you'll start to feel your body relax, the smell of your study room will awaken your brain, and soon you'll be "in the zone." If you can't study at the same time each day (I never could due to work schedules), make everything else the same, the same smell, the same relaxation ritual, the same length of study time.
3) Sleep Well. An essential for peak mental performance is adequate and regular rest. I didn't learn this principle for many years. I've been a nighthawk by nature, definitely NOT a morning person. I stayed up all hours of night and got up whenever. When I finally decided I wanted to get up early in the morning to exercise, I started going to bed at a regular time. After two weeks of that regular sleep, my work was better, I felt much more energetic, I awoke easier; I had become a morning person (imagine my shock)! An added bonus of getting up earlier is that I get an amazing amount of things done in those early quiet hours. A surprising number of millionaires are early risers as well. Maybe there is something to that "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
4) Develop a Photographic Memory. Have you heard of people with memories so great, they can just glance at a phone book page for a second and recall the whole thing in their mind's eye? That's called a photographic memory. Some people seem born with this amazing gift. But I believe you can develop one. My wife once heard that if you memorize a scripture a day (about the length of a short paragraph or poem) for a year, you'll develop a photographic memory. So she started memorizing a scripture a day. She only did it for six months, and she has the most amazing memory for numbers I've ever seen. I don't even look up a phone number if she's around; I just ask her. I am positive that if she'd kept going for a year, she would have developed a photographic memory. There's some pretty fruity stuff on the web if you google "develop photographic memory", but I can only vouch for my wife's experience. I am not really that interested in developing a photographic memory at this point, but if it seems like a great idea to you, try it! If you use all the techniques for memorizing, you won't need a photographic memory, though. You'll be just fine.
Step 10: Adding It All Up
So now that you know how to spot and identify your teacher's personality type, serve her a little by asking questions, avoid her pet peeves, take classes you like, memorize like a crazy person, and develop a photographic memory, you'll be well on your way to making good grades. I emphasize again that when you are getting to know your teachers, you must not be fake in any way. These people were all your age once, they all have things that interest them, and they could potentially be a great friend.
Treating them as a potential friend will almost invariably make them a friend, and who has too many friends in this world? So spread goodwill, get good grades, and tackle that awesome job you want.
You can do it!
I hope you find the techniques in this instructable rewarding.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.