How to Get Good Grades in College

written by Marie January 9, 2020

Marie-Philippe in front of the computer

For a very long time, I did not have good grades at school. I suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD), so I always struggled to get good grades until a couple of years ago. These academic difficulties are what helped me become a good student today. I was fortunate to be surrounded by very competent people during elementary school and high school, which encouraged me to stay organized. Subsequently, I became more and more organized until today, where I am very regularly told so by my teachers whenever they see my study system!

In my opinion, being organized is what allows me to get good grades today. I will always remember how I once failed a high school math exam. And as I write these lines, I am now studying engineering, and I got 100% on my midterm math exam! It’s crazy, how much I improved, right?

If you’re in the same position today, as I was a few years ago, know that I believe in you and that anything is possible with a lot of effort! All of the tips that I am giving you today involve getting over the fear of asking questions. If you struggle with that, it is important to get over it so you can get better grades. It’s critical!

Tips to get good grades in university

  • Do the exercises given in class each week

In some classes like maths and physics, teachers give us suggested exercises every week. I do not always do them all because sometimes we’ll have up to 50 problems in a single week, but I complete them as much as I can.

I also write them on the cover of my notebook divided by the chapters. When I have completed an exercise, I highlight the corresponding number. If I tried to do the exercise in question and did not succeed, I put a question mark next to it, to remind myself that I’ve attempted to solve it but I did not succeed and that I will need to review it again later.

  • Write your questions on a post-it in your notebook

Have you ever had to go to a professor with questions but forgotten them as soon as you walk into his or her office? Or to have 4-5 questions to ask and forget one of them, and you realize once sitting at home!? It happened to me far too often. So over time, I created a system to avoid this!

I write each of my questions on a post-it, which I put on the page corresponding to the subject of my question. I write as much detail as possible on the post-it to be CERTAIN that I remember my question 100% when I go to see the teacher. Once in front of him or her, it can be scary to have 20 post-its in our notebook, but it’s perfectly fine. The teachers are rather impressed because I am ready to ask my questions and I do not waste time unnecessarily looking between the pages of my notebook.

  • Visit the professor every week to ask questions during his / her office hours

I go see my teachers almost every week to ask questions. For a very long time, I was very embarrassed to go into the corridors of the offices of my teachers. Sometimes I even saw my teachers from other classes while I was going to see another teacher, and there were a lot of scenarios in my head: “oh my god, he’s gonna really say that I’m spending my time go see the teachers and annoy everyone!”… But again,  this is perfectly fine.

If you want to get good grades, it’s important to get over your fear of asking questions during office hours.

I was also very scared at first, but recent experiences made me realize that, in fact, there are only positive outcomes of going to see a professor:

1- They are happy to help us understand 
I’m always surprised by how welcoming my professors are when I go ask questions. Even if it’s their job, I never feel like I’m disturbing them.

2- Going to see them regularly allows them to get to know us
I often request reference letters for scholarships from the professors that I regularly saw. Also, a teacher recently offered me a very interesting internship. I would not have those opportunities and good relationships if I had not been to see my teachers often.

3- Understand the material like never before
If we ask ourselves questions about the subject and we don’t go and get answers to these questions, there will remain areas of doubt in our minds, and it will show during an examination.  To have 90-100% in an exam, you have to really understand everything thoroughly and master all the material.

4- Have some clues of what will be on the exam
This one probably depends on the countries and the ways of teaching, as well as the teachers, but it’s not rare during my education that teachers gave me little clues like “it’s a good thing that you do this exercise, it will help you for the exam” or” make sure to do this exercise before the exam,” etc.

  • Send e-mails with questions to teachers if they accept e-mails

Unfortunately, some teachers do not answer questions by e-mail because they find it too complicated, but for the majority of the professors that I had, they answer questions by emails. I often ask the question at the beginning of the session to find out if I can send questions via email. When you do so, make sure to be very clear in order to get the appropriate answer and avoid wasting time.

I always put in the subject of the email the acronym of the course, as well as a little clue about the content of the email, such as “LOG515 – Questions Chapter 2”. Then, in the body of the message, I put a number next to my questions (if many) in bold followed by the actual question. I always include a photo of my math workbook for example if it’s an exercise I can’t finish or if the question is about a particular exercise that I tried to solve without success.

  • Go see a former teacher

Sometimes it does not click with our teacher. I had a physics teacher who did not answer my questions at all. I would ask a yes or no question, and he would find a way to go into an incomprehensible monologue. Or, I did not understand a particular calculation, and all he could do to help me was to restart the whole problem (the part I understood) to finally never get to the part where I struggled, stopping his explanations thinking he had already helped me enough…

When that happened, I was able to go to ask questions every week to a professor I had in physics the year before, as I understood his explanations very well. I have friends who will also see teachers they do not know but who teach the same subject, just to go see someone else with different ways of explaining concepts!

The way a teacher teaches may not be suitable for all students and this makes the success of a course much more difficult and painful. It can be very beneficial to go see someone else!

  • Make summaries of the material after each class

When I started doing summaries after every class, I noticed that it helped me tremendously in understanding the material. The investment of time is definitely worth it. It forces me to review the material and make sure I understand it well before writing it in the summary. I usually do these summaries after doing the suggested exercises on the subject, once I think I understand it. Sometimes, when I do not understand anything at all, I begin by trying to summarize with the objective of unraveling the overflow of information received.

Some courses lend themselves better than others when it comes to making summaries, as in mathematics, physics, and some software engineering courses. The courses that are less suitable in my opinion are those that have more than 100 theoretical slides per course.

Here are some examples of summaries that I did:

Using an iPad to make these summaries is awesome. I am using Notability and my Apple pencil. I do my summaries as I am working on problems, without fear of making mistakes as it’s easy to erase. The best part is that the summary always looks good (no erasing marks!) Also, making them on my iPad allows me to be able to access them from everywhere. Even years later, in other classes, I use these summaries to remind myself of the concepts for my studies today.

 

  • Use online resources

For mathematics and physics classes, I do not instinctively go to the internet for help. Still, there are a lot of resources online! These resources teach the same subject in different ways. It is an asset since we all have our own way of learning.

Here are some resources I like to use in mathematics:

Otherwise, just do some research on Google and YouTube to find good resources to help!

 

Conclusion

I hope that this article will have given you some tips to study more effectively. On the long term, hopefully, this will lead to better grades! Do you have any suggestions of online resources I could add to my list? Let me know in the comments!

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