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4 Steps to Getting Better Grades, Living Happier

November 5, 2009

by Kevin Burke
4 Steps to Getting Better Grades, Living Happier

It's the middle of the semester; everyone's done with their first round of midterms and getting ready for the second and the final push into final exams. Are you satisfied with the grades you've been getting? As the weather gets colder and that motivation you had slips slowly into laziness, here are some tips to up your marks in the next six weeks.

1. Drop your least rewarding activity. Employers don't really care that you are involved with seven different clubs. Pick the one or two activities you care most about and drop everything else. This will leave you less stressed and more able to focus on your classwork, the activities that you are involved in, going to office hours, and applying for scholarships/summer programs/jobs. Your education costs CMC about $80,000 per year, which implies that your time is worth around $18 per waking hour. So guard your free time very carefully; don't sign up for things just because you feel you need to get more "involved."

2. Don't conflate "time spent working" and "output." Nothing's worse than a three-hour session at the library which turns into three hour-long sessions of Facebook, Wikipedia, and gossiping. Cut down on the amount of time you spend doing classwork, and increase the amount of time you spend sleeping and socializing, by focusing intently on the work at hand. At first try going for 5 minutes without breaking your flow; if that's easy, bump it up to ten minutes, then fifteen and so on until you can work for an hour or more without breaking concentration. Don't work with friends, or in loud places where you're likely to be distracted; instead get your work done faster and then be the life of the party. When you read, trace your finger on the page so you don't read the same passage over and over again. My favorite software application is Freedom, which disables the internet on my laptop for a specified period of time.

3. Get organized. Make a three hole punch and a stapler your best friends; sort all of your coursework into folders for Notes, Homework/Problem Sets, Handouts, Tests/Essays or other appropriate categories. When the final exam rolls around, you'll be grateful for the opportunity to review everything. Make sure you have some method of capturing assignment due dates and appointments when you hear about them, so that you don't miss any important commitments. This could be a planner, the Notes app on your phone, or Google Calendar -- the important thing is that it's always handy so nothing slips through the net.

4. Evaluate your process. Is there something that the A students are doing that you're not? Are your class notes actually useful to you later, or do you find that what you've written down isn't helpful? If the teacher discusses something that you don't understand, ask a question immediately, go to office hours or bug other students until you understand it. If you're getting B's or C's on written work, outline essays before you start writing, so you don't get writer's block, and go to the Writing Center to get your work edited.

I'm not sure that good students are any "smarter" than others. They get good grades through good habits, and by spending more time on their coursework than others. Part of your job as a student is to develop your ability to manage your time, and to become reliable. Do it to it!

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