5 simple ways to improve your grades that one one tells you about
Getting better grades at university doesn’t always require you to dramatically change your approach. Generally, what you are doing may not be enough to get those extra 5, 10 or 20 marks you are after.
By regularly taking some small steps in a few key areas, you will be able to improve not only your grades but also your ability to learn! The best part is that these actions will not take up a lot of your time. Anyone can tell you to spend 100 hours a week studying and you’ll do well; the key is not time management, but effective time management – being able to spend your time studying wisely.
These actions are intended to improve your current standard of grades, whether you are achieving a distinction average or struggling to pass. There is always room for improvement. If you add just these five actions to your regular study routine you’ll be able to improve your memory, learning skills, grades and ultimately your university experience.
1 – Read the subject outline
You know that sheet of paper you usually get at the start of each subject? Its kinda important. The subject outline tells you not only what content you will cover but importantly it tells you the breakdown of the marks between tests, assignments, exams and even attendance sometimes! Knowing the breakdown of marks ensures your’ll never find yourself in the position of being unable to get the mark you deserve for a subject.
In the first week of the semester, as soon as the lecturer hands out this sheet to you, highlight the assessments and the marks allocated to them. Make sure you are aware of the due dates of all the assessments – if they aren’t listed, ask your lecturer immediately!
Now that you know the breakdown of marks for each subject, make sure you..
2 – Make every single mark count
If you want to struggle, by all means ignore this piece of advice – you think you can still do well even though you didn’t study for that test or didn’t bother answering those tutorial questions for submission.
Every. Mark. Counts.
Seriously, it does. Attendance, tests, assignments, laboratories and exams are all allocated marks differently depending on the subject and lecturer. You should be aware of what marks are allocated to each assessment. No excuses!
As you receive your marks throughout the semester, for tests and assignments or whatever else, write them down on the front page of your lecture notes. Keep track of your progress – this will help keep you motivated by letting yourself know that you can’t afford a slip up if you want to get that High Distinction. When you get to the exam (or final assessment) for the subject you will know exactly how many marks you require to get your desired grade.
If you need to get 85% in your exam to get your desired mark, don’t you think you will be more motivated to study and do well in the exam?
This can also help to reduce stress – say for one of your subjects the exam is worth 60 % and two assignments are worth 20 % each. You manage to get 95 % in both assignments, resulting in you currently standing on 38 / 40. To get a High Distinction, you only need to get 42 or 47 marks (depending if your university’s High Distinction is 80 or 85) which equates to 70 % or 78.3 % in your exam. This gives you a little breathing room, particularly if you are stuck with a question in the exam.
3 – Read your lecture notes again later on in the same day
If I asked you what content you covered in yesterday’s lecture, 95% would reply “umm…”
One of the biggest improvements I made with my studies was to spend some time going back over my lecture notes and ensure I understood the concepts explained. I would try to ‘teach myself’ and explain the concepts as clearly as possible. Try explaining it to one of your class mates and see if they understand or agree – when you know you have to teach or explain something to another person, you actually learn more! Check out this link for some findings research into this.
The amount of time it takes to read over your lecture notes each week would be 20 minutes at a stretch, yet no one is prepared to actually do it. To put this into perspective, let’s say you are doing four subjects each semester. If you spend 15 minutes for each subject every week to read over your lecture notes it would amount to an extra hour per week of study! Add in another 15 minutes to explain the concepts to another student and you have ‘accidentally’ studied for an extra two hours per week.
You can do this when you have a break between classes, on the bus (or train) ride home. Even while you are working (if your boss allows you). Find the time to do this and you will notice yourself learning and understanding concepts with ease!
4 – Start looking at past exams as early as possible
This is one of my sneaky little tricks that at least 98 % of the students at university don’t do. It helped me study more effectively than anyone else in my year and reduced my last minute stress of running around asking lecturer’s how to solve a question before the exam.
A week before the semester starts, I would log on to the university’s library website to download all the past exams for each of my subjects and print them out. Then, after each lecture and tutorial session I would look through each question and see if any of them made sense or I could complete them. You will find that you probably won’t understand how to do any of them until at least the fourth week into classes.
You should have compiled the solutions to all the questions by the last week of classes. Now you can spend your study time before exams to practice under a time limit and spend more time tackling tricky tutorial questions. Another benefit to completing these during your term is that your lecturer’s are available more often! Spend 10 minutes a week to ask them to check your solution or help you solve a particular issue with a question you have.
By doing the past exams you get an understanding of the nature of the questions to be asked and it will free up your time before exams to ensure you understand the content that was taught so you can solve any question that may arise.
5 – Setting a weekly plan
I left this last tip last for those who are actually committed to learning and improving your grades. It’s also simple to implement. By setting a weekly plan you can identify what you want to accomplish, what tasks you must complete (assignments, tests, etc.) and any other commitments you need to keep.
It’s important to be realistic – I remember a fellow classmate who’s weekly plan involved going to class, then to gym three times a week, sleeping (of course) and the remaining time studying. I looked at his plan, laughed and then asked him how well he was following it. He wasn’t.
Another problem was that his plan didn’t take into account the variety of commitments and tasks due each week. As a general rule, I don’t plan much further than two weeks into the future. The second week is usually left blank unless there is something I know that I must do, such as complete an assignment over three days so I have it ready two days before it is due.
To get you started, set out a plan for each day of the week with the hours of each day so you can roughly schedule your days. Spend 10 minutes on Sunday night and follow these steps:
- Fill in the times where you are attending classes (I shouldn’t have to remind you to attend every class).
- If you have a test or assignment due, make a note of it in your plan (preferably highlight it so you don’t overlook it).
- Set aside some time to relax, go out with your friends, play a sport, go to the gym, whatever! This is vital to ensure that you do not dread the coming week and it makes your plan far more realistic – if you know you are going to the movies on Tuesday night, make sure you get your study completed by 6pm so you can enjoy yourself!
- Think about what you want to achieve with your studying this week. Prioritising what must be completed first is crucial to effective time management. Write out a short list of the various tasks you must accomplish this week.
- Start to fill in the times you will spend studying. Will you finish that assignment? How long will it take? Will you do it in a single sitting or spread out over two or three days? Revise your lecture notes for 15 minutes every day? Write it all down where you can.
- Check that your plan is realistic and achievable. Take into account travelling to and from university, getting that early morning / late night coffee and even staring into space for 10 minutes!
- If you have anything else you need to accomplish but don’t have the time for, set it aside for next week. Don’t let this list pile up though, as it will stress you out in the long run. No one wants to see a list of 54 tasks to achieve in the next two weeks!
Five simple actions you can take right now to begin improving your grades! Get yourself into the habit now so you can enjoy your holidays knowing you did your best and avoid summer school or other supplementary exams!
Have you implemented these five simple actions? Leave a comment below to tell us how it improved your studying.