Do You Want Good Grades in High School? Here’s How….

The transition to high school causes academic havoc for many students.  It’s hard to adapt to a new environment and get good grades when you’re given more independence in your assignments from teachers and are expected to learn more challenging subjects.

Keep reading and  I’ll go through the most important strategies that will help you to get good grades in high school and into college.

Simple Academic Survival Tactics

Let’s start with the basics of how to get good grades.  You need a strong foundation to start with.

Tactic #1: Read Directions and Rubrics Carefully

It’s always important to read the directions on every assignment.  If you don’t follow the directions, you won’t be able to get a good grade even if what you do would be considered great work on a different project.  If your teacher tells you to write a six-page essay, and you only write four, you will get points taken off even if you do an outstanding job.  Don’t sacrifice a good grade just because you were careless or chose to not read the instructions fully!

Sometimes when students misinterpret directions, they end up blaming the teacher rather than themselves for giving them a bad grade.  Even if you disagree with the way the assignment is structure, being stubborn about it probably won’t get you anywhere.  You should re-orient yourself on the expectations for the class so that you don’t give the teacher another chance to lower your grade on an assignments.  In these cases, you’re probably just dealing with a strict teacher who likes to stick to very specific guidelines for assignments.  Once you know what the exact standards are, you will be able to get good grades on a regular basis.

Tactic #2: Listen and Participate in Class

A trait (surprisingly enough) that is relatively consistent in people who get good grades is that they pay attention in class.  You may think that you can just daydream in class, study hard later and still pull off a good grade.  If school has always been easy for you, this might be true for awhile but it will catch up with you when you run into something that isn’t as easy to understand.

If you pay attention in class, you’ll almost certainly have to spend less time studying in the long run.  Why is this?  It’s because you’ve already absorbed a lot of the information you need to know just by being mentally engaged when your teacher is presenting.

You can even go a step farther and take some light notes in class to reinforce what you’re learning in a different way.  It’s good to get into this habit before college so that you don’t struggle with effective note taking in the larger lecture classes.  If you learn how to summarize the main points of a lesson now, it will be much easier for you to take notes later on when they’re even more critical.

Class participation is another big part of this.  Participation is important for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, it might actually be a part of your grade!  Many teachers will give a weight of ten percent or so to class participation in their assessment of students.  Even if it doesn’t count towards your grade, participating in class will help you to understand the material more thoroughly and let the teacher know that you care about the subject.

For some, class participation can be very difficult because I was shy and afraid that I would say the wrong thing.  If you have this issue, perhaps sitting as close to the front of the classroom as possible so that you feel like you’re just talking to the teacher and not addressing the whole class. Also, try not to overthink it! I can’t tell you how many times I had an answer in my head that I decided was dumb only to hear someone else say it a few seconds later.  Even if your answer was incorrect, you should view it as a learning opportunity that may help you to understand the material better.

Tactic #3: Ask for Help Sooner Rather Than Later

Often, the key to success is knowing when to ask for help and high school classes are no exception.  If you don’t understand a concept in one of your classes, don’t wait until you’ve completely bombed a test to get help.

As soon as you can, you should approach your teacher and ask if he or she would be willing to meet you after school or at lunch to go over it.  By doing this, you can avoid bad grades before they happen and build a positive relationship with your teacher.

Of course, all of this might be easier said than done.  It can be very hard to ask for help if your teacher is less friendly or if you’re a super shy person.  If you’re worried about approaching your teacher, I would recommend that you just say “(Teacher’s Name), I’m having some difficulty understanding this unit.  I was wondering if you might be able to talk through the main concepts with me after school at some point.  I’ll come up with a list of my questions of things I don’t understand.”

If you prepare a list of questions for your teacher, it will be easier for you to get the information you need and for your teacher to explain things in a way that will help you.  You should also remember that you should not be embarrassed to ask for help.  It’s really the smartest thing you can do if you’re struggling in a class, and it’s only going to hopefully result in better grades in the future.

Tactic #4: Don’t Rely on Your Family and Friends Too Much

Another way of saying this is “don’t cheat,” but sometimes what defines cheating can be nebulous.  If you and your friends help each other on a homework assignment, that’s probably fine depending on the distribution of work.  However, if you directly copy from another student’s work (even if they say it’s ok), it’s definitely a form of cheating even if the homework doesn’t count towards your grade.

You should avoid doing this in general and especially if you want to get good grades in the long term.  If you copy your friends’ homework assignments, you’re essentially sabotaging yourself.  I know it’s a cliche that you only hurt yourself by cheating, but, in this case, it’s true.  If you rely too heavily on the knowledge of others for small assignments, larger assignments like tests and papers will be even more difficult since you never learned the material for yourself.   Most of the time, this can mean lower grades in the long run.

Avoid letting your parents edit your papers extensively or do most of the work in figuring out homework problems.  They probably mean well, but it won’t do you much good if you’re not learning on your own terms.  Eventually, you’ll have to write an essay or solve math problems on a test, and you may fall short of your potential if you have no experience doing these things independently.

Study Strategies

Also important in how to get good grades is how you actually study. Here are our top study tips to raise your test scores.

Tactic #5: Always Do the Homework (Even If They Don’t Collect It!)

Most teachers in high school assign regular homework, although some may not check it or incorporate it directly into your grades.   I tell all my students at the initial consultation that they should be able to pull a “B” in the class if they JUST did the homework.  Some students view this as a free pass to not complete homework assignments.  This is never a good idea!  In subjects like math and science in particular, homework assignments are critical for full comprehension of the material.  Especially in math, your understanding of one unit of study is often a necessary foundation for your understanding of the next unit.  Knowledge builds on itself.

If you start skipping homework assignments, you may become confused when the teacher moves on to the next unit.  Ultimately, you can end up getting completely lost and doing poorly on assignments that are graded because you never exercised your mathematical muscles.

Doing homework assignments will help you mentally as well.  If you’re staying on top of things in a class, you will be more confident in your knowledge.  Homework assignments are a way of studying consistently over time.  If you do the homework, you may not have to study as much for tests because you’ll already have a solid background in what you need to know. You won’t be panicking before exams, and you’ll most likely get a better grade as a result.  We have tutors that can help with your math homework once a week or more.

Tactic #6: Know the Difference Between Reading It Over and “Understanding the Material”

If you want to get good grades, you have to learn how to study effectively.  This means that just reading over the material before a test won’t cut it unless you have a photographic memory.  You need to make sure that you’re actively absorbing the information, not just skimming it over and hoping it will stick in your brain.  Surface-level knowledge is not going to help you, especially when you’re dealing with open-ended essay questions on a test. You should be at a level where you can recall the facts without any hints or prompting.  

If you have review sheets to study before a test, I would recommend reading them in small, manageable sections. After you read each section carefully, you should look away from it and see if you can repeat the facts to yourself.  Don’t move on from a section until you’re able to do this.  Making notes on flash cards and using them to quiz yourself is a good strategy to help you study.

One thing that I’ve found very helpful in cases like this is to make up some sort of weird mnemonic (a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something).  It can be an acronym or just something memorable that has a random association with the information you need to know.  The more bizarre the memory device you come up with, the more likely you are to remember the facts.

After you’ve read everything over yourself and feel relatively confident, you can have someone else step in and quiz you on the information.  Get a parent, sibling or friend to ask you questions about the material.  To be sure that you have a full understanding of what you need to know, you should be able to answer questions about how different facts connect to each other rather than just regurgitating the facts themselves.  For example, if you’re studying for a history test, you might have someone ask you a question like “what were the main factors that led to World War I” that requires you to draw from a few different concrete facts to reach a separate conclusion.

Tactic #7: Study at a Steady Pace Between Tests, Don’t Cram

There is a certain glamour for some students in the late-night pre-test cram session.  However, sacrificing your sleep and sanity is not something that’s going to get you a better grade on the test (no matter how much better it seemed than planning ahead).

The best way to ensure that you don’t panic before a test (or on the test itself) is to make a habit of going over the material that you’ve learned regularly and not just when it gets down to test time.  You’ll retain it better, and you’ll get a good night’s sleep before the test to recharge your brain.

In the week before a big test, you can study for an hour or so every night rather than studying for five hours the night before.  As you build up your knowledge, you’ll also build up your confidence. On the night before the test, instead of trying to study every little detail that you need to know, you can do a overall review of the main concepts to make sure that you’re in good shape.

Strategies for Structuring Your Work

Tactic #8: Make Project Timelines (Don’t Procrastinate!)

If you want to get consistently high grades without suffering from excessive amounts of stress, you must overcome your procrastination habits if you have them.  On long term projects, it can be hard to manage your time effectively.  In the beginning, it may seem like you have forever to complete the assignment, but time will catch up with you before you know it.

If you do have this problem, I highly recommend planning out a timeline whenever you get a long-term assignment. If you have a project that’s due in a month, you can set aside the first week for brainstorming, make a rough outline of the project in the second week, flesh it out as much as possible in the third week, and spend the rest of your time perfecting it.  This is a vague timeline because it depends on the type of project you’re doing and what it involves, but you get the idea.

If you save the last week for polishing your work and fixing mistakes, you’ll end up with a final product that’s much better than one you started working on that week.  Some teachers will already set up checkpoints for longer term projects because they know students have trouble avoiding procrastination.  If this is the case, try and stick to the schedule as much as possible and avoid getting behind!

Tactic #9: Be Organized

Some of these other tips I’ve given you might as well be useless if you don’t keep track of all the materials for your classes.  Acquiring good organizational habits will not only help you succeed in high school; it will pay off big when you get to college as well.

Make sure you always mark the beginning of a new unit in your notebook and keep a binder or folder for papers in each class.  This way, when you go back to study for tests, you won’t be worrying about where a certain review sheet went or why there seems to be nothing relevant in your notebook.  Avoid just throwing papers into your backpack.  I’ve made the mistake of doing this many times in the past, and you WILL forget where you put them when you need them most.

It’s also a good idea to make a point of writing down your homework assignments in an agenda book so that you don’t miss anything. It’s easy to forget about smaller assignments if your brain is focused on a big project or test that’s coming up. Even if you don’t have a concrete assignment in every class for homework, you should write down any potential work you might do that night.  If you end up having light assignments in your other classes, this might remind you to do some catch-up on a long term project or start studying a bit for a test that’s coming up in a week.