Another 13 Tips for Getting Good Grades in University

My school days are behind me. And that is a really good thing.

Studying to do well on tests in not currently on my radar. And that is also a good thing.

When I was into getting good grades in university, I did, and I was a mom of two young children to boot. If I can do it, you can, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my top 10 tips for getting good grades in university, and today, I’d like to share a 13 more nuggets of wisdom.

13 Tips for Getting Good Grades in University -

1. Find a comfy place to study.

If it’s the library, great. If not, that’s cool too.

Minimize your distractions (avoid TVs and the internet), look for good light to help keep your energy levels up and minimize eye strain, use earbuds/headphones or earplugs to cancel out the noise of people around you.

2. Get comfortable with feeling tired.

There will be certain times in the term when you will be exhausted. Be prepared for it and know that it won’t last forever.

3. Build in downtime.

You can have fun and enjoy the “college experience.” Hang out with your friends, go see movies, workout, practice yoga, and get outside. Also try to eat healthy meals. Keep in mind, though, that you (or your parents) are paying your school to learn from them, so take it seriously. You will have time for fun after you graduate, too.

4. Cut back on TV (and video games and mindless surfing).

You really don’t need to watch 10 different TV series every week and gaming isn’t going to help your average, either. A little screen time is fine, but set a timer so you don’t get carried away.

5. Choose treats as rewards.

Sometimes you need a little extra motivation. Reward yourself if you meet your study goals. Put in three solid hours of studying? Go buy a magazine and chill out for 30 minutes. Got that paper written on time? Treat yourself to Starbucks. Whatever floats your boat.

6. Treat it like a job, and be a workaholic.

Start work in the morning, take a lunch break, work in the afternoon, eat some supper. It was important that I was successful in this, so I studied every evening, too, which gave me more time with my family on the weekends (though I did work on the weekends, too).

7. Decide what your goals are.

Mine were to get into dental school, so I was shooting for a 90% average and geared everything toward that. It worked.

Maybe yours are to explore different subjects, and that’s cool, too. If you’re there just to be there, you’re probably not going to get that much out of the experience, and that’s a pretty expensive waste of time.

8. Memorization is fine.

I’ve heard lots of people say “memorization isn’t learning.” Whatever. Memorization is a way to hold stuff in your brain as you learn it. if after you take a class you can’t recall the info in 5 years because you memorized it, no big deal. You probably didn’t need that info anyway or now have the background skills and knowledge to look it up and refresh yourself, anyway. And the people who insisted they “learned” it rather than memorizing it probably don’t recall the information, either. The point is that some stuff you simply have to memorize in an effort to develop a foundation in a subject.

Look up mnemonics and memorization strategies online. They can be helpful when you’re writing an exam and make it easier to recall the info so that you can focus on getting out what you know about the subject and get an awesome grade on the test. This frees up time for the stuff you really have to think about.

9. Understand that university is not the same as high school.

If you want to do well, you will need to study.

You will fail if you don’t do the work or don’t do it well enough.

You are driving the bus and can choose your path: studying and good grades or fun and mediocre ones. It’s unlikely that the small amount of effort you put into getting good grades in high school will result in the same grades in university.

When you’re 20, four years seems like a long time. I can assure you it’s not. You can, and will, have fun later, too.

10. Find like-minded study companions.

Sometimes you might be sick and have to miss class, or your grandma might die and you have to miss school to go to her funeral. Whatever happens, it’s good to have someone you can count on for notes. That means someone like you, who is paying attention in class. Look to the front rows for people who are actively listening, taking notes, and maybe even asking questions and then sit next to those people and introduce yourself. It’s easier, too, if they look friendly and possibly your age (I was a mature student, so I tried to choose people who were also older).

The same people also might have study tips they’ve gleaned from other people they know who have taken the course or might have caught something you missed in lecture. This will help you learn and get a better grade.

11. Organize your notes by date.

This means writing the date on the top of your notes. It’s a simple step that can make a huge difference in keeping track of your information.

I liked to my notes into a binder once a week, but would sometimes get behind and catch up when studying for an exam, and that’s okay. If you don’t do this regularly, the risk is that you’ll lose your papers or they’ll get crumpled and unintelligible.

I liked to use loose leaf and a clipboard, because I wouldn’t have to carry separate notebooks around for each subject. I would just have replenish my loose leaf stock periodically. This meant my bag would be lighter and my back happier.

12. If you think a prof missed a point in your exam or paper, bring it to her attention.

Don’t be a dick and demand a higher grade.

Instead, go and ask for clarification. “Dr. So-and-So, I wanted to ask you about question 3 from the exam. When you went over the exam answers, you said xxxx, and I wrote yyyy, which I thought was the same thing/the proper response. Could you clarify for me what I could have written to make my position clearer?” Even if you don’t get a bump in your grade, you’ll learn something about what the instructor is looking for. Also, sometimes the instructor is more flexible in what she is looking for than what her TA was grading for, so consider that, too. I had more than one instance when my answer was correct but the TA was looking for very specific wording (or maybe wasn’t particularly knowledgeable), so I didn’t get the marks, but when I talked to the prof, she saw that my answer was correct and so my mark went up.

13. If you need good grades to get into a particular program, you can talk to the prof about what you can do to get a higher grade in his class.

This typically works best after you’ve gotten to know your instructor a little. I feel like I may have gotten slightly higher marks in a couple of classes from sympathetic instructors because they knew I was doing my best in their classes and they were a little more generous with those percentages.

What’s your number one tip for doing well in university?

My Top 10 Tips for Getting Good Grades in University

My Top 10 Tips for Getting Good Grades in University -

I started university in 1993 at the age of 17. I was away from home and living on my own for the first time.

I was not fully engaged in my education.

I started out in engineering and drifted into business, earning an accounting degree in the process.

My average was in the low 70s, I barely made it to class, and in my fourth year of accounting, I suffered from clinical depression.

After convocating, I worked in the accounting field and unsurprisingly found it unsatisfying.

I knew I needed a change, and when I was 30, I went back to school.

This was a gigantic shift and hugely challenging for me and my husband (possibly more so for my husband). I had two kids, a two-year old and a 7-month old, and my husband traveled for work, plus I needed to excel in pre-dentistry to have a shot at getting into dental school.

Based on my previous university experience, I wasn’t sure I could achieve the high-80s average that I needed to get into dentistry.

I took the leap, and in my two years of pre-dentistry, I wrangled myself a 90+ average, made the dean’s list every term, won scholarships, and got myself an interview for dental college. Basically, I rocked it. I’m still super proud of my achievements because it wasn’t easy.

I wasn’t ready at 17 to kick ass and get good grades in university, but I was absolutely ready my second go around. Let me tell you how you can do it, too.

First Day of School

1. Choose your classes with care.

If you know you’ll have trouble with 8:30am classes, look for a later time to ensure you’ll be there. Attendance matters.

Use to identify any classes you want to avoid. I tended to look for profs who were rated as engaging, reasonable, and fair (or even easy) markers.

I liked to book my classes back-to-back starting in the morning, which freed up big chunks of time for me to study in the afternoons. I work better that way.

If you have the ability to see when the course final exams will be, try not to schedule classes that have exams on consecutive days. This gives you some breathing room when you study.

Know yourself. You often have choices in the classes you take, so choose subjects that you have an interest in. This makes it much more enjoyable when you have to read and learn about a topic. If you hate history, don’t take it as an elective. Dread writing papers? Then look for classes with more regular assignments or labs instead.

2. Go to class.

You can read a textbook and learn a subject, but if you miss lectures, you are unlikely to know what the instructor considers important. In fact, I’ve had classes where the instructors flat out told us questions that would be on the exam, as a sort of bonus for being in class. Knowing what’s important is key to doing well in exams. Make it easy on yourself and get your butt to lectures.

While you’re in class, pay attention. Put away your phone and don’t get sucked into the internet. Be present. You have the opportunity to study right now. You (or your parents) are paying a lot of money for you to go to school. Might as well make the most of it.


3. Take good notes.

Take notes by hand. You will remember the information better. I type at about 70 wpm and I can still take notes faster by hand than on my laptop. Plus, if you’re on a computer, there’s always the temptation to go online instead of paying attention.

I used the Cornell method of note-taking and found it effective.

Review notes when you have a chance, preferably while you can still remember the lecture. This gives you the opportunity to add in points that you might not have fully recorded or to tie in material from the assigned readings. In addition, if you are continually reviewing your notes, you’re going to keep the information fresh in your mind and make it more familiar. This makes studying for exams way easier and allows you to contextualize future lectures.


4. Sit at the front of the class.

Your face will become familiar to the instructor, you’ll hear better, you’ll pay closer attention because the prof will be looking at you more, and you’ll be blocking out what everyone behind you is doing. Trust me, it’s distracting knowing that half of the class is surfing the internet or texting their friends.

5. Get to know your instructors.

When my grandma died in the first term of my second year of pre-dentistry, I had a really hard time in the weeks right after her death. I was scheduled to write a history exam within a week of her death and knew I couldn’t do it. I went to my professor and asked to write the exam another day. This was the second course I’d taken with her. I was always near the front of the room, consistently asked questions in class, responded to questions in class, and had good grades in her courses. She did not hesitate to let me write another day.

Shit can happen. Your grandma can die, you can get sick, you can get into an accident on the way to school. If you have established a relationship with your instructor, I believe they are more likely to give you some slack when you have extenuating circumstances. Skip classes, hand in assignments late, and zone out in class? I doubt you’ll get the benefit of the doubt that much.

Participate in class discussions, approach your instructor after class and ask for clarification, and visit your prof during her office hours. Instructors are human and like people who are interested in what they’re interested in, just like everybody else.

Woman Turning Off Alarm

6. Set aside time to study and don’t blow it off.

This is not high school. You will have to study to do well.

I work better when I spend a significant amount of time on a subject rather than jumping between topics every half hour, and I waste less time when I have a longer chunk of time than if it’s broken up into smaller chucks in between classes, because I have a hard time switching gears between activities.

Find what works for you, both schedule-wise and time-wise. I work best in the afternoon and evening but am happy to sit in lecture in the morning. I find it harder to study or write first thing, but you might have a different experience.

Calendar and phone

7. Use a calendar.

Decide if you’re going to use a good old-fashioned paper planner or an electronic version (on your phone, Google calendar, etc.) and be consistent with its use.

At the beginning of the term, fill in your calendar with your class schedule, assignment due dates, and exam dates.

Review your schedule and note your crunch times. These are weeks (or days) when you have multiple assignments and exams. Now plan ahead so that you leave yourself enough time to do everything well. For example, if you know you have three papers due in one week, plus a midterm, block out times in the three weeks or so leading up to those due dates to work on your papers and study for your test.

It’s helpful to have stages you’re aiming for when you’re writing a paper. I liked writing a paper into into finding sources, reading the reference materials, creating an outline for my paper based on the reference materials, drafting the first version and identifying the quotes I wanted to use (referencing as I went along), reviewing the first draft and editing, finalizing the references, rereading and final edit, handing off to my sister to review and suggest revisions, and then the final editing and printing. Go ahead and pencil in interrim due dates based on these stages to make sure you’re staying on track.

8. Have papers written 3 days before they’re due.

Write your paper (see the steps in 7 above) and then sleep on it for a night. That gives you the next day to review grammar, spelling, and references and edit once more. Then, pass it on to someone you know is a good writer and have them make editing suggestions. On the third day, make the final changes based on the feedback you got from your buddy. Print it off and hand it in on time!

9. Do the assigned readings.

Read before you go to lecture. Lectures will become a review for you, rather than an initial exposure to the topic. This means that you can focus on what the instructor is focusing on, which will often give you clues to what will be on the exams. This is more efficient, meaning higher grades for you.

Inbox10. Create a study schedule for finals.

Set out three to four hour time blocks for studying. In each block, study one subject. I liked to stagger subjects to maximize my interest. I also liked to start studying well in advance of an exam so that the information had time to percolate. I would start studying for the exams that came first, of course, and add in subjects as I completed an exam.

In dentistry, we pretty much always had exams on consecutive days, so what worked in pre-dent didn’t work as well, but I still maintained my staggered time block approach. I think in my heaviest year, we had twelve exams in a two-week period, so time was of the essence during finals.

Want some more pointers? I’ve got 13 more lined up for you.