Tips for Optimizing Your Grades in College

Sorry but no rocket science here.  Mostly common sense, but I can virtually guarantee that following these 7 basic steps will make a huge difference in your grades during college.  I can’t promise a 4.0 GPA but am willing to bet that systematically following these basic principles will add at least a single grade point to your freshman year average versus the typical student.  After a couple of years, most college students naturally figure these things out as they develop and refine their own personal system.  But during your freshman year everything is so new, exciting and DISTRACTING.

  1. Read Through Notes Taken During Class

    The afternoon or evening after any class in which you took notes, glance them through again.  First off, it will help retention.  But just as important, you will come across notes that weren’t written well.  You’ll have an opportunity to either re-write or clean up while the topics are fresh in your mind.  This will pay dividends come test studying time, and especially finals when you are tested on the whole semester.  But don’t put it off until the end of the week.  Do it the same day as the class.  It only takes 5-10 minutes per class.

  2. Find a Good Place to Study

    There are so many different places to study at college that you should really experiment to find what works best for you.  Some like it totally quiet (library, dorm study hall) while others like the background noise (student union, Starbucks, restaurant/cafe).  Establish one or two favorite places you can go when your dorm room or apartment won’t work.

  3. Eliminate Social Media Distractions while Studying

    Having your smartphone buzz every 45 seconds due to instant messages, tweets, Facebook posts or other social media interactions is a HUGE distraction to the brain.  There are too many studies on this to even get into a debate.  Instead, you want to totally immerse yourself in the material and want it to sink deep inside your brain for recall the next day when you’re taking the test.  Turn off the cell phone while you’re studying and if that becomes stressful, take 5-10 minute breaks every hour to check your messages and interact with friends.  Then turn it off again and continue.

  4. Tutoring

    Don’t let yourself get too far behind before reaching out for help.  Many colleges have free tutoring in a variety subjects and there are always upper classmen or grad students that tutor for money.  Your professor or department administrator will definitely have recommendations.

  5. Study with a Group

    Find a couple of students in your class that seem to be genuinely interested in getting a good grade and arrange a weekly study group.  Spending just 1 hour together each week to cover the week’s lectures is a great way to compare notes.  It is easy to miss some subtle points that someone else might have picked up on.  It is also good to talk through the material with another student peer to get a perspective that is different from the professor’s.  But try to keep the group to 4-5 maximum in size.  And if you have study group members that mostly want to socialize, don’t invite them to the next sessions.

  6. Figure Out the Professor

    Every instructor is different, with some testing straight from their lecture, some testing straight from the book and some that draw from both.  Search the online professor rating sites and, better yet, talk to other students that have had the professor to figure this out before the first test.  Even ask the professor directly (or his/her teaching assistant) if they test more from their lecture or the book.  It’s not a taboo question.

  7. Talk to Your Professor

    They all have open office hours just for the purpose of being available to students.  If your grades aren’t where you think they should be or are having trouble with a particular topic, schedule an appointment or drop by during open office hours.  Doing this has the added benefit of showing your professor that you actually care.  That alone could be what the professor needs to justify bumping your ending 88 average to an A.  And don’t wait until your past the point of no return.

See my related post titled “Golden Rules for Entering College Freshman“.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Over the past 15 years Gordon has seen nearly 1,000 startup pitches, advised more than 200 entrepreneurs and been involved with raising over $45M in growth and venture capital. Throughout his 28 year career in high tech, serving twice as President and three times as CMO, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200M acquisition exit under his belt. Now his emphasis is purely focused on helping startups and early stage tech companies. Through his Shockwave Innovations advisory practice and as Managing Director for Austin’s Capital Factory startup accelerator, Gordon is an active angel investor, VC and startup advisor.

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