Acing College Classes: A Guide

It’s definitely no secret that I’ve evolved into a bigger nerd than I ever thought I’d be. In high school, I was a bit of a slacker (you can read more about that here), so when I got to college, I knew something had to change. To me, not giving school my absolute best effort would be equivalent to wasting practically hundreds of thousands of dollars. College is expensive – and I wanted my money’s worth! Getting accepted to a top law school was also a factor that fueled my motivation to learn. Once I put my mind to it, I noticed that getting good grades in college wasn’t as hard as I had assumed it would be at all! If you’re interested in learning about how I’ve aced my college classes, keep reading! (Warning: this is a long one, complete with a couple of stories). Let me start by clarifying something: I’m absolutely not claiming that I’ve earned a perfect grade in every course I’ve taken in college, because that isn’t the case. However, I have worked extremely hard in school, and that hard work has paid off every time. I believe that if anyone sets their mind to it, and puts in enough effort, they can achieve any goal they want to. My freshman year, my grades were very high – in the classes that I actually tried in. In the classes I didn’t care about (example: Statistics, ew) they were not. Throughout my first semester, college felt similar to high school; succeeding in subjects that I was already good at, and performing average at best in classes that I was not. This went on until I received my final grades from first semester, and realized how much one class can affect your GPA (spoiler alert: it’s a lot).

So, I tried harder in the classes that didn’t come easy to me. I went to office hours, I emailed my teachers with every single question I had without caring whether or not I was being a pest, and I studied more than I ever had before – and I started seeing results. However, there were still times where I found myself slacking, or putting things off, and whenever I did that, I always regretted it when I received my grade.

As I said before, I believe that anyone can achieve their goals if they put their mind to it. For this reason, I knew I was capable of getting perfect grades if I tried my hard enough, and so are you! The the closest I’ve come to my goal is a 3.94 (and Professor Tucker, if you ever read this, we still need to discuss that A- from last fall), I refuse to give up hope on getting that 4.0. I still don’t think I’ve had a semester where I’ve worked literally as hard as I possibly could, so maybe this fall will be the one. I’ll let ya know.

Anyways, enough about my nerdy grade obsession. Here’s your guide on how exactly to ace your classes!

Notebooks instead of laptops. I’ve used both, and after comparing my grades in the classes that I hand-wrote my notes in and the classes I typed my notes in, I would recommend notebooks 100%. When you write something down, you’re automatically more likely to remember it.

Re-writing your notes while studying. Speaking of remembering things better by writing them yourself, this is something I always do when I study. Nothing helps me recall information as well as repetition does. Because the exams in my majors are always essay tests, it’s hard to use other memory devices (like flashcards, although I do recommend those if you have multiple choice/short answer tests).

Office hours. When I first started college, I thought this concept was weird. I thought you needed to have a specific question about an assignment in order for office hours to be useful, and I felt strange just walking in without making an appointment or anything. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really utilized my professors’ office hours. In order to get credit for an internship I had last fall, I had to meet with one of my professors once a week. Because of this, her and I became close. When I had her in class the next semester, I was already used to going to her office hours from my intern days, so it felt natural. I began to feel more comfortable doing this with my other professors, and some days I even found myself walking in and just saying “help.” If you clicked on the link I included in the beginning of this post, then you’ve probably already read this story, but I’m telling it again. My whole life, I had math anxiety (yes, that’s a real thing, look it up) and I convinced myself that I was horrible at it. So, taking a Statistics class freshman year (at 8am, even worse) was basically like death. I didn’t even try to understand it, because I “knew I would be bad at it.” I ended up retaking it over the winter term, and earned a better grade with my mom’s help. And by “help,” I mean she basically took the class with me and studied every lesson harder than I did. Thanks, Gail. Just when I thought I was finally done with math forever, I found out a required class for the Politics major was Statistics-based. That class was just as horrible. It was a ‘flipped classroom,’ which basically meant the students had to teach themselves the material. Picture taking another Statistics class, teaching it to yourself, then having a 40-page semester-long group research paper for a government think tank to do also. I have nightmares still. Anyways, after this class, I was positive that I was FINALLY done. I thought wrong. I later learned that my Sociology major required a Statistical Analysis class. The thought of taking another one made me want to drop out of school and go back to working at Walmart. This time, I knew I had to actually try and learn the material… something one would’ve thought was simple, but to me, it had been out of the question until now. For the first few weeks, it was agonizing – two hours every Tuesday and Thursday of pure confusion. All I can remember is Wes, my professor, saying how easy my class had it, and that he normally taught this class in a much more difficult manner. That thought literally terrified me. How could this be any harder?! I had thought. When I couldn’t handle being confused anymore, I decided to try more than I ever had in a math class. I looked up tutorials online, I watched videos, I read articles, I asked my peers for help, and so on. Our first test had been scheduled on a day where I couldn’t be in class due to a law school tour, so I took it in Wes’s office a few days before the rest of the class. I remember staring blankly at the test, obviously having trouble. Already a bad test-taker in any subject, I was nervous. This may sound dramatic to some, and I know if high school me had read this, I would’ve thought is this girl kidding? she seriously cares this much about school? Well, yeah, I obviously do. I’m trying to go to law school, okay? Anyways, back to my test. I asked Wes a question about it, and he was way more helpful than I had guessed he would be. I left the room feeling good about my exam, something that had never happened to me in a math class before. From then on, I went to him for help for every single assignment we had: homework, quizzes, tests, whatever. I had never put so much effort into a math class before. Everyone had always told me, including Wes, that it was a subject that didn’t click for you until you were ready, and had the right teacher. Well, he was definitely the teacher that changed the way I looked at the subject. I ended the class with an A-, which I literally couldn’t have hoped for in my wildest dreams without his help. Moral of the story: go to the damn office hours and hope your professor is a Wes.

Sit in the front. Typical nerd advice, but this one works, I swear. Because I go to such a small school, it isn’t exactly easy to hide in the back of a classroom. Sometimes, my classes are only made up of five students (Philosophy is a dying major, sad). But, on the rare occasion that my class is big enough to support the “I’m just gonna sit in the back on my laptop” attitude, I haven’t done as well at all. When you’re in the front, you’re way more likely to pay attention, if only for the fear of your professor calling you out.

Re-taking a course. Don’t be afraid to do this! During my second semester of my freshman year, I took six classes, and all of them were difficult. Also, five of them all fell on Tuesday, which was a recipe for disaster in terms of wanting to skip classes. That semester, I was also pledging for my sorority, which took up an obscene amount of time (for those of you reading this who are planning on going through recruitment, at my school or at another, this tradition has gone by the wayside, and pledging is SO MUCH less demanding now – school shouldn’t be a problem for you like it was for me). I didn’t do as well as I should have during this semester at all, so I decided to retake a class. At my school, your grade is replaced when you do this, which is so nice. I got an A the second time around, and my GPA went up considerably because of it!

Ask questions! If you’ve read my posts before, you probably know how obsessed I am with this particular piece of advice (read about that here). Asking questions in class can benefit you in two ways. 1) you’ll learn the answer to/get more clarification about whatever you didn’t understand and 2) your professor will recognize you, come to know you better, perceive your questions as effort, and it will reflect in your participation grade.

Study with your friends/classmates. Some may say this is a bad idea, because you’re likely to get distracted, but it has always helped me. As I mentioned before, my exams are always essay tests, which are wicked hard to study for. In my classes, I’m often given a list of possible essay questions and told that only a few of them will be on the test, but we aren’t told which ones. The best way I’ve found to study for these types of tests are to write out (or type) my answers in full and then discuss them with people in my class to make sure we included all of the necessary information in our essays. This is the strategy I typically use for my Politics classes; all of which I’ve been lucky enough to take with a particularly competitive classmate of mine, who pushes me to work harder so I can get better grades than him.

Friendly competition. When I included that last part in my previous tip, I thought of this one. A little friendly competition never hurts! My freshman year, a friend and I were in a lot of the same classes. Because he had track practice early in the mornings, he would either come late or sleep in class everyday, and opt out of studying for tests – and he still got better grades than me! This obviously infuriated my inner nerd, and motivated me to study harder. Now I’m the smarter one – ha!

I hope these tips were helpful! If you think you would like to see more about college classes and studying, let me know! Thanks for reading, XO




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