How to Get Good Grades in High School

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Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote the book Why we sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, claims that the importance of sleep is often underestimated in the western society. According to Walker, there is an epidemic of sleep deprived individuals trying to convince themselves that they “feel subjectively fine”. If you are an adolescent, believe it or not, you need to sleep for 9 hours, which almost nobody does, as research has shown that adolescents sleep a little over 7 hours on the average.

9 Strategies to Get Better Grades

Another term has come to a close, and students and parents wait — either with eager anticipation or anxious dread — for grade reports to be issued. Too often, families are disappointed by the results. The rigours of an international school in Singapore — assignments, homework and exams — can seem overwhelming, especially at the secondary school level when students are preparing for university. But even for primary schoolers, it’s not too early to map out a plan to improve their marks. Developing good study habits as early as possible will prepare students to excel at university and beyond. Here are nine tried-and-true tips for getting better grades.

It’s often second-nature to assume we have to spend hours on end in the library or to cram for an exam one or two nights before the test. Instead of working harder, try working smarter. Research shows that sleep-deprived studying and other unhealthy patterns don’t yield the best results. Educators recommend spending a short period of time each day reviewing lessons or preparing for exams. They suggest that for every 45 minutes of study time, students should take a 15-minute break doing something they enjoy.

When students are struggling with a particular subject, it can be tempting to put it to the side until later, giving priority to subjects that come easily to them. Study experts recommend that you do just the opposite. Begin by focusing on the material that poses more of a challenge before tackling your other subjects. Getting difficult tasks out of the way first ensures these areas aren’t overlooked and can improve overall motivation.

Because there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning, international schools in Singapore follow curricula that address different learning styles. Students who are visual learners like to refer to notes, charts and diagrams when reviewing course material. Kinesthetic or tactile learners flourish with a hands-on approach to learning. If you’re an auditory learner, consider reading out loud to yourself when studying. Knowing how you best grasp information and concepts will help you develop study strategies that fit your learning style.

Additionally, most students can benefit from creating visual illustrations of text, and vice versa. For example, interpreting a graph and putting it into words tests their comprehension and can make learning more meaningful. Similarly, designing an infographic from a large chunk of text enables students to extract the most important points from what they’ve read.

To enhance their understanding, students can approach their coursework similar to the way they might approach a fitness regimen. Athletes usually incorporate different exercises into one workout session. Similarly, students can rotate among various topics in one study period. For instance, they might begin with a Science lesson on water conservation. Next, they might work on Maths problems involving measurements, then read a chapter on community efforts to preserve the environment. Covering these three subjects in one study session allows students to make meaningful connections between subjects, rather than looking at them in isolation. In the example just mentioned, they can see how the Science lesson relates to the Social Science lesson and how they can use their Math’s skills to understand large numbers, such as the amount of clean water needed to sustain communities and ecosystems.

Another similar, proven technique for better grades is to elaborate on broad concepts and compare and contrast them. When trying to explain a broader concept, encourage your child to provide as much detail as possible. Next, students can compare different concepts, widening their understanding by making connections between two ideas.

One of the most common study techniques employed by students worldwide is to simply review textbooks and class notes. However, challenging your brain by testing your memory will likely be more effective. After all, you won’t be able to use your notes and textbooks for exams. Parents can encourage children to write down as much as they can remember about the subject matter without referring to course materials. Older students can do this on their own by using flashcards or creating their own study guides and sample tests. These “memory tests” can also be fun to do in a group, with peers quizzing each other on critical information.

Staying organized is a challenge for many of us, but it can go a long way toward helping you perform better in school. Having a disorderly desk can make it more difficult to keep track of assignments and school supplies. Keep your school desk and homework area in order. Conduct weekly decluttering sessions to get rid of anything you don’t need and make sure that everything is in the right place. Homework assignments can take much longer to complete when you’re searching for a notebook or a set of flashcards.

How to Get Good Grades in High School

A young student taking notes in a notebook from information gained on his laptop.

It seems simple on its face: to get into a good college, get good grades in high school. If you know what kinds of schools you’re aiming for, you probably have an idea of what your GPA should be. But how exactly do you get where you need to be?

A good grade is a reflection of both hard work and comprehension of the material. In the short term, it shows colleges that you’re a good student who can succeed in a highly rigorous academic environment, which is what they offer. In the long term, working towards good grades teaches you important skills in studying, preparation, discipline, and self-advocacy. These are lifelong skills that will serve you even when you’re no longer taking math tests and writing book reports.

Whether you’re trying to raise your current grades or are just looking toward future success, following this step-by-step guide will ensure that you’re in the best possible position to thrive in your academic courses, now and in the future.

Nine Tips for Getting Good Grades in High School

1. Do Your Homework

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? To get better grades, do the homework assignments. Yet, you would be surprised by how many high school students don’t do their homework, leaving assignments unfinished or waiting until right before the test to do them. That might have worked in middle school, but it’s unlikely to fly in high school.

If you’re in a rigorous class, it’s covering a lot of material, and your teacher assumes you are going to learn some of it on your own. This is excellent preparation for college, when your classes will meet much less frequently, but you will have much more work to do outside of class. High school teachers are trying to prepare you for this shift by encouraging you to maintain and expand your knowledge through homework.

Finally, if you aren’t doing the homework, you won’t know what you don’t understand, which means you won’t be able to ask the right questions and get the right help. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ll never learn it!

2. Participate in Class

Everyone knows that it’s easier to pay attention to something if you’re active and involved. Particularly in a classroom, passively listening often makes it harder for you to remember what was said because you weren’t actively participating.

Of course, your ability to participate depends somewhat on your teacher, the class, and your own personality. Some teachers prefer to lecture, with minimal input from their classrooms, while some students feel uncomfortable speaking in front of others. Nevertheless, these days almost all educators recognize the importance of active learning and making such participation inclusive for all students.

Whether it’s answering a question, asking a question, participating actively in group work, or otherwise being involved in the classroom, participation in class is a great way to master the material and show your teacher that you’re trying hard.

3. Take Good Notes in Class

It’s a near-universal fact: straight-A students take good notes. That said, note-taking is not necessarily something all high school students know how to do, and not all schools do a good job of teaching it. Learning to take notes may be something you need to undertake on your own, but it’s absolutely crucial to getting better grades.

Not everyone takes notes the same way. Some students find it helpful to write long-hand, while others record lectures and take notes later, when they can pause. In general, though, it’s best not to write down everything the teacher says. Rather, truly good note-takers digest what’s important and write down just the key facts.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

There’s a common misconception among high school students that you should only ask for extra help if the teacher specifically recommends it or if you’re getting really bad grades. In fact, all good teachers would love to help you whenever you need it!

Whether you’re trying to understand your test scores, essay comments, homework assignments, or class involvement, setting up a time to talk to your teacher out of class is always a good use of your time. They don’t want to give you bad grades; they want to help you learn the material. It’s why they teach!

That said, if you do go in for extra help, you’ll get more out of it if you have specific questions. Don’t ask the teacher to give his or her lesson all over again; pinpoint what you’re struggling with and ask for advice or additional problems.

5. Keep Yourself Motivated

Another truth about getting better grades is that it isn’t just about one test or one paper. A strong final grade is the product of a lot of good grades all strung together, which means you need to stay motivated throughout the year.

Staying focused on schoolwork isn’t always easy. Things come up in and outside of school that take away from your focus, and it’s easy to give into procrastination when you have a lot on your plate, a situation you’re sure to encounter at some point.

Bear in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint; once in a while, you won’t finish your homework, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you are striving toward your best academic performance by doing as much of this as you can.

6. Create a Study Schedule

Staying on top of your schoolwork isn’t always easy; you have extracurricular activities, service commitments, family responsibilities, and more. Time management can be the best tool in your arsenal for getting better grades.

Creating a study schedule can help you manage your time and keep from cramming. By learning and studying in small chunks, rather than trying to do so all at once, you’ll be less overwhelmed and better able to master the material. For each class, consider setting out a certain amount of time each day, maybe in a calendar or agenda book. Doing a little every day is miles better than cramming.

Strategies for Structuring Your Work

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

If you hope to earn high grades without suffering from excessive amounts of stress, you must overcome your procrastination habits. It’s especially hard to manage your time responsibly on long-term projects. It may seem like you have forever to complete the assignment, but time will always catch up with you.

If you’re a procrastinator, I highly recommend making a timeline whenever you get a long-term assignment. If you have a project that’s due in a month, 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 a much better representation of your abilities. Sticking to a schedule like this can be tough, so you might want to ask your teacher to help monitor your progress by checking in with you periodically. Some teachers already set up checkpoints for longer term projects because they know students have trouble avoiding procrastination. If this is the case, stick to the schedule and avoid falling behind!

Strategy #9: Stay Organized

Many of these tips will be useless if you don’t keep track of all the materials for your classes. Cultivating good organizational habits will not only help you succeed in high school; it will pay off in spades when you get to college as well.

Always mark the beginning of each new unit in your notebook, and keep a binder or folder for each class. This way, when you study for tests, you won’t be freaking out 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 write 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 homework assignment in every class, you should make note of any potential work you might do that night. If you have light assignments in your other classes, this will remind you to catch up on a long term project or start studying a bit for a test that’s coming up in a week.

What’s Next?

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We’ve written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score.

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5’s on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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