It’s the beginning of a new semester, and I have a brand new group of students in my survey classes. Most of these students won’t do well on the first test, but it’s not because they lack the capacity to succeed. Rather, most students lack a plan for success.
I understand their situation because many years ago I was an undergraduate with no plan for success, and I had the mediocre grades to prove it. Everything changed, however, when I took a geology class. I didn’t take geology by choice; as a history major, I was horrified that I was required to take nine hours of science. Even so, that class might have been the most important for my entire academic career.
After the first test, which I didn’t do too poorly on, the professor called me into his office. He told me that if I wanted an “A” in his class, then I needed to follow his plan and that moreover his plan could get me an “A” in every class I ever took. Following his plan, I finished out my undergraduate degree, four years of seminary, and five years of graduate school without making lower than an “A.”
How to make an “A” in every class:
1. Go to class. This step sounds like a no-brainer, but too many students have trouble getting to class. Surprisingly many of these students don’t understand that attendance affects their grade dramatically. If you’re not there, then you’re not going to know what’s going on. Getting the notes from a friend is no substitute for being in class.
2. Sit up front. Don’t hide out in the back of the class. Sit up front where you won’t be distracted. Sitting up front can be uncomfortable for some students, but a heightened discomfort level will keep you engaged. There’s no escape from the professor, and, therefore, no escape from the content. Also, it’s really difficult to fall asleep in the front row.
3. Take good notes. This step probably needs an entire blog post of its own because many students have no idea how to take good notes. Do your best to get the main ideas down on paper. Don’t write everything the instructor says. Don’t just write the outline. Keep doing it, and you’ll get better.
4. Recopy your notes. This step is the hardest one for many students, but it’s essential. Ideally you will recopy your notes the same day you took them. If you wait to recopy after you’ve slept, then your short-term memory won’t be able to help you as much. As you recopy your in-class notes, clean them up, organizing the ideas and getting rid of the scribblings. Add anything significant that you might remember. Going back over the material in this way reinforces the content. It’s called studying. There’s one more thing you should be doing as you recopy. Look for holes. Even the best students are going miss something now and then. As you look at your notes, keep asking yourself, “Do I understand this material?” If something doesn’t make sense, then you have a hole. Leave a blank space in your new notes, because you’ll need to get that hole filled.
5. Go see your professor. When you have a hole in your notes, your professor is your best resource for filling the hole. Don’t feel like you’re bothering your professors. Chances are that they got into teaching because they like talking about their subject matter. If you have lots of questions, make an appointment to see your professor once a week. Trust me. It won’t be too painful. Once the professor answers your questions, fill in the hole in your notes. Voila. You now have a good, complete set of notes to study from.
6. Study on a daily basis. No one ever made it to the NFL by only throwing the football on Sunday. Every skill takes daily dedication, and your studies are no different. The good news is that all that recopying you did in step four counts as study time. Recopy and look over your previous notes on the days that you have class. Do your reading assignments and other projects on the days you don’t have class. Daily dedication ensures that there’s no reason to cram during the weekend before the exam.
So, that’s it—six easy steps to making an “A” in every class. However, I’d like to point out an aspect of these steps that is easy to overlook. Built into these six steps is relationship. We humans are relational creatures, and when students and professors know each other, students will learn more. Sitting up front will ensure that your professors know your name and face, even in the biggest lecture hall. By visiting your professors often, they’ll be reminded that you’re a human too. Professors have a notoriously hard time failing students that they know.
These steps require effort, but college requires effort. Most students don’t have to make an “A” in every class, but for those classes you do want an “A” in, these steps can get you there. Now, make sure that you’re in class tomorrow.
Do you have your own study plan that works? In the comments, let me know what study techniques have succeeded for you.