So, thanks to Typepad's tracking feature, I found out that people have Google'd 'how to make a 4.0 in college (start with a grammar book probably),' and found my blog. I unfortunately was not even close to what they were looking for.... to make it up to them I am offering up the 10 things you need to do to ace your college courses (though I certainly have not done that...I've done well, but I do NOT have a 4.0 GPA). These are practical tips that I would use if I could do it over...hopefully not the same thing your RA said during your first day.
10. Start the quarter (or semester) strong- This means from the gate, you do what you need to do. I have received 3.8's in courses that I should have 4.0'd (UW gives every course a GPA score, we don't get As and Bs) because I screwed up the first homework or missed a key concept on the first midterm. Once you get behind you will not get caught up. Put a lot of effort into that first assignment. You're still pretending you're going to do all the readings and study weeks in advance for tests, so take that momentum and put it to use by acing those first few assignments.
9. Don't read your textbook- I rarely sit down and read my textbook. If your teacher wrote the textbook than you had better read it, but my professors give tests based off the lectures and the course pack (which they put together). Therefore READ the course pack. That is worth your time. The textbook is not. Read the textbook for CONCEPT learning. Understand the key points by reading the summary and studying terms in bold. Most teachers will give you a review sheet with key terms anyway.
8. Go to class- I have missed classes because I've been too tired, too sick, to study for other midterms, because it was nice outside, and many other reasons. I understand that you're not going to make them all, but TEACHERS TEST OFF THE MATERIAL THEY TALK ABOUT IN CLASS. You'll be amazed at what gets retained in your head just because you were sitting there, even if you doze off.
7. Find a Greek Friend-If you're in the Greek system at your school (that's a fraternity or sorority), you already know this. Greek houses have huge test banks of old tests. Many professors recirculate test questions. Greek houses have been around that long enough to have test questions from 5 years ago. Your Greek friends have old tests. Don't have any Greek friends? Go make one. Even if the teacher gives new questions, the best way to study...BY FAR...is to look at old exams.
6. Make a Smart Friend-No, don't cheat off of them, it will NOT be worth it, plus it's time to grow up if you still think cheating is ok, you won't make it anywhere. Make a smart friend who you can ask questions to late at night before something's due. Make a smart friend who lets you copy their notes if you're sick (or sunbathing). Make a smart friend who will study with you, particularly on all the math/science problems where one little mistake ruins the whole thing. It's good to network anyway. Networking means making friends.
5. Make a Dumb Friend (aka be a smart friend)- #6 and #5 are intertwined. You learn how much you know about something by seeing if you can teach it to someone else (I think some study somewhere proved that) plus, you need to help out the smart friend when they can't figure out something.
4. Quizzes/HW Will Make or Break You, Ace Them- Yes the exams, the two or three tests that equal 60% of your grade, are very important. You need to do well on those, but there is wiggle room there. Teachers will give more weight to the second test if your first one blows, and they generally weight the test so the average is decent. Quizzes and HW can kill you. Yes, each hw may only be 2% of your grade...but they're really easy to forget, and easy to miss some significant points on. HW needs to be your buffer for crappy test grades, you can't let it pull your high test grades down.
3. Answer This: Does Your Teacher Know Your Name?- Seriously. They need to know at least your first name, and at least one defining characteristic. Yeah, Brent the rugby guy. I did a HORRIBLE job at this premajor in all the 10,000 student lecture-hall classes. Horrible. My grades reflected it. In the smaller classes since getting in the business school, all the teachers know my name. Except for two....and those were my two lowest grades. This is not coincidence. Seriously. This is a cliche one, but teachers are bored to death in their office hours. I HATE going to office hours. It's awkward. But you HAVE to go. If you are in a big class...here is your solution: fake it. Get interested in a tiny detail, go to their office hours and talk to them about it. After that, just explain details. Aka, Psych 101, you're really interested in psychology for athletes and are thinking of doing an independent study next year to look into it. Go talk to your prof about it. He knows your name, you kinda screwed up on a big part of the first midterm, and you missed some hw assignments. "Well," says the prof 'I know Maria, she's a bright girl, she did a lot better on the final, I think she'd be a good psych major...I'll give her an A-" It happens. It's harder to fail someone you like, and its easy to graciously round up someone with a borderline grade.
2. Talk- This is the hardest one, because its sometimes embarrassing to talk in class. I don't care if you talk in big classes, it'll help you, but talking to the prof one on one (face first..then email...seriously do it) works just fine. In small classes you have to talk. They'll know you, plus, most small classes give points for participation. This are the ULTIMATE buffer points. Fall on them when you screw up on a graded thing, you gotta get this points, they're just too easy. The ways to talk are:
A. Say something intelligent that fuels conversation-ok that's like the holy grail of class participation. You may not get many of these. Get one and you can probably stay quiet the rest of class. Key to this...when you think of it, shoot your hand up (provided its appropriate), don't hesitate, because if the conversation goes elsewhere you lost it.
B. Ask a question. Something that ends with a ? Get the teacher to say, 'good question' and have to think about it, and you can shut up for the rest of class. Otherwise, just pay enough attention that you ask something, even if it's obvious, just asking for clarification is more than fine. Teachers like questions.
C. Do the reading- When a reading is assigned, and you read it, everything associated is a freebie and involves very little mental engagement. 'Well, in the reading, they talked about.....' even if you're way off you're still fine. If you want to be even more cheap (and have all the others in the class probably grimace since they didn't read it) ask a question about the reading. The teacher will be happy. Try and do a or b though, much better if you don't want your classmates to hate you.
D. Be engaged- it'll make class go by faster if you know whats going on. Comment on what another student says. There are plenty of opportunities to make generalized comments, tell stories, say the obvious answer that the teacher is asking for etc. etc. if you at least have half of your brain tuned to class. These are freebies...you don't need to know material, or have done the reading, just be honest, and say what you think. Learn to stay somewhat tuned in, even if the rest of you is still thinking about the basketball game that night.
1. Breath, relax, get out, it's college- In the honors program at UW I tried to register for a class before my first quarter of college. It was closed. I ended up taking my second choice, a class on Greek Literature (Space and Desire in Ancient Greece....catchy title). I got a 3.4. I did almost all the readings. It was frekin hard. The class I had tried to register for got blanket 4.0's. The teacher gave one to everybody. Seriously. I am SO lucky, because it brought down my GPA. College is not about 4.0s, high school was. Skip a class, stand in line for a basketball game, have a beer at a party, sign a petition for something, spend money on something ridiculous, defy your teacher, grow a beard, get a tattoo, have some fun. You'll remember the stories, you won't remember if you got a 3.7 or a 4.0 in Marketing.