With just a few weeks left in the school year, final exams are looming. This is an opportunity for students to make one last push to end the year with the best possible grades. While test scores and a rigorous curriculum certainly matter, grades are the single most important factor in college admission.
If you are a junior, these may be the last grades that colleges will consider in making admission decisions, especially if you plan to apply early decision or early action, or will be applying to a public university that only considers grades through junior year for admission purposes.
Colleges look at grade trends as well as cumulative grade point averages, so even if your early high school grades are not so great, you will benefit from earning your strongest grades this year. Of course, if you are a freshman or sophomore, getting good grades now means you don’t need to worry about low early grades pulling down your GPA. The higher your GPA, the fewer regrets you will have senior year and the more options you will have when it’s time to apply to colleges.
While your focus in the next few weeks will be on preparing for exams, it’s also helpful to take a long-term look at what you can do to improve your grades. One way to protect your GPA is to not overload on AP and Honors courses. While colleges do want students who are taking a rigorous curriculum, if taking four or five AP classes means you will be staying up past midnight studying and struggling to earn B grades, you may be risking your health rather than enhancing your college admission prospects. Take Honors and AP courses in your strongest subjects, or if those teachers are considered the best in the school, but find a balance that’s right for you.
Choosing the right classes is the first step. Then you can focus on doing your best in those classes. Many students listen passively, or not at all, when they are in class. But if you participate in class discussions and ask questions, you learn the material at a deeper level and are much more likely to remember what you are learning. This kind of active approach will serve you well in college. It will also help you get into college since teachers will appreciate the fact that you are actively engaged in learning, and will be able to write college application recommendations that praise your contributions to their class. You may even find that you need to spend less time studying at home if you are really listening and participating in class.
Continue the active approach to learning by taking good notes, in class and when you’re reading a textbook. Accurate, reliable notes will be enormously helpful when it’s time to study for exams in high school and college. Review your notes each night to make sure you understand what you’ve written, and to solidify what you learned that day.
Read the assigned chapter before class and you will get much more out of the class. If you don’t have time to read the whole chapter, at least read the titles, subtitles, boldfaced text and summaries, so that the material will be somewhat familiar in class the next day.
It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. In fact, the most successful people acknowledge that they need other people in order to do their job well. Getting help as soon as you feel confused is especially important when it comes to math and science, which build on previous knowledge. If you are lost in a sea of trigonometric equations, ask your teacher or a classmate to help you sort out sine from cosine as soon as possible.
Make a study schedule and stick to it. At the start of each week, allocate time according to the demands of each class, so if you have a Spanish test coming up, schedule extra time that week to prepare. If your job or extracurricular activities leave you too exhausted to study, it’s time to cut back. School is your most important job.
Eliminate distractions during study time. That means no checking Facebook or e-mail. No text messages. If you focus on your work, you will find yourself finishing in half the time, and then you can enjoy all the guilt-free texting you want.
When you are studying, pretend you have to teach the material to your class the next day. When you can explain it to someone else, you will understand it at a deeper level and will be more likely to retain it.
Develop good study habits early in your high school career and you will have many options for college. You will also be more successful once you get there.