Secrets of the straight-A-student

I have never met a student who aims for D’s. I mean, who actually sits down on the first day of class, thinking, Gee, wouldn’t a 2.0 would be swell? Certainly not you. 


But somewhere along the way from buying your shiny new mechanical pencils to your report card, the plan of “working hard and hoping for the best” rarely works. After years of teaching students in public high schools, military barracks, and around kitchen tables, three myths that students consistently take as absolute truth have surfaced again and again—myths which are totally bunk yet that fool students into falling short of their absolute best.

Are you falling for them? You’re smart and astute (you are reading this article, after all) but just in case, read on for insider advice that will have you earning sticky stars in no time.

Myth one: Getting A's requires more time than I actually have

Too often, earning A’s is set up as a stark choice between becoming a nerd and landing on the prom court; either you will have fun in school and meet the minimum requirements or you will be married to the library, have only two friends on Facebook, but graduate from the college of your choice. Exaggeration?  Definitely. But, many students believe this myth.  In fact, you might be one of them. 

One of the greatest ways to figure out if you have time to make the grade is to map out exactly how you currently spend it. No rocket science there. A useful resource for students can be found on StudySmartStudyLess.com. Look under “Students” for a blank Time Map to fill in. First, add the non-negotiables, such as school, work, and didgeridoo lessons, but leave off your next appointment with your favorite dental hygienist—this map is only for the semester’s regularly scheduled activities.

Once the “must-haves” are in place, fill in the “need-to-haves” like studying and practicing didgeridoo that are equally important, but can be done at any time in your schedule. Ultimately, choose a time of day to complete these tasks that will produce the best results. In other words, it could be that getting up thirty minutes early to review for your English test when you are fresh is a better use of your time than spending an hour on the material the night before. Be willing to push yourself a little on this one.

Finally, schedule time to relax, hang out with friends, or surf YouTube. After your Time Map is filled in, you may discover pockets of wasted time. Spend 30 minutes waiting for the bus each day? Why not put that time to use prepping for a math quiz? Or, perhaps slotting your homework time right after school, when your brain is still in student-mode, will help you get your work done faster than if you attempt it at 8pm when you’re tired and just want to veg. Actively make choices about how you spend your time so that instead of wondering where it went you will be deciding exactly where it goes.

Myth two: How I study is not as important as that I study

There are a number of key points debunking this myth, but the three big ones include: 

Location. While you don’t necessarily need to move into the library for the remainder of your academic career, you do need a good place to study. By that I mean quiet, solitude, and a desk with ample space and light. This is not the time for study groups and most definitely not the time to study in bed. Your brain associates Bed with Sleep and trying to dissuade it of that can waste a lot of your precious time and energy.

Distraction. As much as it may pain you, turn off the tele and the tunes. Your brain will be able to work much faster if it’s not (subconsciously) concentrating to block out the noise. Some students insist that listening to music helps them study faster. However, you may think listening to music helps you study efficiently but what it actually does is help pass the time, slowing your progress and keeping you in the study chair longer than you need to be. Bye-bye iPod, hello ear plugs.  The same goes for texting and Facebook chats. Try unplugging for a couple hours to get your work done. Once you’re done, you’ll be able to return full force to your friends (and with something to celebrate!).

Fashion. When you sit down to study in your favorite yoga pants or fleece jammies, your body tells your brain it’s time to relax, making it even harder to focus. However, if you dress the part of a full-time student — which doesn’t necessarily mean a sweater vest, though it could include some fun props like glasses or a lab coat — your brain will be more likely to work with you and for you.

Myth three: If I were smart, this would actually be easy

It’s a worn out adage, but still holds true: aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. Getting A’s is less about being smart (and, hate to burst your bubble-yum, but is rarely easy for anyone) and is more about being strategic. The best students are the ones who not only have a goal in mind, but a clear idea of how to get there; goals that are both short term and long term.

In laying out goals for yourself, make them as specific and realistic as possible. “Get good grades,” for example, is a bad goal not because it isn’t a good thing but because it’s hard to measure improvement. “Get an A in Algebra this quarter” is a much better goal because it is clear — how realistic that may be is for you to decide. Sketch a trail of multiple short term goals that eventually lead to a long term goal. This way, you’ll have something to aim for in the future as well as frequent milestones to celebrate along the way – a key in helping you stay motivated. 

Finally, post your goals where you will see them on a regular basis. If professional athletes deck out their lockers with motivational mottos, personal best scores, and goals for the season, you can too.

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