A perfect GPA isn’t without its benefits. High school GPA is the biggest factor colleges look at when making admissions decisions and awarding scholarships. College GPA is the equivalent for master’s degrees, law school, medical school, and PhD programs. Employers look at GPA as evidence of intelligence and work ethic, especially starting out when you don’t have lengthy work experience. And GPA is a matter of personal pride. The higher your GPA is, the better you feel about it.
I don’t always summarize my academic history, but I’ll do it only so you can have confidence in what I’m about to tell you. I was valedictorian of my high school (small graduating class of less than 50 students). I graduated college with a 3.96 GPA from a top-20 school in the US. And so far I have a 4.0 in graduate school.
For most articles I publish, I do at least some outside research. This one is the exception to the rule. My research is 10 years of experience in high school and academia, and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with students.
If you follow these 10 tips, you will radically increase your probability of getting an A in every class.
Tip #1: Attend Class
Attending class is the biggest thing you can do to stay on your A-game. Lectures and classroom discussion are critical to doing well on assignments and exams for most high school and college classes. Teachers look at attendance as evidence of a student’s investment in the class. Most classes have attendance built into the grading rubric. Even when they don’t, teachers know exactly who comes and who doesn’t. It’s no coincidence that students who don’t regularly attend class rarely ever get an A. And those who do get As are rarely ever absent.
Tip #2: Sit in the Front
The fact that most students hate sitting in the front is proof that where you sit in a classroom matters. Sitting in the front fosters focus. You won’t get distracted as easily by friends, electronic devices, and streams of consciousness. As a result, your will naturally get more out of classroom instruction than the cool kids sitting in the back. Sitting in the front also shows your teacher that your are eager to do well in the class. And teachers love to reward this kind of student with an A.
Tip #3 Take Notes
It’s easy to think that showing up and paying attention is good enough, but it isn’t. Human beings forget information very quickly in the absence of repetition. On the flip side, anything you take a note of you can refer back to and are far more likely to retain. In college, I used to bring a laptop so I could churn out notes at an extremely fast clip. In high school, this wasn’t possible, but some people prefer pen and paper regardless. However you like your notes, take them. And take them liberally.
Tip #4: Participate and Ask Questions
Participation is another strategy of active engagement. Participation enables you to better absorb and retain information, and clarify any confusion over concepts. Like attendance and sitting in the front, teachers look at participation as evidence that a student is serious about doing well in the class. In order to participate effectively, you have to have some idea of what’s going on. Draw from class readings and course material whenever possible. It takes a lot less knowledge than you think to make a meaningful contribution to classroom discussion. Most classes at all levels have participation built into the grading rubric. Participation is a way to get full credit for that metric in addition to learning more effectively and leaving an impression on the teacher. If you want an A, make an effort to participate.
Tip #5: Go To Office Hours
It is always better to go to office hours than not. Office hours are when the teacher makes himself available out of class to chat with students about course material or assignments. Your high school teacher may have a similar arrangement. Going to office hours is a way to clarify concepts, get a better idea of teacher expectations, and maybe even form a connection—all of which dramatically increase your chances of getting an A in the class.
Tip #6: Ask For Help On Assignments
Ask for help when you need it, and sometimes even when you don’t. Teachers are often eager to share more information than what’s contained on a syllabus or assignment prompt. Sometimes asking can lead to insights unrelated to your initial question. Depending on the nature of the question, it may be better to ask before or after class, in office hours, or via email. If it’s a paper assignment, many teachers are willing to critique thesis statements and topic sentences well in advance of the deadline. If your teacher is willing to work with you, take advantage. It may be the difference between a B+ and a solid A.
Tip #7: Network With Other Students
This one may seem counterintuitive since you are competing with other students for the few As that a teacher typically awards. But it’s important to connect with at least 1 or 2 students in the class for at least a couple reasons. One, you can bounce ideas off them related to the class and get their feedback. Two, if you are ever absent, they can clue you in on what transpired. To get a 4.0, networking with other students is must.
Tip #8: Do Readings Strategically
One of the most common 4.0 myths is that the more reading you do for class, the better. If you’re only out to learn, this may be a successful approach. But if your ultimate goal is an A, then you need to be more strategic. I’ve gotten As in classes where I didn’t do a single reading. It was apparent early on that evaluation would be based on attendance and classroom material. For most classes, you have to do at least some of the readings to score well on assignments and exams. Look at the syllabus and grading rubrics in advance. Talk to former students who have a good idea of teacher expectations. And learn how to extract the main points of a paper without reading every word. If your class approach is to read every word of every assignment, you probably won’t have time for anything else (if you don’t believe me, wait until you get your first college syllabus). And you’ll be forced to make trade-offs that affect your ability to get an A in other classes.
Tip # 9: Connect With The Teaching Assistant
This one applies more to college than high school. In many college classes, TAs do the majority, if not all, of the grading. In that case, apply the same pointers about connecting with your teacher to the teaching assistant. Some TAs hold course review sessions once a week. Attend, sit in the front, take notes, and participate. TAs also typically hold office hours and can answer questions about assignments. Take advantage of your TA in the most noble way possible. You will get more out of the class and increase your chances of scoring an A.
Tip #10: Research Your Teachers
This tip is about course selection. That is, putting yourself in an environment where you can be successful. Rate My Professors is an excellent tool for evaluating both the quality and difficulty of professors. If you just want an A, then difficulty will be at the fore of your mind. Never take a class without researching the professor. In high school, the process may look a little different but the same concepts apply. For the courses your high school lets you choose (APs, post-secondary, or free electives), make sure you know who is the teacher that will be evaluating you. As you probably already gathered, the grade has as much to do with the teacher as it does the student. Some teachers rarely ever give A’s, while others hand them out like candy. And if you’re conservative and your teacher is a communist, good luck getting an A in that class. In my experience, most teachers strive to be objective, but at the end of the day they are still human. 4.0 students always research their teachers in advance.
If you follow these 10 tips, you will be that much closer to acing every one of your classes. But remember, getting a 4.0 (or coming close) isn’t everything. You may discover later, as I did, that some things in the life of a student are more important than academic performance. Things like building lasting friendships and creating amazing memories. When it’s all said and done, these are what make the unique phase of being a student a truly unforgettable experience.