How to Student 223: How to Do Better in Class
This post includes affiliate links that will lead you to other websites that I do not own. Read the full disclosure here.
I was an honors kid growing up. Not gifted, but honors. I found there was a difference between the two, though many schools put them together. Gifted kids are born with the smarts; you’ve been given a gift. Honors kids develop the skills; their motivation is honored. I’m not smart by any means. I got district honors at my high school graduation, and honors with one of my two degrees by 24 while teaching my third year full time. Because of this, most of my students believe I’m one of those smart kids; not like them who are just trying to do their best so they can have a chance to even see a college application. Let alone fill it out.
Not everyone is a straight A student.
Despite my accolades, I’ve never had a 4.0 during any of my schooling, though I tried hard. I tried, but I do have weaknesses. Everyone does. And, unless you are going for prestigious schooling, you don’t need straight A’s.
I’m not discouraging anyone from trying, but really, let’s be real here. 4.0 kids are a special breed. The rest of us are 3.0-3.5 kids on average. And, guess what: that’s okay. You don’t have to have an A to learn or be an expert. If you do your best and have a plan, your grade can be a reflection of your growth.
Well, what should the rest of us do to compete when we won’t win the race?
While you aren’t breaking the finish tape, there are some shoes in which you can invest so you can at least keep up. Let’s find out what.
If you want to survive your classes without potentially losing points for dumb mistakes, you need to organize. There are many ways to organize anything, and you need to figure out which works for you.
- Planner. They make them for a reason. I remember having three when I was at school. They come in different sizes, different designs, different detail, and different purpose. If you think you’ll be consistent with it, it’s my recommended go-to.
- Folders. Just like when you were little, you can have in-going and outgoing folders for your assignments. Put more important work in folders that stand out to you for their purposes. In your binders, make sure you have tabs and labels.
- Technology. Most smartphones and tablets will have some kind of list-app for reminders. The one on my phone actually has a timer and urgency function so it will alert me when it’s close to and currently the due date. For those of you who will completely forget, this may be an option. Especially if you have a better relationship with your phone than you do yourself.
Consistency is key. It’s not enough to just start a system or buy the materials. You actually have to use the materials consistently and keep it organized throughout the year.
Do your research
I don’t mean MLA citation and a bibliography. Unless you’re assigned one, then, yeah, do it. I’m talking about having questions and finding answers. Don’t just wait for someone to tell you or claim, “well, I don’t know”. You can answer your questions like so:
- Ask a peer. Ask a few to be sure. I remember the “ask three then me” rule our primary school teachers taught us. It is for a reason, other than avoid being harassed. Hopefully, someone was listening!
- Check your papers. Notes, worksheets, readings, syllabus, forms, official documentation, library, email and text communication. These are all things, “papers” if you will, that can help you learn, figure out, and recall whatever you need to know.
- Google it. You do it for everything else. The teacher shouldn’t have to give you details on things that are so common knowledge, the internet has a generator that will do it for you! If you aren’t sure of something, and it isn’t esoteric to the class, google it.
If you want or need something, you have to be the person to get it for you. Every adult–whether they live it yet or not–know that we are dependent on ourselves when we are independent adults.
Take Notes for Class
Some parties insist that taking notes is a waste of time. The rest of the camp has found which ways are most efficient to take notes. There are so many ways to do it. Unless your professor has a specific way for you to take notes, try a variety.
- Cornell Notes. There is a whole system when it comes to C-Notes. It may feel complicated but has been proven the best way to study when you need them. This is probably the way to go if you plan on technical studies that will use more memory.
- SketchNotes. Though I am not very good at them myself, this is probably the coolest way to take notes. To me, at least. Basically, instead of using constant words, you depict most of your ideas with images and fonts. It’s much better for those who are more abstract/artistic. However, it can also be distracting if you focus too much on the detail of the images instead of what they represent.
- The Basics of SketchNotes; Sketchnotes without Drawing (for those like me!)
- Outlines. Outlines are very simple; just bullets and levels. This is probably the most traditional way to do it. You’re in control of how you organize it, what represents what, what levels are needed, all of it. You can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like.
No matter where you stand on the “worth” of note taking, taking a class = taking notes. So, figure out how you plan to do it if you want to make it through the class.
Talk to your Class Instructors
Instructors become teachers for one of two reasons: they’re passionate about their subject and/or they’re passionate about the kids. Typically, for both. So, there’s no need to fear to ask them too many questions. We spend 3.5-4 years, minimum, to answer your questions. As adults, we’ve been where you were at one point and typically empathize with you as you mature.
- Ask us questions. If you don’t know, and your research yielded little to no results, ask the teacher. Even if (s)he already explained it, we rather reiterate or point you to the right place for research than you to just ignore or wing it. If you find yourself asking “too many” questions, opt for personal time with the teacher.
- Go to tutoring. It’s hard to help you in the classroom when there are other kids who need help, too. If your instructor has 1:1 time (office hours, tutoring time), go to it! If you truly want to do well in the class, whatever grade it may be, and you’re struggling, this is step one! We prefer 1:1 because there’s a better chance you’ll need less help later.
- Alert us. Most teachers know the struggle is real when it comes to stress and time. We know that you have a life and other things going on (for most good students). If you know you have a paper, test, and sports game on the same day, ask for extra time before the due date. If your computer crashed, but you finished it for sure, snap a picture of the error and your work and send it in for us to verify. We’re less likely to be flexible with you if you wait until after and give us the excuse.
Even if you can’t be a straight A student, if you can be an independent student, you can do well.
These four things will help you be just that. Don’t be afraid of the adults. And, don’t feel inadequate in comparison to other peers. Like I said before, success is not about the grades.
I’d prefer a sports-playing, working/volunteering, 3.0 student over a 4.0 and go home student any day. And, I can promise you, so does every college and scholarship committee that I have ever known.
Do you feel a little more confident, now? Is there anything else you think is key to doing well for a student at any level? Comment on it below.
Of course, stay connected on social media, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter!