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The Secrets to Straight A's and Keeping (Most of) Your Sanity

The fight for good grades is as old as time. But how do you avoid losing your mind? Here's some advice from a student who's never gotten less than an A.

If this title called to you, you must be in the same boat as many other students who are up to their ears in classwork. I somehow managed to maintain my sanity for four years of high school without getting a B, all while crying over assignments or complaining about how much work I had to do a few (hundred) times. Getting good grades is more about wanting it yourself than anything else. Some people get good grades because their parents force it on them, but self-motivation is more impactful, and learning discipline early on in your education will keep you in check once you get to college. Here are some tips on how to get good grades without going totally insane.

Make lists for everything

Lists are a quick way to organize all your responsibilities on paper. When I make a list, I split it into three categories: what I must do, what I should do, and what I could do. “What I must do” are immediate goals comprising assignments that you actually need to do now. Think of it as a personal guilt trip. This is the project that’s due tomorrow or the test you need to study for at the end of the week.  Put boxes next to each entry so you can check them off when you’ve finished, validating yourself for your work. “What I should do” is more about long-term goals, things like applying for scholarships or buying a dress for prom. These are things you probably won’t do right now but having them on paper will remind you they exist and should be addressed soon.

“What I could do” are all the self-indulgent things you want to do instead of homework. This may include watching YouTube, hanging out with friends, or going out for the night. I will also put trivial things here, like “buy a passion iced tea from Starbucks” or “take a nap.” Make this list with a sense of humor; it’s there to remind you that while there are better things you could be doing than writing about Frankenstein, you have to grit your teeth and get it done. Then you can enjoy your fun list later.

Find your strengths

If you’re lucky, you’ll have already discovered this. How do you learn best? What classes do you enjoy? And if you’re thinking, “I don’t enjoy any of them,” then why? Finding your strengths and employing them is a big part of finding success in any aspect of your education, career, or really any skill or talent you want to foster. That seems obvious, but some people give half of their effort, even with things they enjoy. Don’t do that. Put in the effort and complain less. The secret to getting straight A’s is simply that you must try. We all have strengths, and maybe education is not where you succeed. But if you never attempt to find your strengths, you’ll spend your education wondering how anyone could enjoy school. For many people, strength and purpose go hand in hand. What you are good at is often what you are passionate about. Find yours and cling to it, hone it, and find ways to use it to your advantage.

Related: Infographic: Find Your Learning Style and Study Smarter

Make friends with people smarter than you

This is especially important if you take AP or otherwise difficult classes. People who are smarter than you or who have better grades will encourage you just by being around and showcasing their learning processes and habits. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so copy what they do if what you’re doing isn’t working (not their homework—just their study habits!). One of my best friends had a 5.0 GPA, and I saw her as an academic goddess of sorts. That kind of GPA takes more than a little dedication. I went to her for help in math; she came to me for English. Everyone can benefit from friends with different skills and good work ethics.

Do classwork where you can actually focus

If you try to do homework in a place that doesn’t allow you to focus, you won’t get anything done. Sometimes home isn’t the most productive place to be, and you need to find comfort in other locations. For me, this is my local library, the Starbucks nearest to my house, or any other coffee shop within 20 miles. Living near LA means these types of places are nearly endless, and when I need to get something done, I seek them out. If you work best in places where there is good lighting or food, Use Yelp to find some nice restaurants or cafés. Another distraction may be your study buddies. At times, studying with your friends means there will be more talking than working. If this is the case, kindly tell them that you’ll hang out another day. You need to decide for yourself how you work best. If you never figure this out, good luck getting anything done on time.

Related: How to Make Your Dorm the Perfect Study Space

Befriend your teachers

Sometimes getting good grades depends on how you act toward your teachers. They will not round up your 89.9% if they don’t like you. From the first day of class, be respectful with them and they’ll be patient with you. I’ve even befriended the teachers everyone else hates. Maybe they’re strict, odd, or annoying, but many of them are genuine people trying to teach to the best of their abilities. Getting through to them means they will be more sympathetic of the circumstances and more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your teachers are dealing with their own problems and want to be validated as much as you do. Being compassionate with them goes a long way toward improving your relationships—and your grades.

Listen to music all the time

I confess that music is the main way I stay sane while doing anything, especially schoolwork. There are endless playlists that can be found for free on YouTube and Spotify. Seek out music you can write to, vibe to, and get stuff done to. Playlists that are instrumental work best for studying or writing, and there are hundreds of songs to be found on multiple platforms. Songs with lyrics generally aren’t best for reading a textbook, and you’ll end up getting distracted. Listen to music to brighten up your school day and to stay focused when everyone and everything gets loud. Find music that inspires you to work harder, and if people in your classes annoy you, simply drown them out with your sick tunes.  

Get enough sleep

I think we all have trouble with this one. I usually don’t follow my own advice here, as I am a night owl, but getting enough sleep makes literally every school day easier. Sleeping in class or not falling asleep until 3:00 am every night is honestly the worst thing you can do. It’s all about balance. If you can balance your schoolwork, all-nighters are not necessary. I have never in the last four years pulled an all-nighter, and while college may change that streak, you should still avoid them. If you really can’t find a sleep schedule that doesn’t involve getting to bed at 2:00 am, then comprise a nap schedule. Just sleep, or you’ll be miserable.  

Related: Top Sleep Hygiene Advice for Tired Students

The pressure to get better grades can be a lot, but don’t forget the intrinsic value of wanting and pushing for good grades just for yourself. There’s a lot of power in putting in the effort and seeing your hard work pay off. Because you can get better grades, and you should be proud of yourself for it.

Everyone deserves a break for their hard work! Don’t forget to incorporate some of our Best Quick Study Break Ideas into your academic routine.

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