Everyone is always looking for short cuts. How to save time, how to be more efficient, how to be more successful, make more money, get better grades, and many others. I firmly believe that in certain aspects of life you should put in 100% effort. There are other things (like half of my college courses) where I want to put in almost no effort because I believe there are things that would be better uses of my time (like writing an epic blog post?).
When it comes to classes that will help me in the future with my career I want to put in a lot of effort as knowledgeable as possible. For those courses I even want to go out of my way to learn extra things that don’t necessarily help with the course but do assist with an overall understanding of the subject.
There are a few things you can do to have super good grades with much less effort than you think. This doesn’t mean that anyone can attain straight A’s and not do homework and skip class. With these techniques many people will be able to attain the same grades with less effort. Here we go…
Step 1: stop memorizing and start learning
Of course, this sounds redundant and you may have heard this 1000x. It’s super important! What exactly does this mean. Well for example, when in Biology class you should not memorize everything about the cell without knowing what is going on. You should be able to picture in your head all the little details in the cell, how each thing works. Then you can go back and attach the proper vocabulary to the terms. Figure out what a mitochondrion does, what makes it important and how it interacts with the rest of the cell. Then you can memorize the word mitochondria and what it looks like. FIGURE OUT WHAT IS GOING ON then memorize.
The great Richard Feynman once said this in a lecture when students were talking about how much they knew, but when later asked questions utilizing the topic, they had no idea what he was talking about. The students spent all their time memorizing and none of it learning true application of the subject.
“When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.
The other students in the class interrupt me: “We *know* all that!”
“Oh,” I say, “you *do*? Then no *wonder* I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.” They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.” -Richard Feynman
This quote is a great example of what happens to most students in school. They will study something for years and understand all the vocabulary words, but they don’t know how anything works in a real scenario. When those vocabulary words are applies to real life, they wouldn’t even know it. Mathematics is a great example of this. We learn derivatives in calculus, but we don’t know when to use them in a real-life situation. Or we memorize a formula and have no idea what it is finding.
Learning how something really works and ignoring the vocabulary at first is in my opinion a brilliant way to learn. This will allow yourself to be successful long term. Internalizing what something does, and how it works will then help you memorize the proper vocabulary.
This will also help you greatly with future classes. If you memorize everything in Biology 1 then forget it all, once you get to Biology 2 you will have to memorize everything from Biology 1 that you forgot, as well as everything in Biology 2 making it twice as much work.
Step 2: Use the 80/20 principal
This principal states that 20% of what you do makes up 80% of your results. This applies to studying, to reading, to homework, as well as most else in life. I have personally found this to be true. One of the most famous books written about this is The 80/20 Principal by Richard Koch.
When I applied this to studying and homework, I realized that if all I wanted was a B in my class, I would have to spend 20% of the time it would take to get an A. This sounds wrong and silly, but it is very true. With minimal studying, doing the homework correctly but not perfectly, and going to class, I have not received a grade lower than a B in any class.
I don’t waste my time reading the textbook multiple times or re-writing notes. Figure out what the teacher spent the most time on teaching and study just those things. Missing 1 or 2 questions the teacher may ask about some random topic hidden deep in the book or lecture doesn’t matter if you don’t mind not getting 100%. I’d rather spend 20% of the time and still likely get an A or B, then do 5x more studying to get a few more questions correct.
A good book for good study techniques and different ways to approach homework is How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport. He covers studying, scheduling, and some other topics used by Ivy League students.
To do this you need to analyze what is covered most in the class. What is being taught in class, what is on the quizzes, what is on the homework. Figure out the big topics in the class and less on the nanoscopic details. How were the previous tests and what kinds of questions were asked? Are there videos that cover the topic better than your textbook or lectures do? Are you focusing on too much stuff making it difficult to learn anything at all? Once you start to think about what 20% of your time gives you most of your results you will be able to whittle out the stuff that is a waste of time for you.
Step 3: Do some kind of schoolwork every day!
Binging 20 hours of homework in one weekend is stupid. It ruins your weekend and it is very stressful. This prevents you from being able to remember the material, and it sucks… a lot. Doing 30 minutes a day of studying on your hardest class may be annoying but it will allow you to get A’s on a test when the average grade is a C and you will be the one not understanding how everyone else bombed the test.
Doing one assignment, one study session, or even just making some flash cards on a day that you planned to do no schoolwork is a major key to success without stress. This is time you are saving from your future self. Stop putting yourself into situations where you must cram or rush an assignment for no reason other than the mystical procrastination.
Do a little each day!
Step 4 and 5: Have discipline and make a proper schedule.
This is another one of those things that seem super obvious, but people just don’t do. I’ve made a YouTube video on how to have a proper schedule linked below. Sticking to a good schedule will free up a lot of your time. It allows you to never have to binge or cram for a test or large assignment again.
I’m able to do almost anything I want because of this tactic. I can party, I get good grades, I work out daily, I hang out with friends, I’m involved in extracurriculars and it’s not stressful at all. The caveat to this is that you must have discipline. You cannot make a schedule and then decide you are not going to do any of it and just play Call of Duty for 8 hours today. If you want to be a successful student, or just successful in any aspect of life, it’s time to start controlling yourself and stop allowing your addictions/laziness/procrastination demon to control you. If it’s video games or social media or shopping, it needs to be controlled and dominated. As stated above my video goes into good detail on how to make a good schedule that doesn’t suck to follow.
Try and remember that none of your idols are sitting around doing nothing all day. They push themselves constantly to achieve amazing things.
Step 6 and 7: Pick good classes and learn outside of class work
They are ‘pick classes of interest’ and ‘do research and learning outside of the classroom.’ Picking classes of interest is not always possible but it helps a lot. If you hate all your classes every semester you may be in the wrong degree, or you may need to second guess going to college. There are many other non-college opportunities (plumbers can make 6 figures).
Finding an interesting class may require research on various professors on each subject. It may require talking to friends or other students. Maybe it’s just a subject you’ve always wanted to know more about. This is not always possible, but it should be strived for every semester. Don’t always go for the ‘Easy A’, remember college is costing you thousands of dollars per year, take a subject you want to learn!
The second, do research outside of class. This means you really need to commit to the classes you are taking. This usually helps boost grades and to find interest in the subjects you’re learning. Don’t just learn crap from a textbook, go read good books, listen to podcasts, talk to students that are in grad school who are studying the subject. Really learning in depth more information than you “need” to pass the class can really boost your college experience and your brain size. This can also lead to finding passion in a subject or hobby that maybe never crossed your mind as something of interest.
Final step: Do something you love to do every day!
This is a hobby or activity that really makes you happy and excited. I personally recommend that this is an activity outside of your house. It may be that knitting with friends, Jiu Jitsu, or chess club. Whatever it is, getting out of the house and looking forward to going every day, no matter what else happens that day, can really help you stay focused and help your mental and physical health.
To summarize all of this, the main things you need to do to get good grades are 1, 2, 3, and 5. The rest just help and make your college experience more enjoyable and help you stay mentally focused because let’s be honest, motivation and dedication is difficult these days for many of us.
The 80/20 principal, finding out what things take 20% of your effort and are giving 80% of the results can boost your productivity and time usage to a level you never thought possible. If the goal is to just become a 3.0 student, this shouldn’t take much effort if you just do your homework and study a minimal amount each day. If you want to be a 4.0 student, this will take about double the effort only because you need to study more and work harder on assignments.
These are the techniques I used to get a high level GPA and to also have time to do anything else I want, including working, learning skills outside of school, read 52 books per year, spend quality time with my girlfriend every day, and workout often. This is while taking 18 credits some semesters.
I am not saying this to brag, maybe I’m lucky or have more free time than most. I’m just trying to say that having a good schedule, and some discipline can provide a great college experience as well as high quality learning.
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