Up Your Grades: How to Turn Those Bs and Cs into As and Bs---In a Hurry
By Marty Nemko
The end of the school year is approaching FAST. It’s crunch time. You can picture that report card now, and it’s not looking pretty.
Here’s the good news. You have just enough time to save the day. Here’s are the most powerful ways to up your grades pronto!
To up your grades significantly, you’re going to have to work at least a little harder during these next few weeks. Why in the world you should bother? Are any of the following actually important to you? (Check all that apply.)
Getting your parents off your back.
Not being embarrassed when your smart friends ask what grade you got.
Having a better chance of getting into Cool College rather than just Ho-Hum U.
Having a better chance of getting into college, at all! Can you just imagine: At the end of your senior year, all your friends will be asking each other, “Where are you going to college?” How would you feel answering, “I’m not going to college.”
Learning more. Not only will that make you smarter, you’ll feel more confident, and be more attractive to desirable friends, boys, and employers.
Do you have another reason for studying? Write it here: ________________.
For an ongoing reminder of your most important reason to study, try the Scarlet Letter Technique: On your hand, write an alphabet letter than stands for your #1 reason, for example, C for Cool College.
Your Term Paper is Due in Just Two Days!
You know you should have started on it weeks ago, but the due date seemed so far away. So you bagged it. Now, it’s time to pay the piper: a ten-page paper is due in just two days—with references no less. And you haven’t even started! Here’s what to do.
Step 1: If possible, choose a topic you care about. If the assigned topic—for example, the aftermath of the War of 1812-- bores you to tears, ask the teacher if she’d let you write on a topic you care more about: for example, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America. Surprisingly often, the teacher will say yes.
Step 2: Gather information on your topic. Try to think of it as a treasure hunt—you’re looking for nuggets on your topic. Before heading to the library, see what you can find online. Two awesome sources: yahoo.com and a huge online library of reference materials: www.refdesk.com. Add your own ideas as they come to you.
TIP: Write all notes on a computer so it's easy to move things around. If you don't have a computer, write one piece of information per index card.
Step 3: In light of the information you obtained, write your thesis statement. That’s the one main point you want to make in your paper.
TIP: Teachers love provocative yet plausible thesis statements.
Here’s a possible thesis statement for our paper on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks: The terrorists may want to see the entire world become Islamic.
Step 4: Place each piece of information into one of a few categories. Each category will be one of your paper’s major headings. Here are the headings for our sample paper:
Statements made by or about Al Qaeda regarding American involvement in Saudi Arabia
Statements made by or about Al Qaeda about American involvement in the West Bank and Gaza.
Statements made by or about Al Qaeda about American involvement in Iran.
Statements made by or about Al Qaeda indicating that it would like America to become an Islamic nation.
Step 5: Within each category, put each piece of information in a logical order. Ask yourself, “Which should go first? Which should go second?” and so on. You’re going to start seeing your paper appear before your very eyes.
Step 6: Turn these ordered pieces of information into smooth paragraphs. Add, subtract and revise material as you see fit. Rule of thumb: When in doubt, start each paragraph with a topic sentence—saying what the paragraph will be about. Then be sure that the rest of the paragraph fulfills the topic sentence’s promise.
Tip: Don't spend much time just staring at the screen. Keep adding, subtracting, and revising stuff even if you're not sure the changes are good. The constant changing keeps you feeling like you're making progress, and probably sooner than later, your paper will get better and better.
Step 7: Write your conclusion. Again, don't stare at a blank screen. Write whatever junk comes to mind and revise. It's much easier to revise than to generate brilliance out of thin air.
Good conclusions start with a summary of the paper’s main point(s) and move on to discuss the implications of those points. Here’s a sample conclusion for our paper on terrorism.
So, again and again, we see statements by Al Qaeda and by terrorism experts indicating that Al Qaeda would like to see the world made Islamic. Of course, these statements may have been made mainly for political effect to rally the people in the streets. (Teachers LOVE when students acknowledge a position contrary to the thesis statement.) But, most of the evidence suggests that if we want to retain our pluralistic society in America and one in which women are treated decently, we face a long battle indeed.
What does a long battle mean? Does it mean defending against a variety of terrorist attacks from cars riding around our cities releasing anthrax, vials of ebola virus dumped into a stadium’s ventilating system, a suitcase nuclear bomb detonated downtown, salmonella infused into the water that washes tomatoes before they’re shipped? Probably--unless we make an unprecedented national commitment to infiltrating terrorist organizations to get wind of impending attacks before they strike. And—and here’s the controversial part (Teachers LOVE unconventional but defensible statements)—I believe we have no choice but to negotiate with the terrorists. Attacking each other will only result in more destruction. Peace can only come from communication and understanding of the other party’s position—and that includes the positions of Islamic militants.
Step 8: Write the title and introduction.
Remember, your teacher is going to be reading dozens of term papers. Trust me, her eyes will glaze over quickly. So, if she comes upon your paper and sees an intriguing title and introductory paragraph, your paper will be greeted with a sigh of relief. She’ll read the rest of your paper with a positive predisposition—that usually means a good grade.
Here’s an example:
What The Terrorists Want--And How We Can Avoid Giving Them Too Much
The nation is wringing its hands about what to do to stop further terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, we are treating the symptom and not the disease: bomb the heck out of Afghanistan, stock up on Cipro, hire more security guards. The real answer lies in understanding what these people—who are so committed that they’re willing to die for their cause—want and figure out how they might get any legitimate needs met without violating our national interests and human rights beliefs. This paper attempts to address these issues.
Step 9: Put your paper away, for at least an hour, ideally a day. Then reread it and revise. Viewing it with fresh eyes can be invaluable.
Step 10: Show a draft to someone you trust. Revise. Voila, you’re done!
If you have a few days before the due date, show a draft to your teacher. Often, she'll be willing to give you feedback on it. That almost ensures a good grade when you submit your revised final version. If she refuses, try a friend or even your parent.
If you get a bad grade on the final draft, you might ask the teacher if you can rewrite based on her feedback and resubmit. If she says yes, it's an almost guaranteed way to up your grade.
The Final’s Coming Up!: Top 9 Ways to Cram
9. Ask the teacher what to focus on in studying for the test. I like this wording: “Any suggestions as to the wisest approach to studying for the exam?”
8. Ever read something for ten minutes and then realize you don’t remember a single thing you read? Here's a sure-fire preventative. Read only one paragraph, then turn away and recite what you remember. If you've left out something important, say it aloud and, in the margin, bracket that part so you can reread it just before the test.
7. Even easier, when you feel yourself spacing out, read the important stuff aloud. It's hard to space out while reading aloud. Also you'll remember it better because reading aloud makes you go slowly and because it enables you to hear your voice at the same time as you're seeing the words.
6. If you don't understand a section, reread it only once. If you still don't understand it, just mark it with a question mark and go on. Staying stuck is frustrating. When you’ve finished reading, call a friend (poll the audience, or 50/50) or ask the teacher about your question marks.
5. Pace the floor while studying hard stuff. Walking increases circulation to the brain.
4. Use different highlighters for different stuff. Try hot pink for the material most likely to be on the exam and yellow for other stuff worth highlighting. Not only does this keep you awake, the color is a memory jogger. Rule of Thumb: Never highlight more than 1/3 of the material. A totally yellow book isn’t going to help you.
3. For memorization tests, make flash cards. So, for example, if you’ll need to memorize the symbols in the Periodic Table of the Elements, write, for example, gold, on one side of the card and AU (the symbol), on the back. Just in making the flashcards, you’ll be learning the stuff. A painless way to learn.
2. Meet with one, two or three study partners. Take turns asking your partner(s) questions you think could be on the test. But choose your study partners carefully. I remember a study group in which we spent most of the time fooling around or helping the girl who didn’t prepare for the study group.
1. Create a pretend crib sheet. Imagine that the teacher allowed you to bring one sheet of paper of notes into the exam. What would you write? (small handwriting permitted.) Right before the exam, study just that sheet.
The Final is THIS Period!: 3 Tips for Successful Test Taking.
Have you ever written four essays and discovered later that the instructions said, "Choose three of four"? The easiest way to boost your test score is to read the directions and questions carefully. If you're not sure of what's being asked, don't be afraid to ask the teacher.
On essay tests, first read all the questions, then begin with the easiest one and work your way up. Why? Because if you don't have time to finish, the hardest essay will be left undone. Also, doing easier essays builds confidence and may even trigger thoughts on the hard ones.
When I was in school, our biology teacher told us that on a multiple-choice test, when you're absolutely stuck between two choices, choose a middle response (for example, choice "C") because test makers tend to hide the correct answer in the middle. I'm not sure he's right, but I always followed his advice whenever two choices looked equally good. It just felt better to have some way of choosing. It’s certainly better than leaving it blank.
At crunch time, it helps to have someone to coach, cheerlead, and yes, nag you. Who’s your nag of choice:
Your mom or dad
Your brother, sister, uncle, etc.
A nice kid in your class who knows the stuff but isn’t such a genius that she’d have a hard time explaining things in plain English.
A tutor. Ask the teacher if he can work with you after school. If not, ask if he can recommend someone. Tutors can make a big difference.
If You’re Too Upset to Do Schoolwork
Your parents are fighting, your best friend is telling lies about you, you’re going through another bout of thinking you’re ugly. Whatever the reason, you’re feeling too upset to think about schoolwork.
First, try to fight through it. You may think you’re too depressed or anxious to concentrate on quadratic equations but if you just get started, you may find that the schoolwork distracts you. Get it done and you’ll probably feel better—you’ll have taken control over your life. Getting good grades is a step toward a better life. Don’t do it and you’ll have one more reason to feel miserable.
Nip your worrying in the bud. The moment you catch yourself beginning to worry, decide whether you can do anything about your problem now. If not, turn your attention back to your schoolwork. If you don’t nip your worry in the bud, it tends to snowball into such a big worry that there’s no way you’ll be able to concentrate on schoolwork.
If those techniques don’t work, it may be time to talk to a counselor or someone else you trust.
BOX: Getting Motivated
To up your grades, you’re probably going to have to work harder these next few weeks. Why in the world you should bother? Are any of the following actually important to you? (Check all that apply.)
* Getting your parents off your back.
* Not being embarrassed when your smart friends ask what grade you got.
* Having a better chance of getting into Cool College rather than just Ho-Hum U.
* Having a better chance of getting into college, at all. Can you just imagine: At the end of your senior year, all your friends will be asking each other, “Where are you going to college?” How would you feel answering, I’m not going to college.
* Learning more. Not only will that make you smarter, you’ll feel more confident, and be more attractive to better friends and employers.
* Do you have another reason for studying? Write it here: ________________.
For an ongoing reminder of your most important reason
to study, try the Scarlet Letter Technique: On your hand, write an
alphabet letter in red pen than stands for your #1 reason, for
example, C for Cool College.
BOX: Straight-A Students' Studying Secrets
* Ask the teacher, the magic question: "Any suggestions as to the wisest approach to studying for the exam?”
* Look for the Teacher Tipoff: In class, notice when your teacher's voice gets emphatic. Star those things in your notes--they're likely to be on the test.
* Get a tutor. Even if you're a good student, tutoring may be the most powerful way to up your grade--not to mention, to help you learn more. Between tutoring sessions, keep a list of things you need help with.
* The Key to Staying Awake: Read difficult material aloud, one paragraph at a time. Then turn away and paraphrase aloud everything important you just read. Highlight anything important you omitted. Reread that highlighted portion right before the test. (Are we having fun yet?)
* In prepping for a tough test, ask one, two, or three smart kids to make up questions they think might be on the test. Get together to ask each other the questions and discuss the answers.
* The night before the test, create a pretend crib sheet. On one page (small handwriting allowed), write all the stuff you wish you could have in front of you during the test. Study that page.
BOX: What I look for when I grade papers.
As a teacher and professor, I read many papers. To this day, I still read college application essays. These are the things that I usually see in great papers.
* A provocative thesis. I love when a student says her paper will make the case for an important but not widely-held assertion.
* Logical reasons to support the thesis.
* Strong evidence to support the thesis. This usually requires research: on the Net, the library, and/or interviewing experts. Do not pad—most teachers have good BS detectors. Don’t have enough meaty stuff to write? Sorry, you need to do more research.
* A structured paper. Most student papers are disjointed. They make me think the writer is a fuzzy thinker. Here's a structure that works in many circumstances:
1. An introductory section that explains the thesis and why it's important.
2. A section explaining why an intelligent person might argue that your thesis is wrong. Teachers love it when you acknowledge different strong points of view.
3. One or more sections defending the thesis.
4. A conclusion that not only summarizes but extends, explaining the larger implications of the thesis.
If doing all that sounds hard, it is, but here are a few ways to make it easier:
* Use short sentences and plain language. Some of the best writing is simple. The more complicated the writing, the harder it is to stay logical.
* Don't stare at a blank screen. After doing your research, start writing anything, even if it seems crappy. It's much easier to revise your way to excellence than to spew it out immediately.
* If you can't seem to make a point clearly, try to state it aloud. Often that helps you clarify. .
* In rereading your paper, go sentence by sentence, asking yourself: Is this crystal clear? Could I say the same thing in fewer words? That's important. Every extra word dilutes the impact of what you're saying.
BOX: Too Stressed to Study?
Your teachers are all piling on the work. They're acting like their class is the only one you're taking. It can feel overwhelming. Here are ways to drop it down to just plain whelming:
* Get started early. You'll be less stressed, you'll learn more, and crazy as it may sound, you may actually enjoy studying. Cramming is never fun. It's just an adrenaline-powered frenzy session likely to result in a so-so grade, and, seven seconds after the exam, your forgetting 90% of what you crammed.
* Focus on your next few-second task. Stop thinking about all the work that's ahead of you. That will overwhelm you. Just ask yourself, "What's my next few-second task?" A few seconds is a nice friendly amount of time. It's amazing how much progress you can make doing few-second tasks. It's like a mountain climber. If she's at the bottom and looks up, it can feel overwhelming--"I can't climb all the way up there!" But if she just puts one foot in front of the other, before long, she'll look down and think, "I can't believe how far I've come!"
* Maintain perspective. Yes, you want good grades, and yes they matter, but there are plenty of C students with better lives than many A students--David Letterman comes to mind. In the end, your life will probably be no worse if you get a B rather than an A in World History. One more secret: Your parents or teachers probably won't tell you this, but the truth is that many FINE colleges will admit you with so-so grades.
* Nip worry in the bud. Your parents are fighting; your best friend is telling lies about you; you’re going through another bout of thinking you’re ugly. Whatever the reason, you’re feeling too upset to think about schoolwork. Nip your worrying in the bud. The moment you catch yourself beginning to worry, decide whether you can do anything about your problem now. If not, turn your attention back to your schoolwork. If you don’t nip your worry in the bud, it tends to snowball into such a big deal that there’s no way you’ll be able to concentrate on quadratic equations.
BOX: Getting Focused
* Sometimes, location matters. Can't study in that madhouse you call your home? How about the library? A cafe? Your friend's house--yeah, right.
* Music on or off? Shania Twain can, for some kids, be an excellent study buddy. For other kids, Shania will get you groovin' but not on Algebra 2. How about you?
* Need a loving taskmaster? Sometimes, knowing you have to check in daily with your tough-love Aunt Edna can help you toe the line. When my wife had to do her Ph.D. dissertation, we drew a picture of a thermometer on the fridge. On the side of the thermometer, instead of numbers, we put the steps she needed to complete her dissertation. Every time she completed a step, we filled in that part of the thermometer in purple ink and I gave her a kiss.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2018. Usage Rights