Five Easy Strategies for Earning Higher Grades

by Neil Chyten (#1568)

You probably already know the three most important criteria for getting into top colleges and private schools. They are:

  • Overall GPA
  • Grades in college prep classes
  • Rigor of academic schedule

Said another way, to be a legitimate candidate for top colleges, students must take rigorous classes (such as AP and honors) and earn excellent grades in those classes. Beyond grades, other important criteria for getting into top colleges and private schools include:

  • Test scores
  • Recommendations
  • Application essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Demonstrated interest

However, earning excellent grades in high level courses should be the number one priority for all students who are thinking about entering some of the country’s mostprestigious private schools and colleges. You may think that earning great grades is just a matter of working harder. You might think that by spending countless hours memorizing facts and figures, going over math problems and grammar questions, your GPA will soar to new heights. To a certain extent, you may be correct. Workingharder does often translate into higher grades. However, earning grades is not just about working harder; it is about working smarter. And, working smarter involve some basic understanding of how your brain works.

With this in mind, here are five smart-learning strategies to improve your GPA.

Strategy #1:

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for moving information from short-term memory into long-term storage. To help the hippocampus, you need to provide proof that a certain piece of information is important enough to retain. You can do this through:

  • Repetition—saying or seeing things over and over.
  • Multi-sensorial learning—using multiple regions of the brain to learn a particular fact. If you read something that you want to remember, try saying it out loud and writing it down. These actions will prove to the hippocampus that a particular piece of information should be stored in long-term memory 

Strategy #2:

Associate new information with something that is already known. This is referred to as an active reading strategy. For example, if you are learning about a particular historical figure, think about someone you know who reminds you of that person. Another example might be associating a newly learned scientific fact with a scientific concept you are already familiar with. 

Strategy #3:

Place yourself in the action. This is another active reading strategy. As you are reading about something, imagine you are precisely where the action is occurring. If you can imagine yourself in the scene, look around and describe to yourself what you are seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, or touching. Imagine certain colors, scents, textures, and even temperatures. You can even imagine that you’re standing right next to a figure that you are reading about. It really doesn’t matter how you do this. The very act of placing yourself in the action will dramatically improve your recollection of that information.

Strategy #4:

Discuss the material you are learning with a classmate, a sibling, or your parents. This provides evidence to the hippocampus that the information you are discussing is important enough to move into long-term memory. Also, it can help you organize your thoughts and opinions on a particular matter.

Strategy #5:

Have an active intention to memorize. Just because you open a book and start reading the words found on the pages, there is no guarantee that you will remember even a single word. Before you begin to read or study, pause for a moment to understand your intention and to make it clear to your brain. In other words, say to yourself something like, “I am going to remember what I read.” Or, “I have a test on this material tomorrow so I need to memorize it.” Telling yourself that something is important enough to remember can have the effect of shutting out conflicting factors that might interfere with your ability to memorize facts and figures.

Brain theory is a rapidly evolving field. However, it is universally agreed that the functioning of the memory can be improved simply by signaling to the brain that something is important enough to move from short-term memory into long-term storage. Try these simple strategies. You can even adjust them or personalize them as you find out how well certain learning and memorization strategies work for you. The most important thing to remember is that learning and memorization takes work, just like any worthwhile activity. To learn and memorize effectively, you need to have the right tools. These tools include having a suitable work environment where you can study effectively, and learning and study skills strategies.  

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