8 Strategies to Get Good Grades

Want good grades!?! What about GREAT grades? Below we outline eight proven strategies for obtaining GREAT grades. Each strategy alone will not achieve the greatest reward, but applied together, you cannot fail to succeed beyond expectations.

If you love learning it is a lot easier to get great grades in school but in order to love learning you need to be able to make study an organic process, natural and fluid. Though some prefer to think of it as a game much like chess because you also need to love thinking, planning and making connections, seeing the world in a new and more detailed way than ever before.

In essence, these strategies will help you apply effective time management strategies to the science and psychology of how your brain creates and recalls memory, so you can effectively minimize the effort and maximize the rewards across all your subject areas.

The eight strategies are listed below. For each strategy we will briefly describe the science behind it and then go on to give you an example of how to apply it. We appreciate that everyone is time poor but we trust that you will find these ideas useful and a little different in application to the usual.

1. Relate the day’s topic to yourself BEFORE you get to class

The science behind the strategy:

The human brain is primed to pay more attention to information that it determines to be relevant and important to you. The more relevant you can make the information and the richer the tapestry you can weave around that information, the more likely it will be for you to retain and later recall that information (in an exam for example). By including humorous anecdotes, you further reinforce this process as the brain preferentially store positively associated information.

How to apply it:

Before class, open your textbook and skim read the topic to be covered the next day (weekly topics and chapter references are usually listed on your syllabus or term overview).

While you skim, think about your own ‘real world’ experiences and examples relating to the topic. Also try to recall any movies, television programs or novels that relate to the topic.

For example, if you are studying the environment recall movies where pristine environments are shown as well as ones where industry and mining have devastated the environment.

Just because you want great grades doesn’t mean you have to give up enjoying your favorite programs, but you might like to learn how to use them to your advantage.

While studying chemistry was to think of my cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows as a combination of various colloidal suspensions.

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The science behind the strategy:

Your memory is laid down using a complex array of neurons. The more neurons you can use to place pieces of information and the more connections each memory has to other knowledge you already have, the faster and easier it will be to retrieve when you need it. Did you know that the more you exercise neurons the stronger the connections will become over time – the nerves will literally branch and make more connections thereby strengthening your ability to recall information (sadly the converse is true, the less you use your memory pathways, the weaker they will become so think and think often!).

How to apply it:

If you are studying Ancient Egypt think about the pyramids, how do you work out the volume of a pyramid, if you can’t remember, look it up straight away, what is the equation; reflect on the socio-economic structure of the society (slaves, pharaohs etc) that built the pyramids.

Could such a feat be achieved today? What processes would be involved? Don’t forget town planning applications that would need to be approved! Think about the amount of friction involved in moving the blocks and the heat that would generate. How did they cut the rock? Reflect on the Egyptian language, the intricate hieroglyphs.

Imagine having to write an essay in hieroglyphs, what would it look like. And so on…..the more you think of, the better your grades will become. Seriously!

3. Create a mind map for each topic

The science behind the strategy:

By simplifying the main topic into your own subheadings, you create a ‘road map’ to the information already laid down in your mind. By drawing it on a large sheet, you are reinforcing the connections visually, kinesthetically(physically) and linguistically. During an exam or quiz this mind map provides a rapid retrieval system for information even when test anxiety is an issue, just take a deep breath, close your eyes and visualize your map floating in your mind, then follow the map to the information you need.

How to apply it:

  • On a piece of cardboard or a sheet of A3 paper, write the main topic heading prominently, it doesn’t have to be in the center.
  • Stick the sheet up somewhere you will see it (you should have one of these up for each subject at any one time).
  • Over the week(s) add various branches with subheadings in a way that means something to you, there are no specific rules other than be creative!
  • Outline each subheading with a shape: clouds and circles work best for my students, but any shape can work.
  • Include pictures, photographs and diagrams near subheadings where applicable or you think an extra memory boost may be helpful.

The system for subheadings uses a rule of three – three subheadings each divided into three more subheadings (mainly because it is really easy to remember three things even when you are very stressed)

Tip: If you have end of semester exams copy your large mind maps into smaller subject-specific exercise books/sketch pads during the revision period, prior to the exam. You will be surprised how simple revision becomes when you already have a map!

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4. Use color coding

The science behind the strategy:

The visual system is highly sophisticated and is the first part of your brain that sifts and processes written information before further sorting is carried out. By using color to code information you create a subsystem for your memory to use to classify and store the information.

How to apply it:

Use color to define subheading hierarchies and to visually link related ideas on your mind map. Often you will have several subheadings that are related in some way – to visually represent this you can use a similar color to shade in the shape outlining the subheading.

For example, use shades of blue from deep midnight blue to pale baby blue for one series of related headings and shades of red through palest pink for another.

5. In class, write less and think more

The science behind the strategy:

Humans inadvertently give away a lot of clues regarding what is important and what they are thinking. Your teacher will try to keep as close to the key information as possible because they have to stick to a fixed schedule for covering topics. Your teacher will also be aware of areas students usually struggle with or find confusing and spend more time on those areas.

How to apply it:

Treat the lesson as a revision session and think carefully about what is being discussed in class during class. If something interesting comes up or you make a conceptual link, jot a note to yourself.

Remember, you have already thought about the topic and looked over the text before class, so now you are listening out for points your teacher emphasizes.

If you can, think about why the teacher might be highlighting these points, would you have emphasized the same points if you were the teacher? If not, why not?

You should always also listen to the answers the teacher gives to other student’s questions, be aware of the way the answer is delivered, is it lengthy or brief.

If the teacher keeps moving and offers only a brief answer can often indicate that the question is not particularly relevant, whereas if the teacher stops and offers a lengthy answer, this can indicate that the information is important and possibly difficult or complex to understand.

6. READ your task sheet carefully and only follow the criteria for the top grade

The science behind the strategy:

By only focusing on the top grade’s criteria you are priming yourself to achieve that grade. By knowing exactly what your assignment requires, you are ensuring that you will get that great grade.

How to apply it:

This is really a no-brainer but so many students don’t do it!

There is no point in writing a brilliant paper on something that wasn’t asked for. You cannot get a great grade if you don’t give the teacher what they need. So carefully read the task sheet and study the criteria marking sheet (if there isn’t one, ask your teacher for some guidance).

Only look at the A grade criteria – you don’t want to know how to get a D so don’t read the criteria for getting a ‘D.’

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Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked for. Do you know the difference between describing, explaining and discussing? If not seek clarification from your teacher.

7. Submit a draft assignment a week before it is due

The science behind the strategy:

The human mind is programmed to view familiar information more favorably. If the teacher has reviewed your first draft in a calm state they are more likely to give you helpful information on how to improve your paper..

How to apply it:

Use your semester overview to plan your work and don’t leave it to the last minute. If you are like most students you might like to set yourself early deadlines, basically tricking yourself to finishing your work earlier.

  • Your teacher will love you for handing your draft in early.
  • Your teacher will also have more time to devote to making constructive comments that will help you get an even better grade.

If all goes well you may even have time to submit a second draft so you can perfect your paper even further.

8. Believe in your own ability to achieve a given grade

The science behind the strategy:

The psychological strategy of visualization is routinely used for professional athletes and business leaders and has recently been popularized in books. It does work, basically, without a blueprint of what you want to achieve in your own mind, you cannot create what you wish to in reality. This really is the number one strategy without this one you might as well not bother trying to get higher grades. This one is so important I cannot stress the point enough.

How to apply it:

Picture yourself getting the grade you want. Believe it is possible. Believe in your own ability to achieve it. Picture yourself holding your report card looking at the grades you want. Feel the emotion of showing your parents your report card with those amazing grades on it.

What will you say? What will your family be saying? What will that grade mean in terms of your future? Use as many senses as you can with this process and truly own it. It truly works.


Take an active and creative role in what you are learning, link everything together everyday in anyway you can and keep an open mind. Believe in yourself and your future.

But please don’t forget to have some fun, get outside and meet friends, socialize.

Being a success does not mean you need to spend hours on end alone as a social isolate just to gain a great grade, that is not the key to successful life nor is it the secret to great grades!