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Getting good grades

What do you think?

Before you get started, think about how you would answer the following questions.

  1. How do you manage your time to get all the things done that you want?
  2. What is your best time of day to learn?
  3. Think back to a test in which you received a good grade. What was the subject, type of test (i.e., multiple choice, essay), and how did you study for it?
  4. Where do you study? Is it a good location to study? Why or why not?

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Get prepared

Are you prepared to study in college? Have you heard that there will be a lot of reading for your college classes? What about writing those 20-page papers? Getting good grades in college takes some time and effort but you can do it! It’s all about finding out what works best for you, learning some tips and tricks for getting good grades and practicing effective study habits.

Before each semester begins

  • Meet with the person in charge of accommodations to get your accommodation letters for each semester.
  • Think about your course load. Some students do very well by having a full schedule of classes (more than 12 credits a semester) while others do better when they take fewer classes. You may want to start off by taking less classes and building up to a full class schedule in future semesters. When thinking about your course load, make sure to check if there is a minimum number of credits you must carry if you have a scholarship or financial aid package.
  • Find out early what textbooks you will need for each class and give this information immediately to the person in charge of accommodations if you need alternative textbooks (Braille, books on CD or electronic text). You are more likely to have the books ready by the time classes begin for the semester.
  • When choosing your classes, balance your course load with classes that are difficult and classes that are more manageable. Talk with classmates, your academic adviser and your disability support coordinator to find the best class schedule for you.

The first week of class

  • Give your professors your accommodation letters in the beginning of the semester. Although it is recommended that you do this early, you can choose not to identify or to identify at any point in time during the semester. Keep in mind that accommodations are usually not retroactive and begin at the point that you present your accommodation letters to your professors.
  • Find out the add/drop and withdraw dates and put these in your master calendar. These dates are important to know if you decide to change your class schedule.
  • Get to class early and sit close to the front, as this will help you pay attention to the lecture.
  • Create a master calendar and put in all of your due dates from your class syllabi. Consider color-coding each class to organize your calendar. Some choices of calendars include wall calendars, palm pilots, small planners, to-do lists, daily planners, monthly planners, etc. It’s important to find the right type of calendar for you!
  • Get a class syllabus from each of your classes. Organize each class syllabus, notes and handouts in a notebook, folder or binder. Consider color-coding each notebook to match the class.
  • Use a time-management system that works for you such as a planner, a wall calendar, an electronic organizer or lists.
  • Develop a study plan. Plan specific times that you will study. You have a great deal more freedom in college so sometimes it helps to create your own structure.
  • Find a good study location that is free from distractions (i.e., the quiet floor in the library, a coffee shop, student lounge or dorm study rooms).
  • Determine what your distractions are and come up with a plan for dealing with those distractions. For example, if you know that instant messenger is a time waster, shut off your computer when you are studying.

During the semester

  • Use your accommodations.
  • Attend all classes.
  • Check your accommodations to see if they need to be adjusted. If they do, contact the person in charge of accommodations.
  • Go to review sessions for upcoming exams!
  • Keep track of your grades so you know where you stand in the class.
  • Need extra help? Find out what resources are available on campus. Some colleges offer free tutoring or a writing center. You can look on the college Web site or in your student handbook.
  • Get to know your professors. If you are unsure of the requirements of an assignment or of your status in the class, ask your professor or the teaching/graduate assistant. Usually, professors will put their office hours in their syllabus.
  • Learn what works best for you to manage your stress (exercise, meditation, yoga, counseling, etc.). Often, colleges offer free counseling and memberships to the gym.
  • Keep in touch with your adviser to make sure you are on track with your classes. You don’t want to take classes that you don’t need.
  •  When it’s time to register, take advantage of priority registration for students with disabilities. Call the office in charge of accommodations to find out more.

Study tips

  • Break large projects or readings into smaller, more manageable ones.
  • Use small periods of time for studying. For example, if you are waiting in a line, take out your flash cards and study them. You will be amazed at how these small chunks of time add up!
  • Preview (skim) the textbook reading before class. This step will help you during the lecture. Right after the lecture, review the class notes. If you are unsure of any of the information in class, ask your professor. At the end of the week, review the notes for the entire week.
  • Set specific and measurable goals for each study session such as I will read 10 pages of biology. Consider studying in 30- to 50- minute blocks. Take a break and then review what you just studied.
  • Be active when studying. Highlight information, summarize what you just read, create flash cards, quiz yourself on your notes or readings, etc.
  • Read actively by taking notes from your textbook, by turning headings into questions and then answering the questions in your own words, highlighting important text or using a tape/digital recorder and dictating notes.
  • Study during your most productive/attentive time periods. For instance, if you are not a morning person and feel groggy during this time, this may not be the best time for you to study.
  • It’s important to check your memory when studying. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we know the material when really we just recognize it. After you have reviewed some information for a test, see if you can put the information into your own words without looking at it.
  • Use mnemonics or memory aids when studying. For example ROYGBIV is a mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow.
  • Use rewards for studying. For example, after studying for an hour, you can instant message for 10 minutes. Set a timer, watch or microwave to let you know when your break is over.
  • Find a study partner or group if you learn by discussing material. You can even ask your professor if he or she would ask the class if anyone is interested in forming a study group. Some colleges offer supplemental instruction for more difficult classes. If your college offers this service, consider going to a session.
  • Use supplemental materials. Sometimes textbooks come with a study guide, CD or an accompanying Web site. Use these materials to clarify information or test your knowledge. A Web site might have quizzes available that will give you feedback about your answers. This strategy is a great way to check your memory and to see where your memory gaps are.
  • If noise distracts you during a test, wear earplugs.
  • When you get a test back, review it to see what types of mistakes you made. This way you can see if you have a pattern of errors and try not to make the same errors on the next test. Make an appointment with your professor to discuss your test and analyze it together.

Adapted from VCU Disability Support Services.