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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Barnwell

13 Habits of 4.0 Students

It’s that time again… summer break is winding down, and the first day of school is approaching, making it the perfect time to set some intentions and prepare for a successful year.

Most students want to get better grades, but many of them just don’t know what they should be doing differently to make that happen. Or, they might have convinced themselves that, since they aren’t “naturally” great at math, for example, that they won’t ever be. Definitely not true! The good news is, you can always get better, reach higher, than wherever you are now. All it takes is a clear plan, a commitment to give your best effort, and the willingness to form a few good habits.

As you get ready for a new school year, consider the following 13 habits shared by students who got a 4.0, and try incorporating them into your own approach.

  1. Grab a Front-Row Seat. Let’s face it: appearances matter, and first impressions are, well, everything. Start things off on a high note by sitting as close to the front of the class as you can. In psychology, there is a phenomenon called the halo effect, which plays a valuable part in the relationships that you make with others. Basically, the halo effect describes the tendency of people to allow a single impression of a person- usually a first impression- to inform their opinions about that person as a whole. For example, marketers take advantage of the halo effect all of the time to sell products. When you see a celebrity endorse a product on social media, for instance, your positive feelings about that celebrity might spill over to your opinions about the product they are promoting, which then leads you to buy it. It turns out that you can apply- and take advantage of- the halo effect with your teachers, as well. When your teachers first meet you, they will get an initial sense of who you are as a student (a.k.a. a first impression). They will then form an opinion of you and who you are, based on that first impression, which often sticks with you throughout the year. So, make the best first impression that you possibly can: sit in the front row of your class, make good eye contact, take notes, etc. Show your teacher signs that you are engaged and invested in his or her class. This will immediately help your teacher to form an impression of you as a good student, and as someone who works hard. Pro Tip: This can end up becoming your “secret weapon” later in the semester, if you end up needing to ask your teacher for special consideration: extra credit, an extension on a late assignment, a chance to retake a bad test grade, etc. Because you made a good, solid impression of yourself at the beginning of the year, your teacher is much more likely to come to your aid when you really need it. Simple, yet effective.

  2. Get Organized. As soon as you get your syllabus on the first day of class, look through all of the assignments that will be due over the course of the semester. Write down all of the important dates on a calendar, and try to develop the habit of updating your calendar regularly to stay on top of things. Pro Tip: Try writing due dates for your projects, test days, etc. in red, so that those dates will stand out at a glance. Then, you can add in milestones or project checkpoints in another colors (like blue or green) to keep you on track as you work toward the big deadlines. The more prepared and organized you can start the year, the better chance you’ll have at making it through successfully.

  3. Make a Game Plan and Track your Grades. Once you have charted out your semester deadlines on your calendar, read over the grading rubric on your syllabus, and use it to make a game plan for that class. For example, maybe 15-20% of your grade will come from your attendance and participation, while another 30% will be earned from homework/completion grades. Knowing this up front goes a long way. You might not always have control over your performance on quizzes and tests, but you can definitely turn in homework on time, and show up and participate in class! That takes care of up to 50% of your grade, right there! So, make a note of what you can do to lock down “easy points” for each of your classes, and set yourself up for success from the start. Pro Tip: Each time you get a graded assignment back, write it down on your syllabus, so that you can keep track of your grade at all times throughout the semester. This is HUGE, because it gives you the opportunity to take action right away if your grade is ever in trouble. For instance, if you do poorly on a test, you’ll have a way to calculate the effect the lower grade had on your current class average, and implement changes (or talk to your teacher about options) right away, while there is still time to get your grade back up before the grading period ends.

  4. Befriend Upperclassmen. This is a great way to get “insider tips” at the beginning of the school year, and set yourself up for success. Upperclassmen will know exactly what you’re going through, because they have already lived through it! Ask them about specific teachers and classes, get their advice on how they were successful in that class, and what they did to make the year more manageable. They will prove to be amazing resources, and can give you the best idea of what to expect.

  5. Surround Yourself with Successful People. “You can not change the people around you. But you can change the people that you choose to be around.” -Anonymous Generally speaking, people who get good grades and take their academic life seriously tend to have friends who do the same. While we don’t have control over the grades that our friends make (and should not judge them based on those grades), we can choose to be around other people who value their academic performance and are working toward future goals. Surround yourself with smart, driven, responsible friends: they are usually the students who are on task, ready to go, and tend to know exactly what they’re doing. Hint: they’ll be the other people sitting at the front of the class with you! Pro Tip: Exchange phone numbers or email addresses with them early on, so that you’ll have someone reliable to reach out to if you are absent, miss something in class, or just need further explanation about something. You’ll gain an instant study partner, and potential new friend. :)

  6. Turn in Big Assignments EARLY. This is a lesser-known secret, and is a hugely helpful strategy in college, but you can definitely use this in high school as well for larger projects, presentations, and papers. Basically, aim to submit your work about a week early (whenever possible) for big projects. Many teachers will reward your submittal of early work by essentially “grading” your work or project in advance for you, and give you feedback about what you should change or improve in order to get a higher grade. Since you turned in your project early, you’ll still have time to go back and make those changes before the official due date, and hopefully get the A that you’re after. Pro Tip: When you are filling out your calendar (see habit #2 above), add in your “early submittal” dates one week prior to each official due date, to help you plan in advance. It does take a bit of time management and organization up front, but it is not as difficult as it may seem. Plus, it’s like a built-in guarantee of a higher grade!

  7. Mind the Details. “Success is the sum of details.”- Harvey S. Firestone As they say, presentation is everything. Always take that extra bit of time to polish and perfect your work before you turn it in. Show your teacher that you took care in making everything just so. Pro tip: Give your PowerPoint presentations a final once-over to make sure that your slides all look their best (perfect details like positioning of graphics, or fonts and colors). Take the time to reprint something if the formatting doesn’t look perfect the first time. These small details are tempting to overlook, but by taking the time to perfect them, your teacher will appreciate and value your work much more, and your final grade will reflect that.

  8. Efficiency is Key. As we all know, an hour of reading a chapter does not equal an hour of intense studying. The former makes you feel “busy”, but leaves you at about the same level of preparedness as you were when you started, while the latter actually prepares you for your test. Figure out how to best spend your study time each day, and always aim to study smarter, not harder. Pro Tip: Plan your study methods around your time constraints each day, and the specific class/subject you are studying. For instance, if you only have three hours to study for a math quiz, it is probably much more productive to use that time doing practice problems, than it would be to read the chapter. On the other hand, for a history class, it might make more sense to spend your study time making flash cards on Quizlet so that you’ll have a way to practice and memorize throughout the week for an upcoming test. Basically, the more thought you can put in up front, the better you’ll be able to maximize your time, and make it work for YOU.

  9. Know your Own Limits. We’ve all been there: it’s the night before a test, and you haven’t even started to study. So, in an attempt to salvage your grade, you force yourself to pull an all-nighter, sacrificing sleep to try and read those six chapters in your textbook. The problem is, your eyes start closing as you are trying to stay awake and read, which is just not helping you prepare. At that point, it is better to close up for the night and get some rest, and come back to it the following day. Learn to recognize where your productivity “cutoff” point is, and always plan your study blocks accordingly. Pro Tip: Try shorter study bursts, where you are super focused for an hour or so at a time, and then take a break and walk away for a few minutes and do something else. This helps ensure that you’ll get so much more out of your efforts. Also, eliminate distractions. Say “no” to Netflix.

  10. Study to Understand. This is probably the BIGGEST key, not only to being a good student, but also to being successful, in general, in your life. It can be so tempting to just study for the quiz or the test (i.e., cram and memorize for the short-term), but try to keep in mind that you will need to know this information later! This is especially true for math and science courses, since these classes build upon what you learned in previous years. So, fight the urge to just go through the motions, and really work to understand the material. Pro Tip: Instead of just memorizing words on a page or notecard, try to actually talk to yourself when you study. By talking out ideas, even if only to yourself, they become more “real” and easier to remember later. Try to get to the place where you can explain it to someone else. That’s how you’ll know for sure that you’re ready for your test.

  11. Adjust your Game Plan for Each Class. Every class is different, and so should be your approach. Some classes, like math and science courses, will focus heavily on problem solving and you’ll need to do tons of practice to get an A. Others, like history or language classes, might require more abstract thinking, memorization, and writing, which means you will want to use flash cards, discussion, and your textbook for studying.

  12. Plan Ahead for Crunch Times. Gather together everything you’ll need to prep for big tests or quizzes, in advance. Make sure you have your relevant class notes, previous homework assignments, quizzes, exams, etc. Make it as easy as possible to walk yourself back through the unit and maximize your efforts. Pro Tip: Try to begin studying for tests a couple of weeks ahead of time (this is easy to do once you have filled in your calendar and know the tests are coming up- see habit #2 above), and do a small amount each day leading up to the test. A great way to gauge how prepared you are is to print out and take an old test (with the answers erased/deleted), or ask your teacher for a practice test, review sheet, test bank questions, etc. Do this last, after you’ve already gone through your class notes and old quizzes.

  13. Always Do More than You are Asked. A great way to ensure higher grades is to always try and go above and beyond as a student. Aim to make the quality of your work higher than what your teacher is expecting. This will not only help you to get the most out of your learning (which will pay off in future classes by making you more prepared/knowledgeable), but it will also help you to make a valuable impression on your teacher, who you may need to call on for help at some point. Make high-quality work a priority. Pro Tip: Be mindful of when and how you choose to go the extra mile. For example, you definitely wouldn’t want to turn in a five-page paper when the teacher set a three-page limit. That will only create more reading (a.k.a. work) for him or her, and will end up counting against you, as well as your grade. Instead, focus on increasing the quality of your work, and you’ll be in great shape.

Remember that, in the end, your grades do not define you. You are both valuable and amazing, regardless of the numbers on your transcript. Try to focus your efforts on the things you can control: setting positive intentions and goals, establishing the habits outlined above, and giving your best. If you do that, you will be certain to have a successful year.

Wishing you greatness,


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