Get Better Grades and Have More Fun

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There is no reason why you can't get better grades AND have more fun-- if you follow these guidelines:

The Secret: The 80/20 Rule: About 80 percent of your results come from about 20 percent of my activity. The other 80 percent of your activity contributes only about 20 percent to your results in learning and grades.

- Work smarter, not harder. The trick is to learn the right 20 percent. That doesn't mean you'll do 80 percent less work. I'm suggesting you concentrate more on the 20 percent of the activity that will yield the greatest benefit. Cut out some of the non-productive activity in the learning process and focus on that which is productive.
- Always attend class. Sound simple? There's a strong correlation between students who skip class and those who drop out of college. Attending class is the best way to learn what you're supposed to learn, what your professor will put on the exam, and what's expected of you in your homework.
- Determine the objectives of each course. The biggest mistake students make is that they don't know what they're supposed to learn in their classes. Rarely will you discover the objective by reading the textbook. Usually the professor reveals that in class, most often during the first week. Knowing the objectives will provide a framework for your studies for the entire semester.

Listen With 80/20 Aggressiveness: Think of the word SAFE as an acrostic for how to listen aggressively during class.

1. Scan. The secret to aggressive listening is that your mind is like radar. You're alert, curious, and aware of what's being said and what's going on around you.
2. Ask. Constantly ask, "Is this valuable? How does this fit the objective? Do I need to probe deeper?"
3. Focus. When you determine something is worth further attention, zero in on it. Record it and highlight it.
4. Explore. Though we're talking about aggressive listening, you may need to use your mouth, too. Ask questions to clarify a point. Examine and probe the topic carefully in order to gain full understanding.

Doing Homework Right

  • Always turn in your homework, even if it is not completed. Partial credit is always better than no credit. It shows your professor what you know.
  • Read aggressively. Use the SAFE (Scan, Ask, Focus, Explore) acrostic to help you do just that.
  • Focus. Underline key parts of the chapters or text. Put an asterisk or arrow by key points. Concentrate on the portions that will yield the greatest benefit to your understanding in class, in papers, and on exams.
  • Explore. Look for information beyond the book such as facts or events that give you a historical context for the book. Select some unfamiliar words and look them up in a dictionary. You might want to develop some questions for class.

Where's the Fun?
By now, you are likely asking where the fun part comes in. Glad you asked. Here's one way to incorporate fun into your studying. Set a goal to complete a certain amount of reading or doing a number of problems. When you've accomplished your goal, reward yourself by taking a break and doing something you enjoy. When I finish an assignment, I might take a coffee break, read the newspaper, or take a walk. You might want to talk to a friend, e-mail someone, or listen to music. The breaks don't have to be long, usually 10 or 15 minutes should be long enough to refresh you.

Liking What You Do
By employing the 80/20 Rule you give priority to the activities that promise the highest benefit. That often frees up more time for you to do other things you enjoy. But sometimes there's no getting around an activity we don't want to do. Wouldn't it be great if we could learn to like those things, too?

Remember why you're doing what you're doing. This will help you be motivated naturally. Often it helps to enlist a friend. When possible, do the things you don't like with someone you do like. For example, do you want to be physically fit, but hate to work out? Find a friend to take a long walk with you.

What does it take to be an 80/20 student? Remember the rule: 80 percent of the benefit from school can be gained by doing the right 20 percent of the activity well.
By applying this simple principle to your classes, your homework, your tests, and other parts of your life, you can have a more enjoyable college experience. Who wouldn't want to get better grades, and have more fun?

Steve Douglass, an author and frequent speaker on leadership, management, and personal development, is the president of a multinational organization of more than 25,000 employees. He is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration where he graduated in the top 2 percent of his class.

Adapted with permission from the book How to Get Better Grades and Have More Fun, published by Success Factors.