First year musings on getting good grades

If I try really hard, I can get a GPA 4.0 for this year. I most likely won’t. Something will have to go very wrong for me to not get a GPA 3.5 so I’m banking on that.

I’ve had a few conversations with people though over the last few months who have asked how I stay on top of it. To be frank, I study for my degree, I run my own business as a freelance writer/photographer and I still find the time to enjoy a rather considerable amount of hobby-time as well. Not to mention this academic year has seen two close family funerals, three house moves, drug dealer housemates, a period where I was commuting around five hours a day to make lectures and a couple of bouts of illness. I think I’ve got things figured out.

1. Always go to the lectures.

Just fucking do it. For six out of my eight modules this year I’ve had a 10% attendance mark awarded just for attending 80% of the lectures. In real terms, that’s enough to turn your GPA 3.0 into a 4.0 in many cases. I was getting up at 5am to drive round the M25 and get to my lectures, before driving back again. It was totally worth it.

On top of that the lectures are full of good stuff. Sure, you might find that a lecturers style isn’t to your taste, but just grit your teeth and get on with paying attention and taking notes.

2. Stop playing on your fucking phone.

It’s two hours. Just TWO HOURS. With a break in the middle. Seriously. Can you not just leave your phone on silent in your pocket for TWO HOURS? If you’re playing on Facebook, texting people or prolifically taking selfies in class (!) then you aren’t listening and you aren’t taking notes. I might catch the occasional urgent email on my laptop during class from an editor, but like I said in the opening paragraph – I’m the one with the successful work-study-life balance here and I’m getting 70% on a considerable amount of my assignments. Aside from anything else, it’s really distracting for those around you. If you’re not bothered to get a decent grade then just don’t bother going to the lecture – it’s pretty harsh to also drag everyone else down around you.

3. Take notes.

Don’t just sit there feeling sorry for yourself about how hung over you are. In fact, don’t get hung over the night before lectures. I worked it out – I pay approximately £45 PER HOUR for my lectures. Is it really worth going to them in a state where you’re not ready to work?

But make sure you take notes in a way that feels right to you. Lots of guides say that you should take them by hand and write in your own form of shorthand. I take them longhand on my laptop and in many cases I transcribe the lecture reasonably accurately in Evernote which also makes them searchable. I use these notes to refer back to in essays. It’s called playing the game.

4. Play the game.

No one cares about your opinion. You’re just a shitty undergrad student and anything you think of has already been thought of and written about by about a gazillion students before. Read the essay briefings and listen carefully (and take notes!) in the sessions where you’re briefed on the essay.

I recently got 80% in an essay. You know how I did this? I answered the question. In fact he asked us seven questions in the essay brief. Some people didn’t bother to answer them. I just answered the question. He also complimented me on my flow. I answered them in the order he gave them to us. It’s not rocket science. Just answer the question.

In addition, flatter your tutor. Make the extra effort to pick their book up from the library or search their journal articles online. Quote them once. Also engage with them in class. “So I was wondering if I could ask you about your specialist subject…” tutors love that shit. Don’t be fake though, be genuinely interested. In fact, of course you’re interested, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it as a subject at university, right?

5. Read the fucking books.

They give you a reading list for a reason. Use it. Read the books on it. It doesn’t take long to skim read a factual book and make notes on it. A few hours tops. I’ve been doing one a week for each module. It’s even better when you’ve been given the essay topics at the start of term, you can start reading with that in mind. Then you can do what I do and write your short essays in half a day flat, once you’re prepped.

6. Play the game II.

I keep a record of all the scores I’ve got. And then I work out what I need to get on the second/third pieces of work in order to get a GPA 4.0 (70%). At the end of this term I’m facing two exams which need smaller amounts of effort to get an overall 70% and one that will take ALL THE WORK. Guess where I’m focussing my efforts? Yup, that’s right. Time spend is proportional to the amount of marks you want to get. Study harder to get more marks. Don’t waste time studying harder for minimal reward on subjects you’re doing well at.

7. Have a hobby.

Yup, that’s right. Have a hobby. Not a team sport or drinking with your mates. Drinking isn’t a hobby. Have a hobby you can do on your own, when you want to do it. Can’t sleep at 4am? Do your hobby! Suffering writers block? Do your hobby! Seriously. A hobby is a great way to get over writers block. I’m a *really* bad writer. I’m even worse for procrastinating. So usually I take a few hours out, play some Warcraft or do some costume making and then I’m ready to go again. Honestly, it works. Get a hobby.

8. Love your subject.

When you love your subject, it’s never a chore to sit down and work on it. If you don’t love your subject… maybe you need to think about studying something else?


This might all sound super obvious. And patronising. But I dunno, people don’t seem to get it. Do something you love. Make time for something you love. £27000 is an awful lot of money to fuck it all up because you can’t manage your time or because you want to go out drinking every night.