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Tips for Better Grades

By Robert LeVine

Our education system is not perfect. Think about it: classrooms are designed for teachers, not for the individual learning styles of each student, and we rely heavily on homework, forcing students to teach themselves by themselves. No wonder high school students struggle, particularly with our most rigorous curricula.

We have three tips for students to improve and maintain their grades.

First, students must embrace the age-old truth that “nobody is perfect.” There will be times when issues arise in certain classes, and when problems occur, the student is at least part of the problem. Anyone who is part of the cause cannot be the entire solution. The answer? Ask for help! Adults have learned to swallow pride and ego, but we have conditioned young people to shoot for perfection on their own. Excellence is the goal, but the best results are seldom achieved alone. Adults are not necessarily smarter than young people, but we are more experienced. Students deserve to hear our experience so they can make their best decisions. Plus, adults have the resources to hire tutors and purchase study materials that might change grades for the better.

Unfortunately, the lifelong conflict between adults and youths – yes, we have treated the students like children, because they were children – means that students seldom approach adults for help. Although that needs to change, it can only happen when the student initiates the conversations. Why? Because no parent or teacher or consultant will ever know when things start to go wrong in class. Only the student will observe the problem. Parents cannot oversee what they cannot see. However, parents can make it a priority to change the relationship with their students from pushing the student to supporting the student. To allow your student to lead, stop taking the lead.

Second, students need to do a better job of prioritizing their work. Stress causes students to do the opposite of what they should: when particular subjects are more challenging than others, students delay the study of those subjects. If you don’t like a topic, you will avoid the topic. By leaving their most challenging coursework for last, students unwittingly try to learn their worst subjects at a time when they are most tired. That does not work. Instead, students should work on the most challenging (and least appealing) subjects first. Attack challenges when you are most able to focus.

Third, students are untrained at time management. Their struggle is not their fault. High schools take up the entire day with classes, but none of those classes teach time management. When we push our kids to participate in after-school activities – a valuable pursuit – we forget that these take up even more time. What happens is that each day is cut into several pieces: school, activities, homework. Studying is invariably the last piece and the one that steals sleep. Not only is it harder to focus when you are tired, but it also takes more time to study when you are tired. It is both daunting and inefficient to face a large block of homework. But there is a solution….

Break up the time blocks. During the school day, and between other activities, there are periods of available time. Use them! Plan to spend 30 minutes during lunch or another break doing smaller pieces of homework. Getting some of your work done earlier provides a sense of progress and accomplishment while also shortening the large nighttime block required for homework. This significantly alleviates stress and improves the ability to think clearly and efficiently while doing the (now shorter) remaining work.

Grades are important, not just as indicators of high school learning, but also as predictors of success in college. But we must teach students how to perform, not just what to learn.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit

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