Top Tips for Great Grades
by Sophia Auld
Returning to college can be an intimidating experience, especially
after an extended break from study. It may have been a long time since completing
your undergraduate degree. You are probably going to an unfamiliar institution, with
different professors, new technology and a host of responsibilities you didn't have
as an undergraduate. But academic success is possible. These are my top six tips for
getting great grades as a graduate student.
1. Get to know the people who will be grading your work.
Like each of us, your lecturers and tutors have their favourite topics; things they
are passionate about. They will certainly have definite views about the subject
matter of your course. Listen carefully during lectures and tutorials. Take notice
of non-verbal signals like tone of voice and body language. If you are studying
online, look for repeating themes and strong opinions. Check out their website or
blog. Read the books and papers they've written. If you can find out what their
passions are, you can tap into them in your essay and exam papers.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that you 'suck up' to your lecturers by
writing pieces that pander to their pet opinions. Nor do you necessarily have to
agree with them. You may disagree vehemently, and if you can put up a good argument
for your case, your grades shouldn't suffer. But by keying in to their favourite
ideas, you are creating an immediate connection with them. At a neurological level,
you will be targeting well established pathways of thought. This triggers a positive
response to your work, and will help it stand out from the crowd. We all like to
think we have been heard and understood.
2. Read the question and answer it. This may sound super obvious, but many students still struggle with doing it. The
trouble is, when researching, you can uncover so much interesting information that
may be relevant to the topic. You need to be ruthless in honing in on what the
question is asking.
It's a bit like looking through a telescope. You might start out with a wide view,
to get a general picture of the vicinity you are examining. Your introduction can
include some of this background information, provided it is relevant. But you need
to narrow your focus if you are going to study something in detail.
Read the question very carefully. Take note of the key words. Figure out what sort
of information the questioner is trying to extract from your answer. For example, if
you are given a question containing 'compare and contrast', you are being asked to
examine similarities and differences between the items. Your answer should be as
complete and succinct as possible within the allotted word limit. And always stick
within the word limit. Busy professors don't want to be wading through mammoth tomes
if they've asked for 2000 words.
3. Use words from the question in your response. Following on from above, try to incorporate words from the question into your
answer. This helps the person grading your paper see that you are actually answering
the question. It also keeps your focus directed on what was asked. For example, if
you are asked to examine three common themes in, say, the writing of Stephen King,
use paragraphs beginning with something like, 'The first common theme in King's
Again, this seems obvious. But, if your professor has graded fifty papers on the
same topic, they might be pretty jaded by the time yours crops up. Make it easy for
them to see that you've understood and answered the question.