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How to Excel in High School

Five Parts:Getting Ahead before High SchoolExcelling AcademicallyAcing Tests and ProjectsExcelling in Extra-CurricularsTaking Care of Yourself

High school is all about endurance and management – no longer can you coast by. With competition for high-demand courses and tuition fees in colleges rising, and consequently scholarships becoming more and more of a necessity, it's time to face the facts: you'll need to do well in high school to get the college admission you want and scholarship you need.

Part 1
Getting Ahead before High School

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    Make the best grades you possibly can in your 7th and 8th grade years. Many students think that it isn't important to start doing your best until your first year in high school, but this is far from the truth. If you want to start off your freshman year with Honors classes, you have to make As (or high Bs) in your 8th grade year; otherwise you likely won't get accepted into these competitive, impressive, and highly sought after Honors classes.
    • Every school is a bit different. Some schools require tests to be admitted to Honors classes, some take students based on teacher recommendation, while others will put you in whatever classes you feel like taking. To make sure you can start out high school ahead of the curve, it's best to impressive during your years in junior high, too.
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    Start your extra-curriculars now. If you want to excel in extra-curriculars in high school – which is a great way to get scholarships, attract attention to colleges in general, and show you're well-rounded – you need to start now. There will be some really good athletes and performers in your high school, so keep up with them by starting early.
    • Experiment with a few activities while you're still young enough to drop them if you don't like them and pick another. And don't just stick to one area – if you're big into sports, branch out to dancing or a musical instrument. If you're more artistic, find something athletic to give a try. You could be great at it!
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    Pick the classes you enroll in carefully. Read the class descriptions and talk to other students who have taken the classes you're interested in. Taking a class just because a friend is taking it too won't help you and, what's more, your friend will probably just be a distraction. Instead, look for classes with students and material that is slightly above your level as the best motivator is competition.
    • If you're looking to be valedictorian, one of the ways to cinch that is to take loads of Honors classes (provided you can still get As). Straight As in Honors classes are even more impressive than straight As in regular classes, so take as many difficult classes as you can handle – without compromising your GPA, of course. A great GPA in normal classes is better than a poor GPA in Honors.
    • Keep in mind the subjects necessary to pursue your intended career. If you're considering becoming a psychologist, for example, take psychology and sociology over Metal Shop and Ceramics.
    • If you can, look at the textbooks for the various classes. Oftentimes the rigor of the textbook will reflect that of the class.
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    Obtain the textbooks early, and supplemental ones, too. Ask your teacher or office staff if you can get the textbooks during the summer – most schools have last year's textbooks in a closet somewhere just waiting to be read. Unless the books are new and they're being shipped, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to get yours to read for the summer.
    • Ask your teachers, older students or consult the Internet to find the best sources for supplemental readings. Use several reference books that will augment your understanding of the material. This way you'll be able to truly wrap your brain around any concept your teacher presents you.
    • Don't be afraid of seemingly difficult material. Think of it as a challenge and face it head on. It may be confusing now, but when your class is covering it, it will all click into place and you'll be that much further ahead.

Part 2
Excelling Academically

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    Always pay attention in class. This is the number one tenet of getting good grades: always, always, always pay attention in class. Here's a whole bunch of reasons why:
    • You might miss some important information. Plenty of teachers talk about tests and quizzes in class. If you're not paying attention, you could miss the answers.
    • You could get bonus points. Most teachers reward students who are active and participating with extra participation points. This could be a sizable chunk of your grade.
    • Paying attention in class makes the homework a million times easier. You'll have much more free time breezing through your homework at night if you've already spent the time in class thinking about it.
    • It makes tests easier, too. If you've already spent an hour that day in class engaged, you have to study that much less.
    • Sometimes your grade will lie on a cliff between a regular whole letter and a plus or a minus, like a A- and an A, or a B+ and an A-. In many cases, the teacher will take into account if you're a "good kid" and if he or she likes you. The more you pay attention, the more likely it is your teacher will give you the benefit of the doubt.
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    Do the homework. If you do the homework, the readings, and pay attention in class, there's almost no way you can get bad grades. Make sure you don't slack off because a certain assignment is "just graded for completion." There is no point in doing homework if you aren't going to do it right. The information will be useful later on for the tests or final exams.
    • Make homework time fun. Turn up the music and have some snacks handy. If that doesn't work, reason with yourself. Remember that teachers have to do the same amount of work you do but for all of their students. They only assign homework that is necessary for you to learn the material.
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    Organize everything. Take all of those loose papers and notes of yours and organize them. When you're more organized, it's easy to find exactly what you're looking for, streamlining the studying process and avoiding frustration. Here are a few ideas:
    • Invest in a few small binders (multiple small binders are better than one large binder). Be sure to hole punch your papers instead of cramming them in to pockets in your binders.
    • Keep your syllabus in the front pocket of your binders. You'll be referring to it often, so make it easily accessible.
    • File away any homework that is more than a grading period old (if you have rolling grades, you should keep all of your papers with you until the end of the year just in case).
    • Use topic-wise indexes for easier access when you need them. Label each paper clearly with a colored pen: CW for classwork, HW for homework, N for notes.
    • Clear out your backpack. Dump it on the floor, sort everything into piles, then place all necessary papers into the correct binders and throw out what you don't need.
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    Make and maintain a study place. If you don't have a set study place, make one now. Is your study place organized and clean? Is it well-lit? Is it quiet and well-ventilated? Do you have necessary materials at your fingertips? If so, good! If not, work on it. When you have a set study place, it's easier to buckle down and get it done. And the TV won't be distracting you!
    • Store all textbooks, notes, etc. within reach as well as a computer (desktop/laptop) with Internet access if possible. If your house is always crowded or noisy, try the library.
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    Know the syllabus for every class. A syllabus is an outline of everything you're going to do in the class and when. Your teacher should provide this to you, and if they haven't, be sure to ask for one. That way you know which areas are concentrated on (these will likely be of focus on tests) and when the tests will be.
    • Knowing the syllabus – or at least having it handy to refer to often – will leave very few questions up in the air. You'll know what topics your teacher spends the most time on, you'll know all your deadlines, and you'll know the test dates months in advance. With your syllabus by your side, it's hard to go wrong.
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    Set high standards for yourself. Make a promise to yourself, and others, that you'll get acceptable grades on tests and complete all your homework. Take action if your marks start falling before someone else has to point it out to you. Find ways to motivate yourself, and convince yourself that you want to get into college more than anything. Motivation is the key to success!
    • If this is really important to you, talk to your parents about helping you stay motivated. They want you to get good grades, too, so they may be open to helping out. Maybe at the end of the semester, if you have all As, they can get you that present you've wanted or extend your curfew. You never know if you don't ask!
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    Do a little studying every night. The night before every class, read through the material in the book that you predict or have been told will be covered that day. Use review questions at the end of the chapter to make sure you have a basic understanding of it. Write down any questions you have and ask your teacher. You'll be so far ahead of the curve during class the next day that even the most difficult questions will be easy.
    • When it comes to little facts like dates, names, and equations, our memories are very good at quickly forgetting, especially when these facts just get replaced with new ones. Studying a little bit every day keeps the information fresh in your memory, making it easier to remember.
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    Take good notes. A good rule of thumb is to copy down all diagrams as completely as possible and write down anything you think you might not remember. Write them down where you can read them and put them in order by date for easy reference later.
    • Come up with a shorthand system so you don't have to write down every word. Use abbreviations where possible so you can keep up.
    • Try to go home and retype the notes, adding any extra information. Some teachers bounce back and forth between topics. You may remember something they mentioned that you didn't have time to copy down or it may be written down in a different place. Then study your notes and any extra information you've added.
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    Get a tutor. A good tutor will be able to help you understand concepts, make the class fun and set problems which are neither too easy nor too difficult for you. A tutor is not just for the "dumb" or mentally challenged – even the smartest kids can benefit from after-school tutoring. Sometimes there is a student tutor in your school who can offer help and advice between classes or after school.
    • Talk to your counselor or teacher about a possible tutor you could work with. They likely know an older student who needs a tutoring gig for their college resume or a student who's enrolled in an after-school tutoring program who is looking for someone to teach.

Part 3
Acing Tests and Projects

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    Start studying a few days before a test. Three days before a test is usually sufficient for adequate study time. If you procrastinate until the night before, you probably won't be able to get through all the necessary material and you definitely won't be able to remember the material after the test for the final exam.
    • If you have leftover time at the end of your study session, review some old material so you keep it fresh in your mind for the final exam. A few minutes here and there will greatly reduce the amount of time you have to spend studying at the end of the year when you really want to coast along until summer.
    • If you have several tests scheduled close together, think about the difficulty of the material and proportionate your time accordingly. If you spend the same amount of time studying material you already know as more challenging material, your grade in the difficult class will suffer. If you know the material already, studying more isn't going to do much good.
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    Avoid pulling an all-nighter to study for a test. Tons of research about this topic has been done and the result is all the same – cramming for a test does not improve your grades.[1][2][3] It makes sense that any studying is better than no studying, but when you're so tired, your memory can't function, making that studying pointless.
    • It's sometimes necessary to stay up late to write essays or complete projects since it's better to be exhausted and get credit for the assignment than to sleep and lose the points that could make a difference between an A and a B, or a B and a C. In these cases where a deadline needs to be met, coffee and energy drinks are your best friend. But be warned: once the caffeine wears off, you will probably be even more exhausted than before.
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    Do some extra credit. After you finish your homework, do some difficult problems from your supplemental resources. Do past exams or learn new techniques to help you get the most out of your class. Why? Because many teachers take extra credit and tack it onto tests scores or project scores. Oh, and you'll be smarter, too.
    • Doing extra work now means better grades in college, so milk it for all it's worth. The more you have a grip on things now means the less you'll be left stranded and without a clue later.
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    Give yourself a study break when you need it. Though it may seem counterintuitive, it is better to work hard for short amounts of time and take regular breaks than to work too long and fry your brain.[4] You may feel like you're wasting time, but what you're really doing is making sure your brain stays in tip-top condition.
    • Most people can work for 50 minutes at their optimal efficiency and then need a ten minute break before being able to function at their best again. Figure out what works best for you and don't be afraid to stray from your schedule to reward yourself for a job well done on something difficult. Trust that you will be able to come back to your work later.
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    Begin working on long-term projects as soon as they are assigned. The longer you have, the bigger they are. Here's a quick formula to estimate the time you should spend a project:
    • Say you have a 200 point essay due in a month and a half, or 45 days:
      200/45 = 4.4 points a day
    • 1 point is about 6 minutes of work. You want to do 4.4 points a day:
      4.4 x 6 = 26

      That's a little under half an hour a day. If you do it this way, you'll generally finish light years ahead of time, and have the all-important "crunch time" before the essay is due to kick back and relax because you finished early!
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    Form a study group with friends. In general, studying in groups is more effective than studying alone.[5] And it's more fun! If it's convenient, meet bi-weekly. Just make sure everyone involved is clear that you are meeting to study, not chat about other things.
    • Study groups are more effective when they're done right. It's not time to fool around! Designate someone as the group leader and decide which topics you're going to cover that day. Have everyone bring a snack and some drinks and come with a few questions prepared to bounce off the group. However, if you have a friend that will bring you down or distract you while in the study group, tell them you need to focus, and rather than fooling around, hang out with them during your own time.
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    Study when you have small bits of free time. Carry around some flashcards to run through for when you have a spare moment. On the bus? It's flashcard time. Waiting in line for lunch? Flashcard time. Waiting for mom? Flashcard time. All of that time begins to add up and gives you more free time at night for fun.
    • These are great to do with a friend, too. When you have 5 or 10 minutes before class, turn to the person next to you and ask them if you can quickly quiz each other. This way you can study using your eyes and ears, which is easier to remember.
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    Cram as a last resort. This should not be your everyday routine, but if you just have to keep that grade up and you've fallen behind on a busy work assignment because you didn't deal with your time accordingly, don't just give up. Five minutes before class can be very rewarding. Learn the art of cramming. It can help in that stressful moment on essays, homework, busy work, and many other note assignments.
    • However, it does not help you learn in the long-term. Cramming makes you tired, wears you out, and falls out of memory very quickly. It's necessary to study a topic many times before it sticks in your head – not just the night before a test or in the moments before class.

Part 4
Excelling in Extra-Curriculars

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    Get involved. Good grades are an excellent way to impress that certain college but something extra will show that you can do more while maintaining excellent grades.
    • If you are athletic, consider joining a sports team that you are particularly talented in. Try out every year for the team to establish a reputation within your high school.
    • Art, music, and drama are impressive, too. Colleges are also looking for great artists, singers, musicians, actors, and dancers as well.
    • Join a club. Join any club you are interested in or are good at. If you are great in Spanish, for example, then join the Spanish Club. Love chess? Join the Chess Club. You'll likely meet friends, too.
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    Get involved in more than one thing. It's great to be an all-star athlete. Colleges love that. What do colleges love more? An all-start athlete who also is 1st chair violin and is on the debate team. To be truly impressive and well-rounded, do a little bit of everything.
    • It really doesn't matter how good you are at it – all that matters is that you try. No college is going to write you back and say, "Yes, but how good were you at playing Little Orphan Annie?" or "Sure, but how many balls even went to right field?" All they care about is that you were a valuable member to your high school and gave it your all.
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    Volunteer. You know what's more impressive than an all-start athlete? An all-star athlete who also is 1st chair violin and is on the debate team. You know what's more impressive than an all-star athlete who also is 1st chair violin and is on the debate team? An all-star athlete who does all that and volunteers. Nothing screams "I love my community" and "I'm a great student for your college" more than volunteering.
    • There are dozens of opportunities you probably don't even realize are right at your fingertips. You could volunteer at your local hospital, animal shelter, old folk's home, soup kitchen or even at your local community theatre. You could help out at a local church, women's shelter, or tutor underprivileged kids. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask.
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    If your school doesn't offer an activity, try starting it yourself. Even more impressive than being in extra-curriculars is starting them yourself. Does your school not have an environment club? Start one. A thespian club? Start one. Even if it's just you and four friends at 4:30 on Wednesdays doing the school's recycling, prospective colleges will be nothing but impressed.
    • Just be sure to ask your teachers or principal if you can have the go-ahead to be a verified club. You'll get into the yearbook and have official status. This way the club can get bigger and you can talk to colleges about it.
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    Prioritize your after-school activities. Continue doing the extra-curricular activities that you love and are truly committed to, but allow yourself enough time to study. Your activities are important to becoming a well-rounded student, and often very important on college applications. But generally speaking, grades come first.
    • Figure out how much time you need to perform at your best and add thirty minutes to be safe. Then add on at least 8 hours for sleep and the number of hours you spend commuting to or attending school. Subtract this number from 24 and you have the amount of "free time" during your day.
    • Find a calendar for the year and write down all of the activities you would like to do and the amount of time each will take. If you have more scheduled on one day than you have free time, prioritize and cut back on your activities. Also keep in mind that you need some "down time" where you can do nothing but think, chill, and relax.

Part 5
Taking Care of Yourself

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    Sleep plenty. Your brain needs sleep so it can refresh itself, process all that information it took in that day, and gear up for the next day. If you don't sleep, your grades will suffer, you'll be in bad moods, and your body starts shutting down. Aim for a solid 8 or 9 hours a night.[6]
    • Sleep not only affects performance, but it also affects general understanding. The less sleep you have, the less your brain can even grasp the simplest of things.
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    Eat a good breakfast every day. Aim for your first meal to be full of protein. Breakfast provides the energy and nutrition for you to begin your day, be successful in the classroom and maintain proper development. Protein and fiber-rich foods will provide you with the most energy.
    • Stay away from empty breakfasts, like donuts and sugary cereals. Sure, you'll have an initial sugar rush, but that'll go away soon enough and you'll crash by 3rd period. And you'll be starving well before lunchtime!
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    Ask for help when you need it. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many students are too afraid or don't care enough. You're not dumb if you're asking for help – you are actually being smart.
    • Ask for help when it comes to homework, quizzes, and tests. If your teachers, parents, and tutors know you're trying your best, they'll want to help you through whatever it is you're facing.
    • Ask for help when it comes to your general morale. High school is tough and it's easy to get stressed out. If your class load is hard to bear, talk to your teachers and counselor about it. They may have ideas to make it easier on you.
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    Make time for fun. You're only young once. College only gets more intense, so make sure you always leave time for a bit of fun. Set every Saturday night aside for friends, family, or just time to relax, kick back, and do whatever it is you feel like doing. If you don't, you'll burnt out!
    • Fun is a necessary part of good grades. If you're miserable, not sleeping, and have no social life, there's no way you'll enjoy high school! Make time for fun so you can stay happy, focused, and do your best.


  • Don't just take the easy classes. Harder classes look much better on college applications, and you'll have a much nicer feeling when you get good grades in them.
  • Always be on time, especially if your school has a certain number of unexcused absences you can have. (e.g. tardiness, ditching, no note/call from parents, etc).
  • Don't let any unschool-related drama get in the way of your ultimate goal as a student.
  • High school retains its traditional status as the place where kids do much of the social-emotional experimentation required to become young adults. Neglecting this other sort of "work" to focus solely on studies will leave you alienated from your surrounding culture as you enter college.
  • Before committing your life to doing perfectly in high school "to get into a great college," consider whether this is really your goal, your parents', or someone else's. If it is genuinely your sole dream to go to that name brand university, then by all means, go for it. If it is not, remember that this is your life, not preparation for life: do well in your studies, but be yourself and follow your own dreams.
  • Don't try to be too perfect. By setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, you'll only hinder your own chances of achieving them.
  • Try getting a "study buddy." It is usually more fun doing your homework and studying with a friend.
  • It's best if you have an idea about your aptitudes and interests so you can choose a career. Don't choose something you don't like just because the jobs are good, it won't pay off.
  • Life isn't about (insert sport here), and chances are your playing ends after high school (unless you've already got college scouts checking you out). Don't let it consume your time; making that free throw isn't gonna show up in place of that "F" on your report card. Not to mention, there are a billion (insert sport again) players that probably have better grades, too.

Things You'll Need

  • A study area
  • School supplies (paper, books, pens, flash cards, food etc.)
  • Friends to help you

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Categories: Featured Articles | Improving And Maintaining Grades | Surviving High School