As an overachiever, nothing makes me feel better than seeing a “Grade A” at the end of a course, project or exam. After all, how can I help my clients achieve the high grades they want, if I can’t get them myself, right?

But, I’m not super intelligent or a genius. People just think I am *smirks*. The real reason I hit that grade, many times, is because I just love hacks.

You see, a few years ago, I struggled through the first year of my Bachelors. Three semesters of getting B’s and C’s. I was always either soooooo close or too far from that better grade, and it was frustrating.

But then I did a personal audit to figure out what I could do to improve my grades.

I realised was that I was constantly trying to keep up in class. And it didn’t help that I was already feeling overwhelmed with trying to balance my work life with my social life, and studies.

So, I decided to “work smart, not hard” and switched up my approach to learning. This one decision set me on a path to become a Magna Cum Laude graduate at the end of my programme.

Quick facts: According to the Investopedia Dictionary, universities use Cum Laude to signify that a student has attained a high level of achievement. Cum Laude means “with distinction” or “with honour”. Magna Cum Laude means “with great distinction”. Summa Cum Laude means “with highest distinction”.

It’s not as difficult as you think, but it keeps you ahead of the game, which was my challenge. If you have the same issue I had, then this hack is your life-saver.

What’s the hack?

Stay ahead of the class!

Grasp the concept before… reinforce during, execute after.

You’re probably asking why I call this a hack. Well, before you dismiss it, let me answer that question be telling you HOW you can make this your ultimate hack in three easy steps!

Read about the SQ3R method here: 7 effective study techniques

Step 1: Read the lecture notes with the intention to clarify what you are unsure about and reinforce what you think you know.

To be forewarded is to be forearmed.

I can guarantee you that 99% of the time, you’ll get the course outline before you begin the course anyway, so why wait until you start the class?

To grasp the concept before, you need to read as though you had to learn the topic quickly for a class discussion. Even if you don’t like to read, read.

In some cases it may be that you have to read a book for the class. Well, set aside a day or two to read a chapter or two. The aim is to stay ahead of the class.

Ask yourself “What main points stand out to me?” “What am I confused about?” “What makes me uneasy?” “What do I want to challenge?” “What relatable example would help me understand this better?” Save the page numbers or articles that spark these questions.

When you list the questions and develop your scenarios to challenge a statement or thought, get ready to make your class sessions interactive – on purpose, with a purpose.

You’ll be needing them ONLY, in the next few steps.

Of it’s an online course, use the forums.

Step 2: Trigger class or forum discussions that would answer all of YOUR questions.

This is how you reinforce during. It’s your head start!

You don’t have to derail the lecture or forum discussion. Actually, you may not even be allowed to. But know this, lecturers actually appreciate when students show interest in what they teach. Simply ask your questions intermittently. The best times would be when the teacher asks if the class has any questions or when there’s a reasonable pause. Sometimes, you may have to ask after the session.
Being inquisitive may make you look like a teacher’s pet, or a nuisance to your peers.

If you have the energy to care about those associations, you’re wasting emotions. Period.

Now on to the next step.

Step 3: Write the responses to suit your style of understanding and organise them by topic.

By this I mean, firstly write the responses you receive in a way that you understand them best.
For me, I write shorthand and write one-line examples. Let me give you an example. Suppose I want to remember different leadership styles for a topic with your MBA. Here’s what I would do do:
Transformative leader – TransLed
Style – With my vision and awesome personality, I inspire employees to use creativity and innovation tomake my organisation grow and be successful. When I’m done with them, they’ll be leaders too!

Hey, don’t judge me. That’s just how I do it, ok? I’d also put a note to learn the definition just in case the lecturer says I have to know it verbatim.

This strengthens the foundation built in Step 2.

Then organise them together, in order, by topic. Only use YOUR notes against the obvious theories or references that are recommended. Don’t neglect to write down the books and page numbers you did your first reading from. The trick with this step will be revealed in the next step.

Execution time: Compare exam or project hint/guides to your unique notes ONLY.

So, this is the part that closes the gap between that average grade and that perfect grade.

All lecturers are inclined to give some kind of hint or guide. Some are very detailed. Bless their hearts. But there are others who just give you generalised overview of what to expect. Sometimes you are the unlucky one that doesn’t get to experience this.

Still, go back to your notes and ONLY flag the unique notes that line up with the guide or hints. This is how you execute after doing Steps 1 to 3, effectively.

Most times, you will have to give an interpretation of what is taught. Everything you’ve done before will work in your favour.

Repeat this hack for every course and you’ll do better every time!

Final Thoughts: I admit, this hack takes work. But the benefit is that planning ahead is much better than trying to keep up. It’s like getting experience before you begin a job. With this strategy, you will find it easy to consistently get high grades, even for subjects you find difficult to understand.

Of course, this hack isn’t for everybody. Some of you are able to learn quickly, interpret and retain information well, and communicate effectively in your projects and exams. Y’all unicorns are scattered everywhere huh? But if you are a normal, busy, overwhelmed, part-time student (like me), you’ll need all of the help you can get to stay afloat in this ocean of academia.

It’s a hack that worked for me. And, it can be used for any type of programme that gives you information beforehand – which is pretty much all programmes. Try it and see if it works for you.

Remember, “Work smart, not hard.”

I’d love for you to share this blog post 🙂

Do you need help staying ahead of the class?

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