Get a grade A when you do this surprising hack!

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.”

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9 Career Skills that you can use to your advantage as a Mature Student

It can be a bit of a culture shock reentering the school system after leaving full-time student life for a while. I would know. Whether it was in-class or online, there were so many different factors that came into play. Not forgetting the people factor! I met people of different ages, each having different reasons for doing the same programme – with entirely different dynamics to deal with (e.g. stay at home mother, full time entrepreneur or in-demand executive, retiree, etc.) It can definitely get to be a bit much…

If you’re not careful, just thinking about what may be challenging and different for you can be intimidating…

But, here’s the thing – you are much better off than you think. Work-life and/or the school of life teaches you some pretty transportable skills that help you to take control of your journey. If you use each skill tactfully – like pieces on a chessboard, you’ll be able to checkmate every class session, assignment and project. You’ll do this by aligning your learnt and innate skills, with style and finesse!

To read more about 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do, click here.

Here are the skills I believe are the game changers for you; and here are the ways I think you can use them.

#1 Project Management

Hard Skill best used for everything

This is probably one of the BEST skills you can use for anything in life really. Whether or not you believe it, we all do it informally for varying circumstances. For those of you who do not know what project management is, here’s an illustration to help you understand it:

Source: SmartSheet

Now, here’s a quick example of how you can apply project management to an assignment:
Concept & Initiation: Get the assignment, define the scope of what’s required to complete it (e.g. research, deadlines for review, etc.).
Definition & Planning: Develop your roadmap to complete the assignment and make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) and CLEAR (Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable and Refinable); the latter applies even more to group work assignments. The assignment/project rubric given by the supervisor helps with this.
Launch or Execution: Set the guidelines for your team (if applicable), assign resources (study time, time for research, meetings, etc.), track and measure along the way. Revisit and refine if necessary because you will most likely encounter some hiccups because… Murphy’s Law and all that jazz.
Performance & Control: Ask yourself, are you on schedule? Did you obtain enough information to present something of quality? Is there something that you may need to change or find out to help you get a better grade? Will you achieve the deliverables of the rubric?
Project Close: Edit, proofread (repeat as many times as you think you have time to), cite, reference and format – then SUBMIT!

TIP: Keep track of everything you did for your first assignment and build as you go along. This is how you will improve on what works (especially for you) and what you need to work on or stop doing.

Let me take a moment here to give you a hack for fictional budgeting using this skill:

  • Budget by time – Quantify the time you allot to the result you want to achieve.
  • Budget by spend – Measure the amount of work you have to do against how much money you continuously have to spend for each cost. Is it that you eat snacks during your online sessions? Perhaps you travel to classes after work? Maybe you drive to school on weekends. Everything has a cost.
  • Budget by small wins – Plan rewards that you can only get when you meet the standard you’ve set.

Add to the list as you see fit. Create the most feasible workflow. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use project management software either; if you have it.

#2 Problem Solving

Soft Skill

Simply put, always think “Challenge Accepted!” There’s no problem you can’t solve; or at least get help solving. Get the clues and cues from all the resources you have access to; including observation. Interview the right people (ask for help), read books, watch videos, search for similar assignments. You’re a Sherlock. If you need support, get yourself a Watson.

#3 Hard Communication Skills

Hard Skills

These Hard Skills include being fluent in a foreign language, copywriting and digital communication.

They can set you apart as an exemplary student when applied in the right amount, to the right aspects of each assignment. You’re that student who can craft the best email response, and produce an engaging paper for grading. You’re the student that can change perceptions with a picture presentation and be approached to publish a journal based on your thesis.

As an added bonus, if you are part of a cohort, your classmates, teammates or group-mates will also see the value in your contributions and will learn from you. Make that presentation pop! Craft creative copy for that coursework assignment. Ace that social media project. You have what it takes to upgrade that grade.

#4 Leadership

Soft Skill – best used for group work.

Here’s where you can chime in with your emotional intelligence and people-reading skills. Figure out the personalities within the class and group. I urge you to even go beyond your immediate settings and include your lecturers, student support services, group forums, etc.

Try to identify every individual’s strengths and talents that would be most helpful for you to be able to communicate, collaborate and coordinate. Motivate, manage, take charge or give over the reigns sometimes. Lead your team to victory (the desired grade). Offer constructive criticism and guiding advice. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses too.

#5 Marketing

Hard Skill

If you are a creative thinker who writes very well, have aesthetic sensibility and are good at data visualisation, you can easily become the MVP of the class or group (both online and in person). You’re the one that can spare the introvert from messing up their part of the presentation, because they freeze up in front of people – with a short video instead. You’re the one who can effectively manage the design and message to be communicated in each project. See every task through the eyes of a marketer and your Aha! moment will come.

#6 Sales/Customer Service

Mix of Hard and Soft Skills

How do you handle customers/clients? This skill is all about keeping your cool and having a level head, with active listening and strategic customer engagement. It involves thinking about customer satisfaction, dealing with and resolving issues. With regards to the product, your belief in it must be at brand ambassador level. Your ultimate goal is to inspire others to do the same. This will encourage goodwill and positive word of mouth, because of the quality customer service and after-sales service. In some cases you’ll even have to up-sell, right?

Well think about how each of those activities can be transferred to real-life scenarios in an educational setting. Did the bulb switch on yet? This skill is the trump card that can switch up the game – in your favour. Trust me.

#7 Flexibility/Adaptability

Benjamin Franklin quote: Change is the only constant in life. Ones ...

Soft skill that’s HARDCORE

Remember the Murphy’s Law I mentioned earlier? Well, it loves to make an appearance at the most inopportune times – especially right before you’re about to cross that finish line. If you’re flexible or adaptable, you’ll have that Plan B/C/D/alphabet in place.
This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey. You therefore need to get acquainted with the high possibility of sudden changes in situations. The good news is, everything is temporary and you have deadlines. Meaning, just keep this famous quote in the back of your mind, “This too shall pass.”

This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey.

#8 Task-Specific Skills

Hard Skills

These skills include technical proficiencies that incorporate the use of coding languages, mathematics, software tools, accounting, etc.

These come in handy for the courses that require data collection and presentation of findings using data collection methods. It’s also mostly applicable to research papers e.g. a dissertation and case studies or reports in certain disciplines e.g. financial management. If you possess one or more of these competencies, you won’t experience the emotional distress that comes along with having to learn them in order to complete an assignment.

#9 Conflict Management/Resolution


I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work. If that person is you, you are a unicorn.
I have never been in a class or group where there wasn’t some sort of miscommunication, lack of communication, misunderstanding or clash of personalities between members. Sometimes, the conflict is internal because you swing between wondering why you’re even doing the course or programme and giving up. (In case you’ve had no one tell you yet – please don’t give up! Okay? Okay!)

I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work.

This skill is particularly important to achieving inner peace, consistently, throughout your academic progress.

Employ the ability to decipher and extract a message from the noise of conflict, AND propose a feasible solution that benefits everyone involved in any task.
Know when to use the five types of conflict resolution: avoidance, defeat, compromise, accommodation, and collaboration. Listen. Observe. Involve and consult. Strategize. Implement. Monitor and manage.

Final thoughts: Not everyone has all of the skills I listed, but at least you would have one or more of them. That gives you two things: a head start and an advantage. Although you will still have to incorporate other abilities such as public speaking, time management, productivity, strong work ethic and other hard and soft skills, you can rest assured that you’re in a good place stepping into that classroom, or enrolling in that online course.

You’ve got this!

Click here to book a free 15-minute Discovery Session now! Don’t miss this opportunity to get the help you need.

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[Online] Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

This week I had a discussion with a friend – she’s is a mature professional who wanted to upskill. While chatting, she said, “Some people may be intimidated if they have to do a whole course at once. I know it was indicated that single courses can be had. For me personally I’d prefer to start small. Certificate first…especially in courses like psychology.” As I listened to her expressed concern, I realised that, especially as she is new to online learning, searching for the most suitable programme is a challenge because she is trying to decide which to do – a Certificate, a Diploma or a Degree?

She is not alone.

In March 2020, The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), reported that β€œan unprecedented number of children, youth and adults are not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19,” with governments in 100 countries having announced or implemented closures. In 85 countries, schools nationwide have been closed, affecting more than 776.7 million children.

Over 776 MILLION! Wow!

This number accounts for those already attending school, however, as COVID-19 triggered an increase in unemployment (and the restructuring of businesses), there has been a surge in the need for many individuals in the working class to either upskill or retool. I think that it’s safe to assume that the amount of “students” that are not “in a school” is way more than 776 million. Get what I’m, saying?

Also, just like my friend, more people are considering enrolling in programmes to learn a new skill or enhance their professional resumes. I see the number increasing even more now.

If you are new to online learning read this: 5 Tips for New Online Learners

That got me thinking about how many people are experiencing the same dilemma. This must be quite the anxiety-inducing pickle to be in. So in order to help persons, like my friend, make an informed decision I decided to present some information that I believe would be helpful.

Certificate, Diploma or Degree? Let’s define them first with some explanations for each.

What is a Certificate?

Insert name and course *smile emoji*

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a certificate as:

  1. “an official document that states that the information on it is true, e.g. a birth/marriage/death certificate or a doctor’s/medical certificate”, or
  2. “the qualification that you receive when you are successful in an exam”, e.g. a Certificate in Plumbing.

We’ll move ahead with definition #2, of course. Certificates are attained through short courses or programmes which have varying timeframes:

  • A few hours e.g. a Certificate of Participation in a music workshop.
  • A day – you know, like that one time your boss sent the department to learn High Impact Business Writing and you didn’t want to go and then you were glad you went, but you probably still don’t use it because the office has templates *slaps forehead*.
  • A few weeks (usually about 6-8 weeks) e.g. a certificate in Social Media Management.
  • A few months e.g. a Certificate in Cosmetology.

A certificate is cost-efficient and focuses on a specific area or skill. This way you can gain that particular skill without years of schooling. It’s also great if you’re looking to make a career shift. However, its main limitation is that you may not be able to make any move outside of the chosen discipline; unless you do additional certificates.

What is a Diploma?

Your entry to another career.

The Macmillan Dictionary clearly explains a diploma as:

  1. “a course of study at a college or university in  vocational subject (one that prepares you for a particular job) e.g. a Diploma in Psychology.”
  2. “a course of study at a college or university in an academic subject that people sometimes do after getting a degree.” 

Diplomas (or career diplomas) are more comprehensive than certificates and take a bit longer to get, but can be obtained in a year or two. Diplomas are field-specific and are mostly offered in technical and vocational areas like massage therapy and Information Technology.

Diplomas cost less than degrees and have minimal, if any, prerequisites. They concentrate on the skills necessary for the field. The limitation of a Diploma is that it’s just that, a Diploma. You may end up feeling like you’re in limbo and not quite at the finish line with your new certification; it’s above a certificate and just below a degree – get what I mean?

What is a Degree?

You’ll be proud, and relieved, when you’re done.

The definition given by Britannica is as follows:

Degree, also called academic degree, in education, any of several titles conferred by colleges and universities to indicate the completion of a course of study or the extent of academic achievement.” pulls out all the stops to give us the full overview of this type of “certification”:

You can read more about what each entails by clicking here.

The first thing to note about a Degree is that degrees are often a requirement by employers. They take more than two years to complete and are more all rounded with the courses that are enveloped within the programme. Since degrees include elective courses e.g. a language or an art of some form like public speaking (I think public speaking is an art), you end up gaining more intellectual range which gives you a solid foundation to choose different career paths. I’ll give you a personal example.

I did my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communication. It took me 6 years to do as a part-time student. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s crazy!” right? Yeah, well, it is usually a 4-year full-time programme. Anywhos -it was the best 6 years of my life. I loved every course. I did history, social media management, speech writing and public speaking, website development, photography, journalism, economics and accounting, Spanish. The list was extensive; as you could imagine. At the end, I specialised in Public Relations. I was able to apply for many types of jobs because of this degree. I never regretted it.

So, how do you choose?

Certificate, Diploma or Degree?

I’ll give you five overarching considerations to help you decide. Please note that, each of these prompters speak directly to the scope of your budget and the urgency you’ve placed on upgrading your credentials. Also know that there will be some overlapping features.

#1 Is it complementing a qualification you already have?

Recommended – Certificate.

A certificate would give you the specialisation you require within a targeted discipline. It’s very good to do if you need to fill a gap, expand your skill-set portfolio or modernise an existing skill to adjust in a timely manner with changing markets. Doing a certificate would signal “adaptability”!

#2 Will it give you access to another, or higher, position within your career?

Recommended Diploma or Degree.

Diplomas are like Associate’s Degrees (which I did not elaborate on, I know). They are more significant than certificates but not as weighty as degrees. Because they cost more and take a longer time to earn, there is a higher level of seriousness that is projected with this qualification. Doing a Diploma is usually the first step in beginning a career change, but it is also a great way to position yourself a specialist in a particular area. It signals “decisiveness”!

#3 Is it an entryway into another field or entrepreneurship?

Recommended – Diploma

As the definition states, diplomas are attained for certain fields and are heavily focused on what is needed for that career, only. If you wish to move on from being an employee and become an entrepreneur, or perhaps you want to consider consultancy in an area you are passionate about, a diploma will open that door for you with a reasonable budget and a shorter time frame. It signals “advancement” or “liberty”!

#4 Does it make you more marketable?

Recommended – Certificate.

If you’re looking to become more marketable, you need to sprinkle a few tokens on your resume. Assess your environment, survey job postings, pay attention to the evolution of business operations. You’ll begin to see what’s missing. More so, you’ll notice which of the missing things you can actually do and you should get on. It signals that you are “forward-thinking”!

Read more about skills you should learn here: 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do

#5 Is it a stepping stone for something greater?

Recommended – Degree (or selectively, Diploma).

Are you seeking to meet the market requirement for a stable job? Do you intend to climb the academic ladder within a chosen career path? While a diploma will steer you to where you wish to go, a degree will definitely authorise your arrival. If the degree is an undergraduate degree, it is also an essential qualification to obtain a higher-level degree such as a Master’s, Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), or a Doctorate. A degree, undoubtedly, takes much longer to earn and costs more; in every way. Both shift your potential for better compensation packages; positively. Of the two, a degree is clearly more formidable. It signals “professional”!

Final thoughts: I hope this information provided enough fodder to make contemplating your next step easier. Any decision to obtain a new qualification should be applauded. It should matter a lot because your name will be on that final, validating, paper and your resume will carry that new qualification. So, decide where you want to be and just begin!

The Graduate Guru will be your silent cheerleader *wink*. Now get to it!

Let’s have a chat about your concerns?

Book a free 15-minute Discovery Session now. Click here to set your date and time!

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