How Can I Improve My Grades as I Start High School?

Question: My grades were not the best in 8th grade but I really want to start getting better grades. Any tips to help?

As corny as it may sound, you've already taken the first important step toward getting better grades: You WANT to! Now here are some more specific tips to keep in mind as you launch your high school career:

  1. TELL THE TEACHERS THAT YOU CARE. Even if you have to withstand some teasing from friends, speak to each of your teachers at the start of the school year. You can do this by waiting a couple minutes after class to get the teacher's ear or visiting the teacher's classroom after school or even sending an email if the teacher has an email address for students to use, which is likely. (The email approach will avoid the scrutiny of your friends, if that's a concern of yours.) Explain to the teacher that you want to boost your grades and are open to criticism and advice. Ask how to proceed. Surely the teacher will tell you to do all your homework and pay attention in class, but he or she might have some other suggestions as well and may even offer to stay in touch with you by email or provide personalized assistance after school.Teachers tend to favor students who appear interested and conscientious.
  1. ATTEND EXTRA-HELP SESSIONS. Most teachers offer these sessions after school. Sometimes they are ongoing and frequent. Sometimes they're just before big tests and exams. Whenever they are, make a point of showing up, even if you're already doing well in the class. This way, you will not only be TELLING the teacher that you care (see Tip #1) but SHOWING it as well. You will always pick up some useful pointers in an extra-help session, even if you're not struggling. If a scheduled help session conflicts with another obligation (e.g., band, club), ask the teacher if you can set up a different time, especially if you feel you're falling behind.
  1. DON'T FALL BEHIND: The minute you think that you may be floundering, ask the teacher for extra help. And don't wait to get private tutoring. In some subjects, especially math and science, once you've lost your way, it can be tough to get back on track. If your parents can't afford private tutoring or don't want to pay for it, ask your guidance counselor about peer tutoring. There are usually older students who are eager to add volunteer service to their college applications and who may even be required to do it for National Honor Society or another organization. So don't hesitate to get help.
  1. MAKE UP WORK MISSED DURING ABSENCES: If you have to skip school, be sure to find out what work you missed (both in class and homework) and make it up immediately. See the teacher right away and ask what went on during class. If you only ask your friends, they will probably tell you, “Nothing important," but the teacher may have a different perspective, so go right to the source. (Some schools, however, have all this information on a Web site, so –if your school or teacher does–check there first. It will probably annoy the teacher if you're not following instructions that were provided to guide students who missed class.)
  1. ALWAYS DO THE OPTIONAL ASSIGNMENTS AND GO BEYOND WHAT'S REQUIRED. Never pass up a chance to get “extra credit" if it's offered. The points you earn could make the difference between a good grade and a so-so one at report-card time. If you're not happy with your grades, you can ask your teacher if there is a project you can do for extra credit. Some teachers will say no, but it's worth inquiring. If you already have a project in mind, be sure to suggest it rather than to ask more generally about extra-credit opportunities. If you have free time, try to explore each subject on your own. For instance, if you're taking a world history class and you like to read, choose a novel that's related to the time period you're covering in class. (An Amazon search can make it easy to find suggestions.) For math or science classes, check out Khan Academy and other online sources for related material. The more you know about each school subject, the more interesting your classes are likely to be and the better your grades.
  1. LOSE THE SLACKERS AND, ESPECIALLY, THE CHEATERS: If your buddies don't appreciate your efforts to boost your grades, then spend less time with them and try hard to ignore their comments. Join clubs that attract the serious students and enlarge your circle of friends. Above all, avoid cheating. Even if “Everybody does it," getting caught can haunt you until the end of your school days and will torpedo your efforts to improve your grades.
  1. PARTICIPATE IN CLASS. “Participation" can often add points to your grade, and teachers can't help but think fondly of students who are engaged in class. Likewise, forcing yourself to be engaged will actually make you more engaged, no matter how boring the class may seem. So put away all distractions. Get that phone off your lap so you can't sneak surreptitious peeks and stop doodling! Be honest with yourself about potential distractions (including sitting next to your best friend) and then eliminate them. Set a goal of raising your hand and asking a question or contributing to the discussion at least once per class and—depending on the format of the class—ideally more. Of course, don't be that kid who dozes off and then asks exactly what the teacher just explained, and definitely don't be that kid who says, “You forgot to assign homework," just as the final bell is about to ring! You want your classmates to respect you … not to hate you! 😉

Finally, print out this checklist and visit it every day. Make your own “report card" to assess how you're doing. If you adhere to the advice on this list, I bet you find that the grades on your actual report card will go flying upwards.

Good luck and have a great school year!