My Tips For Getting The Best Grades In Undergrad

Hello everyone, I hope you are all doing well and like my new website template! I was getting tired with the old one and this is even better tbh. Anyways, so far on this blog, I have touched on just about everything a premed needs to know: extracurriculars, research, clinical hours, taking the MCAT etc. I think I pretty much wrapped up all the pre-med advice I can remember. Therefore, this will probably be my last pre-med related advice blogpost. From now on, I will write about general advice and things I have learned relating to medical school because I am forgetting a lot about undergrad stuff as a second year medical student. However, if anyone has something they want me to touch on, let me know and I will be sure to write about it if my memory serves me well.

Anyways, someone asked me about tips and strategies to getting good grades in undergrad and instead of sending them a loooong text about what I have done, I thought it would be best that I write it all out for everyone to benefit from. For starters, my first year of undergrad was pretty good and I managed to do well all in my classes. However, second year was pretty much the complete opposite. I struggled in ochem, ochem lab, calculus 3 etc. I was also really involved on campus, so my grades were suffering. I learned from my second year and later on my third year to get the best grades I could my senior year. I almost had straight As my senior year (of course physical biochemistry 1 and 2 were the only Bs because those classes were hard). I was also heavily involved in my organization, research and other extracurriculars. So how was I able to do that?

Me from all my college duties

1. When scheduling your classes, have a mixture of hard and easy classes

During my sophomore year, I was taking many challenging science classes and I was drained. Looking back, I wish I had spread those classes out so I had time to add lighter courses to the mix and balance everything out. Therefore, make sure you are not taking a load of hard classes that require a lot of work because you will be burnt out. Also, do not take too many classes, I tried to stay within 13-17 credit hours. Sure, if you take 18 credit hours you will be ahead but, you will also be tired with the work on your plate, making it harder for you to get the grades that you want.

I would also plan out my days to see the amount of free time I had to study and do other things. Keep that in mind when you are scheduling!

2. Take your syllabi and write down all the important dates in your planner

This is one thing I did that I highly recommend. Right when the school year started, I would have all the syllabi from each of my classes and put all the important dates, such as homework, lab reports, midterms, projects, etc. in my planner. That way, when unexpected things happened or if there were important events I wanted to attend, I made sure that I actually had space in my schedule. I thought everyone was doing this, but when one of my classmates was shocked to find out that we had a midterm in two days when I knew about that midterm since the beginning of the semester, I realized only a couple of people do it. Plan it all out and see how it goes!

3. Set up a pre-lecture, lecture, and post-lecture routine

I am one of those students who rarely skipped lecture. Someone was paying for my education (the government) and I wanted to make sure and use every penny’s worth. Now, I do not take in person lecture for granted because of COVID, but at the time, I kind of had to force myself to attend some lectures. So for pre-lecture, I would try to do the assigned readings or skim through the PowerPoints for 15-30 minutes just to get a feel of the topic we were going over. During lecture, I tried my best to limit distractions. This means NO PHONES. I cannot emphasize that enough. Devices can be distracting to your learning and you will leave lecture with gaps in your knowledge, so I would put it deep in my bookbag or turn it off. I would take really detailed notes and raise my hand when I did not understand something the professor said. It can be intimidating sometimes, but it’s better to have your question answered then, than for it to show up on a future exam and you’re screwed. Try to also sit with people who will not distract you from learning. I would always try to sit in the front because I was the least distracted and more attentive to the professor. For post-lecture, I would spend an hour going over my notes, trying to make sure I understood what I wrote and then do the problems we did in lecture by myself. For some of my classes, if the textbook chapter we were going over had problems associated with it, I would do those. It was tough doing this for a bunch of classes, but it was worth it when I got my scores back. So for this advice, consistency is key because some days it will be harder to do this but try your best and with time you will see results.

4. List out all of your assignments in rank of importance

I would go to a library room by myself that had a whiteboard or make a note on my computer to rank all of the assignments I had for the day or ones that were due pretty soon. Canvas (if you are an OSU student) is pretty good with listing those out, so I would write them all down and list them from importance. That way, I was spending more time on the ones that were significant than the ones that were not. Sometimes, I would not use this rule and go to the assignment that took the least work and then to the one that took the most work so I felt like I am doing something productive. Overall, I tended to stick with this rule and it has served me well.

5. Do not pull All-Nighters

Just don’t. They are not worth it. I never pulled one in undergrad and not even in medical school. I try to get at least 6 hours of sleep (I know I need to do better), but I never understood the point of people doing them at our school library. Do the work you have when you have time and try not to procrastinate. At the end of the day, you know what you know, and your body is going to shut down at some point. Please get your rest, college is never that serious to do that type of nonsense.

6. Use the weekends for a light review and recharge

The weekdays are rough, so I try to use Fridays after class and the weekend to relax. Sure, when my classes got harder, I had to use the Fridays to do homework and not attend some fun events, but I made sure to sleep in Saturday and Sunday. The weekends are best for a review, so skim through your notes from the week and take some light notes on the concepts you learned thus, you can be ready for the following week.

7. Attend office hours

This is something that everyone should do. We are all paying for our education (or someone is), so make the most out of it to achieve the grade that you deserve. If you are confused on a subject, your professor will explain it to you in the best way and you will get a lot of attention. Why? Because students barely attend office hours. I was always surprised to find myself being the only person in a professor’s office and it’s because other students never made the time to attend. The words and wisdom that come out of the professor during this time is different from lecture time because it is framed to help YOU as opposed to a general student body. So please, in your planner, list the office hours for a professor and plan to attend them. I went when I needed help on a homework assignment, did not understand a topic in class, or when I did terribly on an exam. The professor will know that you are someone who really wants to do well in the class and will want to help you, so definitely make a point to stop by.

8. Take advantage of free tutoring

Yes to this piece of advice! The main weed out classes that my undergrad offered had free tutoring associated with it. I unfortunately had to take Calc 1, 2, and 3 and when I tell you, I pretty much lived in the MSLC (Math and Stats Learning Center). The tutors there were amazing and they knew who I was eventually because I was always there. I made friends with the other students who went to get tutored and I would study with them for exams so win win situation. I also lived in the general chemistry tutor room, the organic chemistry and lab rooms, and even the physics lounge. Each tough class brought me to another place on campus where I could focus on my class to get the grade I wanted. The tutors are students, just like everyone else, so they are less intimidating than professors and they truly want to help you out. Also, mostly everyone has the same homework and problem, so we would all work it out together. I loved all the tutoring rooms I attended and I definitely recommend everyone use it as well!

9. Study with others who are doing well in the class or who you can do the most work done with

I personally like to study on my own and have many places I can hide out to do that. However, studying with others can be effective. Maybe the class you are taking is very difficult and you do not know how to approach it. I promise you there is someone in the class who knows what they are doing and may be willing to help you out. Because people in college tend to brag a lot, it was pretty easy to find out who was doing well. All I would do was ask for their number/email and either schedule a study time with them or ask them for tips.

I also had two amazing friends, Dorian and Liza, who I consistently studied with. We were all taking the same biochem courses so I pretty much stuck to them like glue and with their help, we all made it to the end. Finding friends in your courses who are just as motivated as you can be challenging as a freshman, but overtime, when you start to see the same people in your classes, it gets a little easier. Do not be afraid to reach out to others and see if studying with them works for you. However, if find studying by yourself is better, that is fine, make sure to find a routine that is best for you because although studying with others can be good, it can also be a waste of time.

10. Study for exams in advance

During freshman year, I tried to pull the “highschooler” and study for my exams the morning of the exam. Granted, it worked for some of my classes but there was one calculus exam in particular that it did not work for at all. I remember trying to do all the questions before the exam and kept on thinking ugh, I should have studied this a little earlier. By my sophomore year, that method would not work at all, there was no way in God’s green earth I was going to pass my classes with studying for the exams the day of. Therefore, it is important to give yourself a lot of extra time. I remember I wanted to wait until all the content we learned for the exam was taught in lecture before I started studying for it, which is not a great idea. For undergrad exams, I recommend studying at least 5-7 days in advance, and for finals at least 10-14 days. This load of time will give you the opportunity to look at concepts that are your weak points and get some help in the process. If you wait, then you may realize that too late.

11. Do practice questions and exam

When I would study for exams, I would do was rewrite all of my lecture notes in these cute colored pens and look at my work in admiration. While that was not a bad idea, it was more ineffective than helpful to my studying and took lots of time. Lecture should be the time when you learn everything you need to know and doing questions should test what you know. That is why I try not to be envious of people who make colorful study guides for exams because sure, they rewrote the lecture notes and main points but do they actually know it for the exam?!

While studying for exams, I would start reviewing 5-7 days in advance and start doing questions 3 days in advance. These questions come from all over the place. I would redo recitation questions, homework questions, textbook questions, extra question packets etc, just to see if I understand how to do the problem because it is different when you do it vs when a professor or T.A. is doing it alongside you. When it gets closer to the exam, I would start doing the practice exams and try to simulate the exam setting with the proper timing and no notes next to me. This is crucial because if you do it with loads of time, you may run out of time on exam day and if you have notes next to you, you might not actually know how to do the problems. So give this a try before your next exam!

Courtesy of Go College! Now

12. Keep tabs on your grades

I remember for a great portion of the semester I was in la-la land about my classes, only to be hit with realization about a month before it ended that the grade I was about to receive was not the grade I wanted. This was because I was not checking on my grades from time to time to make sure I was in a good position. So, make sure that you understand the percentages of the midterms, homework and projects so you can determine how they affect your grade before heading into finals week. If you do poorly on an exam see what you can do to improve the next time. Try to schedule in office hours with your professor for that. Even if you are doing poorly on quizzes, which is a small portion of your grade, try to see what you can do to improve so that your midterms and final grades are not affected. Do not be like me and wait until you reach finals week when you realize you need 110% on a final to get an A- in a class 😦

Of course, there are curves, but one piece of advice my mentor told me was to try and have an amazing grade before relying on the curve. If you rely on that, you kind of set yourself up to do worse than you wanted to.

13. Plan out your finals week

Finals week is pretty traumatic to say the least. You have all of these exams jam packed in a week and you need to do well on all of them. That’s one thing I do not miss about undergrad because at my current med school, you take a final after you finish a block, not single class at one time. Anyways, make sure to write down the dates and times of your finals so that you are prepared in case you have two finals on the same day (it sucks when that happens). If you have more than 3 finals on the same day, you can talk to one of your professors to reschedule it.

When studying for finals, I try to study for at least 10-14 days in advance for harder finals and 5-7 days for easier finals, which was enough time. I would use the last couple of class lectures to touch on concepts that were confusing to me and ask professors what the final will covers so I can be a step ahead.

Also, a piece of advice during finals week, make sure to rest and recharge. As I have said earlier, it is so easy to pull all-nighters and get caught up on work but it is not worth it because it is a marathon not a race. Try to get at least 6 hours a night because you will never get through all the information regardless.

Me during Finals week

14. Everyone is different in their studying so try to do what is best for you

I remember one of my classmates who was extremely smart and would absorb knowledge like a sponge. I was pretty jealous and never felt good enough. However after that classmate and I kind of went our separate ways, I started thriving. That was because I recognized my own strengths and started studying in a way that was beneficial to me. I know I mentioned earlier to find students who are doing well and get advice from them, but that does not mean to obsess over them and try to become exactly like them. Everyone is unique and sure some things may work for you that they do but some may not and that’s ok. Keep trying to find what is best for you and with hard work and determination, you will be successful at whatever course you take!

15. Remember you are student first before anything else!

When I was president of LOL, I got caught up on doing presidential things that I sometimes would not even do my homework assignments. That is a big NO. If I had one day stopped being president, I would still be a student. However, if I stopped being a student, everything associated with school would be lost for me. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to remind yourself that you are a student first and your purpose is to get an education. The prestige and fluff of being involved is really nice, but what matters most is getting your degree.

I would always ask successful students how they had time for certain times while still getting good grades. Their answer was always that they made time for school. Even if you have an hour of free time, put it towards school. All the other things can be figured out by another person if you do not have time, but your assignments can only be completed by you, so be sure to remember that and complete them first.

And that’s all I have. I really hope you enjoyed this post and found it beneficial. I did not mention this earlier, but I also relied on my faith heavily to push me through the end, because I believe there is a higher power in control of everything! Anyways, be sure to share it with others so they can kickstart the upcoming year. I wanted to write about how I study for medical school, but that will have to be a post for the future, I am still trying to get the hang of that unfortunately. Anyways enjoy your summer (mine is ending in less than 2 weeks) and be on the lookout for the last blog of my med school summer!

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