10 steps on how to improve your grades.
Full disclosure before I begin: I don’t consider myself an exemplary student seeing that I am sometimes late for classes, sometimes I have my breakfasts during classes and sometimes I even skip classes altogether. I also don’t revise as much as people think I do, don’t seek for extra credits from lecturers and have only been for consultation twice throughout my entire three years in the university.
In short, I am a deeply flawed human with many issues that I should improve on.
However, I have been in the Dean’s List consecutively, so I guess perhaps I am doing something right (and that my mum’s du’a must be super mustajab)! Since I have been asked by several of my course mates for studying tips, I thought I’d just write it down to remind myself and also to share it with everyone.
P/s. I meant it when I wrote the title as “cheat list”. I think everyone has the potential biiznillah to score if you just change certain small ways of execution and practice. Really. Small ways.
P/s. That being said, I think if you implement the below principles AND do the above things I failed to do, I promise you, insyaAllah you will score much better than I have! Confirm.
May all of us benefit, insyaAllah!
Step 1: Begin with the intention to learn
Innama a’malu bi niyyah. Verily, each action is based on its intention. The secrets of this from the Islamic point of view only Allah knows (and maybe some IRK students can enlighten me?), but from the psychological perspective of things, when you configure your mindset and attitude correctly, you are actually preparing your whole body for the action you are intending to take.
When I begin my day thinking how tired I am, how lazy I am, how boring the class will be, my body will naturally react that way. My eyelids get heavy, I loose focus, I start thinking about how delicious the home-made chicken burger at Mummy’s Kitchen is. But when I take one minute before class begins to recite bismillah and tell myself I want to learn and understand the lesson, my brain says “You got it boss!”. Renew your intention every day, or better, before every single class.
Step 2: Respect your teachers. All your teachers.
I wrote earlier about how I learnt this lesson the hard way, but in short, don’t judge your teachers no matter what impression they leave on you.
They may be disorganized, may not be as Islamic as you’d like them to be or maybe even the whole department (staff, lecturers and other students alike) have made remarks how terrible a certain lecturer is. But you are no way better than them. They are lecturers because they have been through the whole education system and attained years of work experience that you are only at the bottom rung of.
Configure your mind to respect them, their knowledge and experience, and naturally, you will receive some it insyaAllah.
Step 3: Sit in the first row
Just like we rush to solat in the first saf at the masjid, make the effort to sit in the first row of the class. You don’t have to come that early; the front row is always magically empty for you.
When you sit in the first row, you automatically stop yourself from using your phone or from falling asleep, you don’t get distracted by other people using their phone or falling asleep, and the lecturer and slides are occupying your whole vision that you have no choice but to focus.
Step 4: Be fully focused during the class
I don’t have any studies to back me up, but I think that the first most important step to learning takes place during the class itself. If you manage to digest and understand the lesson before you exit the class, it takes a lot of time off studying outside the class.
So give your 100% for a little over an hour, and you will shave hours off your studying time. You will find yourself thinking “Oh ya, the lecturer mentioned this in class!” regularly, and all your revisions are basically reviewing what was already ingrained in your brain.
Step 5: Be genuinely interested in listening, not hearing
To hear is to just perceive sounds coming from around you, while to listen is to give attention to what you are hearing. There is a fundamental difference between the two.
I treat each lesson as a conversation between myself and the lecturer. Because I sit in the front row, the lecturer is more often than not standing directly in front of me, which thus gives the illusion of a conversation.
When we converse with our friends, we actively listen to what they are saying, think about what they have said and give them a response based on the content of their message. To me, this thinking process that happens when we listen (not hear) helps to cement our understanding in the lesson.
Step 6: Participate – Ask and answer
I notice that during heavy lessons, many normal students tend to withdraw, keep quiet and leave the class as if they have been in a mind control facility – all zoned out and confused. When the exams approach, these students will scramble to find notes, arrange for consultations and basically frantically search for sources who can help to find them understand that same lesson.
Instead of doing this, why not be frank and ask the lecturer during class if you don’t understand the topic? There is absolutely no shame in asking; it benefits you and your entire class, and I know lecturers are always more than happy to share and explain.
If you still don’t understand after the explanation has been given, ask the lecturer immediately after class ends if possible. Our brain is wired to want to understand things, so when you give it answers when it has questions, it will retain much more of the information.
Step 7: Take notes during class
No matter how much you focus in class, unless you are a genius (which I am not), you will forget most of the information by the end of the day.
Note down all the things your lecturers say (on top of the powerpoint slides), all the thoughts running through your mind and all the questions you might have. This helps when revising.
Step 8: Take assignments as opportunities to learn more
Assignments are to help us revise and learn outside of the course materials. If you copy-paste, you learn nothing. Zero. Zilch. You have just wasted days of your life. If you google translate Malay articles to English and copy-paste the translations into your articles, your papers will not make any sense.
That being said, sometimes you get group members who don’t do their part, or who copy-paste everything. That is their choice. You, on the other hand, have your own choice to make. Don’t let their decisions affect your grades.
In the past three years, I have group mates who copy-paste from Google translate, who lift chunks off web pages or books, who write their essays in their sleep (at least it looks like that), or who simply don’t give me anything.
In all of these occasions, I simply take whatever points I can from what they give me, and I edit, redo from the ground up or even write their entire essays for them before I submit. This takes more time of course, and it seems unfair that everyone gets the same grades in the end. But I learn (a lot), and they don’t. I think that’s fair.
Some people may argue that I am not helping these students by doing their work for them, but if I have given advice since the beginning and they refuse to take it, and if they don’t make an effort at all, then it speaks so much as to their characters. I am firm in that I will not let other people hijack my future.
Step 9: Reorganize all your notes and rewrite them
During revision week, look through all the notes you have taken in class, the powerpoint slides and the reading materials you have.
Rearrange them in a more coherent manner that makes sense to you, and then further summarize your understanding into key words, key phrases or even images. I use a combination of all three. Figure out which one works best for you.
But the essence of it is, once you understand things properly, that key will open the entire room of information to you when you want it to.
Step 10: Ask everyone, especially your parents and your teachers, to make du’a for you
Lastly, ask everyone to make du’a for you. Never, ever, underestimate the power of du’a. Especially from people whose du’a Allah swt never turns down, like your mother, or the ‘ulama.
I honestly think the reason I do well is only because of Allah’s grace, du’a from my parents and lecturers.
* * * * *
All in all, I am very confident of the above principles because when I practice them in totality, I see As in my results, and when I don’t, Bs tend to appear. And I do have Bs. Even B minuses!
Like I said, I too have much more room to improve on.
May all of us benefit from the above (especially me), and I will probably share more tips in the future (like how to present well!), so just subscribe below via email or twitter should you be interested in reading more :)
Jazakumullah khayr and may Allah keep us all in good iman and health!