How to Become a Straight A Student

James Eimers

How to Become a Straight A Student

Many students set their sights on having straight A’s. Not only is it great to show your parents these strong marks and receive glowing praise, but being a straight A student has long been recognized as the key to successful applications at top schools. Having straight A’s is a common goal, yet a difficult one to achieve. What’s the answer to how to become a straight A student?

Let me be clear about something: having perfect grades or being valedictorian by no means guarantees admission into the most competitive universities and graduate programs. Your transcript is only one piece of your application. A straight A track record helps show that you’re qualified, but won’t help you stand out.

With that in mind, an impressive transcript can go a long way to making you a more competitive applicant, regardless of the type of program to which you are applying. So, how should you go about obtaining straight A's? Here are four steps for how to become a straight A student:

Put in the Effort

Okay—so maybe this isn’t exactly a tip, but its importance cannot be overstated. While there are the extremely rare natural students who are able to breeze effortlessly through every academic challenge thrown at them, getting and maintaining great grades is hard work. Some subjects might be catered more to your learning style and brain function, but—especially early on in your academic career—you’ll eventually be faced with course material that just doesn’t seem to “click” easily. When thinking about how to become a straight A student, your first line of defense against a poor GPA is hard work. This is true at every level of your an academic career, whether you’re in 9th grade English or your final year of medical school.

What, specifically, do we mean by putting in the effort? At a very basic level, we simply mean staying on top of all that is expected of you in your coursework. This means keeping up with and understanding what your homework assignments or problem sets entail every time they are assigned. If possible, it’s also a good idea to look ahead at your assignments to understand what will be expected of you later, allowing you to focus your effort more efficiently.

Becoming a straight A student means putting in the effort of reading all the material assigned to you (really reading, not just letting your eyes glaze over as you sit in front of a screen or book). Some courses might require closer reading than others, but you should always start out reading your assignments thoroughly until you get a feel of what will be expected of you. Cultivating strong high school study skills early on will help you in college and beyond. 

Putting in the effort also means attending your classes. While this isn’t generally an optional exercise in high school, it can be at times in college. The easiest way to fall behind is to stop attending classes where attendance is not mandatory, falling back on the plan of catching up on everything at the end of the semester. Save yourself the heartache and maintain a steady work stream throughout the semester so your end-of-term time isn’t miserable and doesn’t result in subpar performance. Aside from keeping your schedule more manageable, regular class attendance will give you a much clearer idea of what concepts your professors and teachers consider most important—this is critical information when it comes time to study for important exams. Don’t overthink how to become a straight A student.

Understand Your Grading Metrics

Step 2 for how to become a straight A student is ensuring you understand exactly how your grades are calculated. If you don’t understand what components of your coursework are most influential to your grade, then you are at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to focusing your efforts strategically. For example, it’s probably not worth spending 15 hours perfecting a small homework assignment worth 0.25% of your final grade when you could instead be using your time to study for a midterm worth 33% later the same week. Working hard and putting in the effort are critical, but doing so efficiently and strategically is the key in learning how to become a straight A student.

Stuck? Get help

Putting in the effort is fine, but what happens when you are doing all you can and your performance is still falling short? What if the course material simply doesn’t make sense to you? At this stage, it makes sense to get help outside of class. Are your classmates in a similar situation? Forming study groups and working through material together can help demystify difficult concepts. If study groups are not an option in your situation, then it might make sense to look into a tutor. Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective to grasp material that at first seems impossible.

It’s also possible to look to sources outside of those in your officially assigned course materials. Chances are, if you are having a difficult time with a given concept in a class, someone else has had the same problem before. Look to other sources, including the internet, for guidance as needed.

Another option here is to seek help from those involved directly in teaching the course. In high school, this means talking to your teacher; in college, this could mean visiting office hours of a section TA or course professor. Although some teachers are busier than others, most join the profession because they like to help others learn—this means they will often be receptive to students who are working extremely hard but need additional help to succeed. Although it won’t necessarily help, it also won’t hurt for your teacher or professor to have a favorable personal relationship with you when it comes time to submit grades at the end of a term. If you want to know how to become a straight A student, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

What if you still don’t get your A?

The reality of academic life is that it’s pretty difficult to turn in straight-A performances for your entire academic career; even the best students will occasionally slip into the dreaded B territory. If you’ve done everything within your ability for a given course and still come out behind, there’s often nothing you can do about it but move on and view it as a learning experience.

However, if, after thoroughly understanding the grading metrics for a given class, you feel there was an error in your grading, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Grading mistakes do happen, and in borderline-grade scenarios, it’s acceptable to verify that everything is done correctly. But remember not to be rude or pushy when doing your investigating! This sort of questioning must be done tactfully and politely.

Follow these four steps on how to become a straight A student and before you know it, you will achieve a competitive GPA for the top schools. You'll also be prepared with strong study habits when your SATs come around. While straight A’s are not a golden ticket, they will certainly help you get your foot in the door for competitive opportunities. Study hard, understand the expectations, and get help if you need it!

General FAQ

Will a perfect GPA guarantee my admission to a top school?

No! The admissions process is holistic and your transcript is just one part of your application. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the work, though. Your grades are still an essential part of your application.

Can I talk to my teacher/professor if I am unhappy with my grade?

If, after thoroughly understanding the grading metrics for a given class you feel there was an error in your grading, then you can definitely ask your teacher about it! Grading mistakes do happen. Just remember to do so politely and tactfully.

Can I skip class and still get straight A’s?

This depends on the class, but it is unlikely. The easiest way to fall behind is to stop going to classes where attendance isn’t mandatory. Do yourself a favor and maintain a steady work stream throughout the semester. Cramming at the end of the semester rarely produces great grades.

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