If you want good grades, then your goal should be to get good grades. Having a goal keeps you focused, and you’ll never get good grades unless you’re focused on getting good grades. You have to keep your eyes on the prize, after all.
Actually, if getting good grades is your goal, you might focus on the wrong things. Keeping your eyes on the prize is actually a pretty good strategy for not getting that prize.
It turns out, good grades usually result from focusing on learning. Highly successful students are curious. They find ways to be interested in the subjects they’re studying, and they’re not satisfied until they understand them deeply. Or they simply view each new topic as an opportunity to strengthen their mental muscles, even if they’re not all that interested in the subject. Or they become obsessed with improvement, and they focus on making progress along the mastery path. It turns out, the most successful people keep their eyes on the process.
It’s true that you have to play the game of school in order to get good grades – turn everything in on time, complete any busywork they ask of you, etc. – but just playing the game won’t get you top marks on your essays, and it won’t be much help on exams. To succeed at the most difficult tasks that school asks of you, you’ll need to focus on learning and improving.
It’s the desire to learn something that inspires students to pay attention in class. It’s the yearning to understand something deeply that compels students to think about what they’ve been learning during their downtime, which turns out to be a powerful form of studying. It’s the goal of mastery that leads students to put in extra time practicing skills they’ve already learned.
If you’re exclusively focused on getting good grades, then everything is just a chore you have to complete in order to earn points from a teacher. That way of thinking doesn’t inspire much curiosity or motivate much practice. Thus, having the goal of getting good grades might make you less likely to earn them. You’d be better off making learning your goal.
And who knows? You might even find that you like it.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.