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How to Get Straight A's

The most practical guide you've ever heard about improving your grades. Advice from Harvard students.

| Many students say, “I want to get into a top school, I’m creative, I’m passionate… but I don’t get the grades that I need.” The good news is, grades are completely in your control!”

If you follow this advice from Harvard students, you can ensure that you're going to get top grades almost all the time.


  • How to get top grades in all of your classes
  • The 3 things you need to manage to achieve high-performance
  • A practical example of how to improve your test scores
  • One thing you want to do after finishing your exams
  • How to get much-needed help from your teachers

Here is the Daily Planner Training I mentioned in the podcast. You can download free of charge and start improving your grades right away!

Download the Planner


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Transcript of the podcast

How do you get straight As, especially in the really difficult classes?

A lot of people believe that getting straight days is a function of bookmarks plus more intelligence, but those who do get straight as no better.

We know that actually, it's not so much a function of intelligence as diligence, timeliness, and self-discipline.

It's a function of getting things done, even when you don't want to be focused, getting straight is something that is achievable for absolutely anyone.

The good news that we should all be aware of is that our brains are plastic we can reform neural synapses as we can learn new ideas, and we can apply those newly learned ideas to even more new concepts.

And we can use that learning to achieve goals. When the goal is to get straight, as then we need to also apply some strategy.

And today I want to talk about that strategy in context.

First of all, you might be confused because if you've been listening to this podcast for a couple of years, one of the first episodes that I ever recorded was on how to get straight days.

The advice that I gave 2 years ago is absolutely valid today.

But I'm re-recording rather than just re-promoting that old episode, just because my recording quality has gone up quite a bit since then.

And I hope that in this message, there are a couple of things that I want to add.

I hope this message strikes differently and strikes more effectively than the original one did.

First of all, one thing that didn't make it into that first podcast is the fact that you do need to have some clear academic building blocks.

You need to have the foundation in place.

And so if you have a gap there if your English is not strong enough if English is not your first language, or perhaps you just haven't read enough, you don't have a strong enough academic vocabulary in the different subjects that you're in, then you can get overwhelmed very, very quickly and even being diligent and managing your time and energy, which we'll talk about in a second, won't be enough.

You do need an academic foundation in order to be successful.

You need that academic foundation in order to stay curious and enjoy what you're studying.

One of the best ways to ensure your success is to be truly, genuinely curious about your subject.

And to find ways to enjoy it, go back to my podcast about partying your way into the ivy league to learn about how I did this in real life.

Absolutely, you can and you should find ways to infuse joy, infuse enjoyment into your studying. And that's important.

And the best way to do that at a foundation, the level is to be curious.

And you can't be curious about something that you just don't have the foundation of building blocks to be curious about.

If you need to learn the vocabulary, or if you need to develop a skill.

If you need algebra in order to do this thing, or whatever other skills you might need, it's important to stop and go back and get the foundation of learning done, at least to do it concurrently.

One of the best ways to do that is to go to khan academy. That's completely free.

It's accessible to anyone and everyone. Another really good way to do that is to hire a one-on-one tutor.

Hiring a tutor is not available for everyone, and to be honest, some tutors are better than others.

So I recommend that everyone check out khan academy to build up that academic foundation once that foundation is in place, though.

You need to maintain that spirit of curiosity and genuine interest in the subject.

That's gonna be a key through line that's gonna pull you through all of the challenges that you are going to face, especially in these more advanced classes.

And especially in classes that you're not naturally inclined to enjoy, things that you should do, or you have to do prerequisites that you need to get out of the way or subjects that you just have to finish in order to graduate.

Or in order to get into or be competitive for the selective schools that you want to apply for when you go to college.

Sometimes you have to study things that you're not naturally curious about.

You're not naturally interested in finding a way to become curious about them, finding a way to ask questions and get genuinely interested is going to be really, really valuable.

Once you've got that foundation in place, then you need to check out my daily study planner.

There is a link in the show notes it is absolutely free.

You can access it along with the planner that is available, both as a pdf and as a word document, you can print it up and use pen and paper to write on the planner, or you can do it electronically. That's all available there.

In addition to being able to download those documents, there's also a video training there to walk you through every single step.

But that daily planner is the reason why it is so helpful because it helps you not only to manage your time, which is the second step in getting straight days, even in hard classes.

The first step is to create that foundation so that you can be curious and infuse enjoyment into this entire process that should not be skipped.

But the second step is to manage your time effectively. Now, that's advice. You're going to hear it everywhere.

Managing your time is really, really important, but what I like to teach my students to do and that I've taught you how to do through those video training.

And the use of my own 1-page planner is to manage not only your time with a to-do list but also prioritize.

It asks you to prioritize the activities that you have scheduled.

It asks you which quadrant they belong to, and how much time it's going to take.

So just taking an extra, 30 seconds to prioritize and to fill in the quadrant, which tells you how important it is, and how urgent it is.

Those two things are going to help you manage your time really productively.

And as I teach you in the training, you're going to learn that once you find out about, let's say, for example, a test, once that announcement is made in class and that in a month you're going to have this test.

I teach my students to write that down on a piece of scratch paper and put it in their pockets.

Don't try to remember it all day long.

Because that's gonna use up a lot of your thinking power, a lot of your decision-making power.

And if you've heard about decision fatigue, then what I'm talking about?

But you write down the date of the test, on a piece of scratch paper, put it in your pocket, and let it go until that night.

At nighttime, you pull out your monthly calendar, you put the date of the test there.

And for me, if it's a big test, I'm going to want to study for 4 days before the test.

For you, it might be three, or it might be five, but you should know what your system is.

For me, I'm gonna write down the date of the test and then work backward for 4 days.

And each of those previous 4 days, I'm going to put study for the chapter three chemistry test.

And you decide how many days are going to require based on how important this test is.

For a quiz, I might put in 2 days if it's a big quiz.

If it's not just 1 day, it's fine. All right. You get to decide all of that.

I have that scheduled a month ahead of time, because each morning, when I fill out my daily planner, I only take 3 to 8 minutes, max, to plan out my entire day.

And that includes everything that includes the evaluation. I'm going to evaluate myself on my effort, my focus, and my effectiveness every single day.

You'll be amazed.

There's a tremendous amount of business acumen and psychology that's built into that.

If you rate yourself every day on the areas that you want to see improvement in, you're going to improve dramatically.

That's built into the daily planner here, the activities list, but not just a to-do list.

It also requires you to prioritize, as we talked about before state the quadrant and the estimated time.

And I've also built into this study planner.

The second key, after managing your time, you also need to manage your energy.

And if you've listened to the very first podcast that I ever recorded in this show, it's called the happiness advantage.

And I reviewed a book by one of my favorite people at Harvard, Sean Acres. He wrote the happiness advantage.

She's also done a Ted talk about it. I've recorded a podcast about this.

But in that work that he's done around positive psychology, we've learned a lot about high performance and you are going to study significantly better if you are studying from a position of gratitude.

And at a positive emotional state, compared to a neutral state or a negative state if you can at the beginning of your day and throughout your day, find ways to raise your level of energy, just being grateful for what you see around you, finding ways to appreciate what you have, and to think yourself and to be grateful to yourself for making good choices.

One of the tricks that I like to make because I like to thank myself by saying future steve is going to love what you're doing right now. Right?

And just a simple, quick statement that I use in my own self-talk. But nice job, great job way to go way to stay focused. If you listen to my podcast from last week about productivity, then you can absolutely use that same self-talk throughout the day.

But that is helping you elevate your emotional state to a state of positivity rather than neutrality or negativity.

When you're operating from a state of positivity, you're gonna function a lot better.

Managing your energy also involves managing your physiological energy.

There are times in the day when you are simply more productive than at other times.

You need to be aware of those times and protect them, using them strategically.

If you know that you're going to hit a slump at a certain part of the day, do not plan, really difficult activities that require self-discipline and willpower.

Plan those activities for when you're going to be operating at your peak manager energy. That's number three.

The 4th thing that we'll talk about today on how to get straight a's, even in the most difficult classes to manage your relationships.

Now, this is the key to any big goal that you have. Anytime that you want to accomplish something great, you need to be able to manage people around you and manage those relationships.

When I say manage people, you need to take into consideration the fact that other people are a part of your success all right.

Now at the very least, perhaps the most important relationship that you need to manage for your grades is the relationship that you have with your teacher.

If I were to ask you to pause this podcast for 10 seconds, and to think about what are the things that you can do in class to improve your relationship with your teacher?

Go ahead and do that.

Pause the podcast and just think about it. Ok.

Do those things?

You just thought about several things that you can and should be doing during class, after class, before class, through email, or through just being more alert in class.

You have thought about things that you can and should be doing to improve your relationship with your teacher.

That relationship is important. It is worth your time and energy to be proactive in fostering and improving that relationship.

In addition to the things that you've thought about, things like I should be more alert during class, I should volunteer questions, or participate actively in discussions.

All of those things are fantastic. You should do them. I should be prepared for class. I should be prepared for exams.

One more thing that I would like you to add is after tests, I want you to take your test home and redo everything that you got wrong.

Everything that wasn't perfect. All right, some tests are tricky because you write essays and maybe got seven out of ten or eight out of ten.

And sometimes you do long-form problems and whatever else. And it's not clear that you got something wrong.

And there's a clear, direct, obvious, right answer that you could have gotten.

If you calculated it differently, I know that tests are sometimes not so straightforward, but take your test home and redo the things that need improvement. Correct?

The wrong answers to make them right, and improve the incomplete answers to make them fantastic all right.

Then take that in and ask your teacher for 10 minutes of time.

Recognize that your teacher has lots of other students and be appreciative of their time.

Don't be presumptuous here, recognize that they are taking extra time out to meet with you, and be grateful for that. But they're more than happy to do that.

As a teacher, I can tell you teachers are excited to work with students who want to improve and want to learn better.

You take your exam that you have redone to the teacher and you say, here's what I've done after the test after I got it back.

Here are the things that I recognize as why I was incomplete or what I could have done better.

This is what I've done differently, but I still have these two questions.

Would you mind explaining to me how I could improve this, how I can do that better, or how I can understand this issue so that I can be more productive next time?

What is this going to do for you? First of all, it tells your teacher in the most amazing and effective way possible that you are curious and that you do care about this subject that you are learning.

You're genuinely legitimately learning the material, you care about it, and you care about getting their feedback.

You're not telling them that you love this subject. You are showing them, which is always better.

Beyond that, you are allowing the teacher insight into the things that you're struggling with. And that insight can also be valuable.

As a teacher. I can tell you many times I planned lessons and I planned review sessions based on what I knew students needed help with.

If you do an activity like this, if you schedule time with your teacher to talk to them in this way, you give them the material that they need to go over with the class, and they'll be going over exactly the stuff that you struggle the most with that is so helpful for you.

Finally, you absolutely earned the benefit of the doubt, right? You earn their trust. If at the end of the semester, you are kind of in that range.

You're right on the border between one grade threshold and another.

You're going to be given the benefit of the doubt and more often than not, you will receive a higher grade.

A lot of what we've talked about today is simple. It might even be common sense, but as we've talked about before, common sense is not common practice.

When you make common sense activities, and common practices, you begin to see amazing results.

And this is one of those times, even in the most difficult classes, you can do it. You need to build out that foundation.

You need to shift your mindset so that you can find genuine curiosity and enjoyment, and find ways to infuse enjoyment into the study process.

And then manage your, time, manager energy, and manager relationships, you can do this, and you'll be amazed at the results.