7 Secrets to Better Grades: Part 2

Last week you saw that improving your grades starts with getting really clear on your goals. You have to be able to define them well enough to write them down. Guess what? That was only the beginning! Now that you have your goals on paper, it's time to figure out how you can actually start working toward them! Step 1 was defining your goal, and Step 2 was breaking it down into smaller chunks. Now it's time for the two steps that will help you clarify what it will look like to implement your goal. 

3. Make a Plan 

There's a wide gap between a goal and a plan to achieve that goal. Don't get fooled: once you have written out your goals, even though they are specific and clear, there is still work to do! 

But how to you make a plan?

Remember how Part 1 encouraged you to write down your goals? Now that they're on paper, you can build on them and brainstorm ways to start putting them into action. For each goal, you'll want to think about the three R's: realism, roadblocks, and resources.

Start with realism. What is your class like? What opportunities will you have? What is your schedule like? Don't make a plan that will be impossible or nearly impossible to follow, such as studying for 3 hours every night for one single class--when would you do the rest of your assignments or practice piano?

Then, try to imagine the roadblocks. Picture the obstacles that could come up. Are you confused about a concept from class? Do have trouble scheduling projects? Do you tend to run out of time on tests? It might seem like a bummer to imagine all the things that could go wrong, but what you're really doing is making your plan foolproof. You're checking for weaknesses now so that you'll have all the tools you need to fix them when they come up.

Your final R is resources. What tools do you have to solve the problems you have anticipated? Which friend can you study with? What kind of outline helps you focus your ideas? Do you have word lists or a thesaurus that will get you past some essay revising roadblocks? Does your teacher have tutorial hours when you can go in and ask questions? Your resources might be people, time, references, time management skills, or even tricks you know help you focus better. 

Once you know your three R's, state your plan. This summarizes what you will do in very clear terms. Make sure you can visualize your plan. That's how you know it's specific enough. 

Here's a sample three R brainstorm and plan for the goal of raising a class participation grade. 

Class Participation Goal: Raise my hand once each class to ask a question or make a comment

  • Realism: we don't have a discussion every single class, so I have to be proactive when we do have them. I might not always get called on, so just raising my hand should be the goal; my teacher will still see that I am ready to participate.
  • Roadblock: I have a hard time remembering all the details when I read, so it is difficult to answer questions in class. What if I don't know what to say? I don't want to panic and sound like a buffoon...
  • Resources:
    • my Plot Map and Character Table resources could help me take notes as I read; if I have these out during the discussion, I won't feel totally lost
    • at home I can mark things on my Plot Map and Character Table that are confusing or that I want to talk about
    • I'm good at interpreting details, so when someone else brings up a detail about an event or character, I can try to comment on how it is significant

Plan: When my teacher sits down at her desk, I know that means a discussion is about to start. I will get out my Plot Map and Character Table and quickly skim them to see if I have starred anything to talk about. I'll start raising my hand right away so I can try to get my question or comment in early on in the discussion. Then I won't have to worry about it for the whole period and feel nervous.  

4. Get Support

Working toward your goals is a lot easier if you enlist help from people around you. Ask your classmates their strategies related to the goal you're working on. Do you have a friend in the class who always participates in discussion? Try asking how he reads or takes notes. Is there another classmate who is consistently great at making presentations for this class? Ask her how she prepares.

You can also get support from Mom and Dad. Let them know which goals you're working to achieve and what your plan is. They will be thrilled to see you taking initiative and eager to help. (And of course, if they know you are working your hardest on Goal A, they may cut you some slack if you are still struggling to accomplish Goals X, Y, and Z.) They may also have helpful suggestions. Often the people around us can see our skills better than we can see them ourselves. Your parents may be able to help you find some additional resources or anticipate more roadblocks based on what they know about your habits, study skills, and personality.

Finally, go to the source! Get support from your teacher. Present your goals and your plan. Ask about additional resources, such as note-taking templates or outlines. Teachers tend to be collectors, and many have entire libraries of material to use for organizing what you learn. Your teacher can help you with the realism part of your brainstorm as well. Maybe you forgot to take into account the fact that there will be a big test or essay coming up. Maybe you will be able to get a more accurate breakdown of your current grade and what it's based on.

Of course, it will also be to your advantage just to let your teacher know you are hard at work on your long-term goal, and that you are being proactive and making a plan. She will see that you are giving it your all, and that might make her more willing to give you more opportunities to earn points toward your grade through extra credit.

If you're working on a really big, really important goal--like trying to bring a D up to a C or B--you're going to need support from even more people. Tell your close friends what you're working on so they don't feel miffed when you are spending less time online with them.They can also be good listeners when you get frustrated or stuck, and if they know you really well, they can offer insights about the three R's. 

Tell your swim coach and your scout master as well. Give them a heads-up that you might not be able to fulfill all of the extra duties you normally pitch in and help with, and tell them why. They will respect that you have your priorities in order, and they will also be glad for some advance warning so that they can find other people to take over some of your workload.

OK, now you know how to choose goals, narrow them down, write a plan, and get support. Stay tuned! Next time, in the final part of this series, you'll learn how to stick with your plan and stay motivated!

Do you have a question or an experience to share about achieving your academic goals? Talk about it in the comments below!