I am a senior, 18 and have always had good grades. I have been told by multiple teachers that I am too critical of myself, which is the reason why I am sharing some of my epiphanies throughout the years with you.
This part is dedicated to the academical side of excelling at school.
1) Show up to and pay attention in class
In college and university this may be different, but in school it is vital that you show up to class and pay attention. Be prepared, have something to take notes with you, bring water so that you have no excuse to get up other than excusing yourself to the bathroom.
Being late all the time won't help you either, so simply avoid that at all costs.
2) Schedule and plan
"Man, I completely forgot we had a test in subject X!"
I cannot tell you how often I've heard this sentence, our school system is different in the sense that we have many subjects all the way to the end. For example, I have:
Physics, Music, PE, English, German, Latin, French, Mathematics, Geography, History, Biology Chemistry, Philosophy and Religion/Ethics + additional classes in some of these subjects ("honors" is what you'd call the in the US I think)
I have at least two 50min lessons each week per subject and it is easy to forget course work for one of these subjects, but in the end I get a grade in every single one of them, that's 15 subjects on my report card I should excel at.
Have a plan, know when you write which test or paper. Sometimes, there will be overlap, so either talk to your teachers/professors about that or decide to deal with it.
3) Bring your own, healthy lunch
I know this will sound weird at first but I can assure you that this small thing has saved me at least 500 hours already.
We don't have a proper canteen or cafeteria, so students have to buy themselves lunch either 2mins or up to 10mins away, depending on their preferences. This eats away the time of their lunch break.
I can enjoy my lunch break so much more because I am alone in some corner, having a healthy meal, which helps me focus later. I have plenty of time to reflect before starting my course work before everyone else. You'd think that by now people started to realise how brilliant my system is, but no, they still waste up to 45mins when getting food.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to eat healthily when you want to do well at school. Some recommend a Keto diet, but everything where you get a balanced amount of carbs, protein and healthy fats will do, especially when you're still a student and food isn't your main focus.
If you don't know what you should bring for lunch, there are plenty of good YouTube videos out there catering to all tastes. This also works well with your country's cuisine, as long as the dish still tastes good cold.
4) Practice as much as you can
Especially when you take a centralised exam like the AP, GCSE, IB and so forth, it is vital that you practice past exams. Since each final will be different from country to country, know your curriculum well and make sure you know everything that is required from you.
It can be stressful to compare yourself to others, so try to avoid this if it makes you uncomfortable, but always aim to have between 70% and 80% correct in your practice exams. For me, I aim for over 90%, because this is a 1 or an A in our system. Everything between 80% and 90% is a 2/B, 70% to 80% is a 3/C and everything below 60% means you failed the exam.
Know your grade boundaries and how you can improve your work. Teachers can help you with this.
5) Understand that teachers are not your enemies
In our system, nobody wants to seem like an overachiever. This leads to absolutely annoying conversations like:
"I studied for 30mins for this test, I'll get a 4/D for sure" -> *magically gets a 1/A* -> "I wonder how that happened!"
However, there is a lot of hard work behind getting a 1/A.
If you have a supportive class, that's great. If you don't, be what they consider an overachiever, nobody will care about that afterwards, but don't slack.
Teachers can help you with social and academical problems you may face at school or university. They will not do your work for you but if you have problems in an area, they can help, which is outlined in the last point.
6) What to do when you notice that you are falling behind
This has worked very well for me when I notice I do not understand a topic at all or anymore:
1. Look at your notes, check the Scriptum your teacher provided you with, read what your book says about the topic
2. Practice some problems and identify your weaknesses
3. Summarise the topic for yourself on a neat sheet of paper
4. Practice more problems and see if the weaknesses are still the same
5. If you still have problems or simply don't understand what is going on, take your notes to your teacher and discuss them with him or her
The advantage of this approach is that your teacher can see that you have tried to work on your weaknesses yourself already. This impresses most teachers and will make them want to help you because they know that whatever they say or do to help you will not go to waste.
If you could go back to school, would you like to?
What has been particularly difficult for you during your time at school/university?
What are your tips for excelling at school, both socially and academically?