How to excel at school (Part 2: Academically)


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.

School work can sometimes seem overwhelming and be a great burden
School work can sometimes seem overwhelming and be a great burden

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.

An example for a schedule/plan
An example for a schedule/plan

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.

An example for a healthy lunch
An example for a healthy lunch

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.

An example of a summary
An example of a summary

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?

How to excel at school (Part 2: Academically)
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Most Helpful Guys

  • IlyaTheImpaler
    1) I used to bring water to classes, we study in aircon rooms so it's quite cold, drinking makes me go to the bathroom more often 😂
    2) 15 subjects in high school is a bit too many, no? I think 6-7 is enough, how do you even reach any interesting topic with this many subjects lol
    Philosophy and Religion/Ethics in high school sounds awesome, did you study Aquinas' arguments?
    3) you sound like me, eating lunch alone while reflecting on coursework, "balanced amount of carbs, protein and healthy fats" totally 😂
    I'd like to praise you but it's like praising my younger self lol
    4) yup past exams = tryhard mode and it's always good to tryhard. In uni it's slightly less effective for specialized subject, because you might get a different professor each semester. And the exam would be about different things (even same professor might test different things each year lol)
    5) I know, some like to pretend they aren't tryhards, but they actually are. But there's also another category. The gifted students. From my experience, most CS/EECS students at Berkeley who get a 3.9-4.0/4.0 don’t work as hard as those who are in the 3.5+ range. They ditch all the classes except breadths, and watch tv shows/twitch stream/sports channels or do research in their free time. The few times they study is 3–4 days before exam where they cover all the material in one go and learn how to solve some problems. Then they go on with their A+ on midterm/final. This covers around 60–80% of the 4.0 students. I believe there are two reasons for this:
    1. These guys are very talented. They often end up in big companies, like Google and Facebook, the ones that I know usually go to quant firms like Jane Street or Two Sigma. This is the average trajectory of such students.
    2. I only notice this in EECS courses, because CS/EECS programs are piss easy in comparison to math/physics programs. I'm a math student who takes EECS courses to get free A+s 😂 my favorites are: SICP, anything machine learning related, anything signal processing related, anything optimization related.
    6) In my uni, there's always student who bugs the teacher after class with questions 😂, usually not because he's falling behind, simply because he has more questions than other students

    >If you could go back to school, would you like to?
    no lol

    >What has been particularly difficult for you during your time at school/university?
    morning classes

    >What are your tips for excelling at school, both socially and academically?
    - read books from different authors, compare with your teacher's view
    - study group
    Is this still revelant?
  • tartaarsaus
    Scheduling is everything. If you do that right and are able to tackle weaknesses, school is easy peasy.

    Personally, dedicated practice of problems (especially mathematically solving things) is the way to do it.

    Teachers are also generally eager to help you in my experience.

    At any uni you’ll have student advisors and psychologists to help with problems in life, that is not something you’d probably ask a prof.

    For me, my main difficult thing was just mathematics. I do a degree in economics, so the math is just linear algebra, some derivative taking, the occasional use of integrals (mostly in microeconomics), and it just takes practice to solve that.

    But one ought not to do way too much for school, as a decent social life is very important too.
    Is this still revelant?
    • Glad my myTake resonated with you.
      I agree with you on that last point

    • Yeah there are some people who study way too much and neglect it. No fun in that either

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • DeeDeeDeVour
    Excellent! I hope you're practicing what you're preaching.
  • CindyRuns
    You're absolutely awesome !!!

    You sound a lot like me at age 18 ...

    I'm 31 now, very happily married and a successful engineer and businesswoman !!!
  • Anon_loser
    I thought I was smart until I got my math test mark back
  • dbr1987
    You are dedicated. I respect your dedication but don't forget your personal life outside school
  • lucas262
    I did not apply myself in home school.

    I did the test got above average scores never learned a thing i wasn't interested in.

    Read every word of my American politics book down to the copy write. Don't remember anything.

    Point is I learned military history, geography, political science, theology, psycology, sociology, business networking, team building etc from self education and because its what I liked.

    I can't lesrn what i don't like.

    You need to find what you do like, and maximize it then move to a field you love while you work a job THAT PAYS YOUR WAY TO YOUR DREAM. people skip that step but its what will keep you from diving into debt and getting caught up in failure.
  • Nadim171
    Exellent mytake, but jesus you have so many subjects, where do you live?
  • Ally247
    Loved this
    • Ally247

      I just don't do it 😂

    • Thank you! That wasn't the point, just sharing is already helpful I think :D
      You may want to apply them later in life :)

  • KaraAyna
    Good mytake