Successful people have habits. Successful high school students have habits. While they may not be secrets, not everyone knows or understands these important habits. My goal is to share the wealth. Here are some of the most helpful strategies I have learned over my *illustrious* high school career.
1. Writing it Down
When in doubt, write it down. Your teacher said something you didn’t understand – write it down. You thought of an interesting idea for an essay – write it down. You don’t understand how to do a certain problem – write it down. Keeping a log of questions and/or ideas will help you when you have a chance to ask your teacher. Also, it can shave off time brainstorming an essay when you’ve already come up with a couple ideas.
2. Using a Planning System
I say system because depending on who you are that may look different. I’m planning a blog post on various different planning systems, but the fundamental underlying idea here is to keep track of your assignments. Don’t be the person who is constantly asking what the homework is. No one likes that person. That person gets ignored. Don’t be that person.
3. Establishing Positive Relationships with Your Teachers
Your teachers are your friends. Treat them with kindness and respect even if you don’t really like them. For example, I hated one of my teachers (truly the most incompetent person I’ve ever met), but I was still nice to him and he bumped my final grade up from a B+ to an A-. Moral of the story: be nice to your teachers. Also, if your teachers have a good impression of you, they’ll be more likely to give you extensions on assignments and generally make your life easier.
4. Learning How to Talk with Adults
You have to learn how to advocate for yourself. Once, I got the first step of an 8 part question wrong. Consequently, the rest of the problem was wrong. My teacher took off half credit for the entire problem. I lost about 15 points on an 80-something point test. When I got my test back, I asked him to give me points back on the questions that I got wrong but had the correct process. In the end, I convinced him that my score didn’t reflect my knowledge of the subject. He agreed and ultimately ended up giving me about 10-12 of the 15 (lost) points back on my test. It raised my grade significantly. Being able to have these sometimes difficult conversations with your teachers will only help you in the long term.
5. Never Being Afraid to Send an Email
This one is two fold: one don’t have a stupid email like firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s just a bad idea. It was fine when you’re ten, but now you’re in high school. Eventually, you’ll likely be using your email to contact college admissions representatives and future employers. Give yourself a professional email. You should aim to include your first name and last name in your email address if possible. If you must include numbers, consider using the last two digits of the year you’ll graduate high school. Second: Check your email. As a high schooler, you should get into the habit of checking your email at least once per day. Lastly, err on the side of formality. Your teacher won’t be offended by an extra “please” or “thank you”, but they will be by the lack of such pleasantries. When in doubt, say it in the most polite way possible and move on. Remember the worst that can happen is your teacher says no. For example, I asked my APUSH teacher if there were any opportunities for extra credit via email. She told me no, but said she appreciated the politeness of my email. That was my worst-case scenario, and it wasn’t really that bad at all.
6. Finding What Times You Work Best and Modifying Your Schedule Accordingly
I learned in my freshman year that I work best in the mornings. For me, my brain begins shutting down for the day at 1pm. From there, my concentration and pretty much everything else just gets steadily worse. By the time I get home at 4 o’clock on a normal day or 6 o’clock on a day with extracurriculars, I’m exhausted. Generally, I’ll only have energy for less taxing homework such as Spanish vocabulary worksheets, textbook notes, or easy readings for English class. I do this stuff first. Then I’ll try to go to bed as early as possible so I can wake up around 5:00-5:30AM to finish the more mentally taxing homework such as chemistry and math problem sets. I also make sure to always have at least 4 study halls per week each semester to ensure I’ll have at least an hour at school each day to get some work (or sleep) in.
7. Learning How to Take Organized Notes
This is super important. It is the underlying foundation of your academic career. Students must be able to take their teacher’s words and the texts from the various sources (slide shows, textbooks, readings) and condense it into a useful study guide. Having good notes aids this process.
8. Using Outside Resources
This is really helpful when you are struggling in a class. For example, in my AP Chemistry class, I always needed extra practice. I used the textbook and found an AP Chemistry test bank pdf online. Now, I had extra opportunities to practice and identify weak spots. For a history class, that could mean looking up timelines or articles to make sure you understand exactly what happened and why. If you don’t know the answer, look it up! Most teachers will appreciate that you tried to find the answer yourself and only came to them when you were stuck. That shows your teacher that you took initiative and care about your studies.
9. Paying Attention in Class or at least Attending Class
Most of us have to pay attention in class to understand what’s happening. For some people, they can go to class, fall asleep and still get straight As. I am not one of those people, at least, not in most subjects. I do love a good nap in Spanish though! Even if you don’t want to, just go to class. Even if you don’t pay attention to the vast majority of the lecture, at least you absorbed a tiny bit of information and got marked present. Sometimes that’s the best you can do, and that’s fine.
10. Forming Mutually Beneficial Relationships with Classmates
This is so important! You need to make friends in your class. These are the people who you will create study guides with, quiz each other with before big tests, complete projects with, and more. These people don’t have to be your best friends, but they can be extremely useful. For example, I have a great friend, Sophie, who was in my US History class. Anytime I missed class, she sent me the notes from class, and when she was out, I sent her the notes. Over time, Sophie and I have become great friends, but it all really started with having Freshman World History together.