Were you the kid who joined every school sports team and club—and still got the A’s? That was me in grade nine, but so not me in graduate studies. If you’re able to raise a family, work full-time, take on extracurricular fun, and excel at studies—all at the same time—then, I beg you, write a book for the rest of us. And sign it with a well-earned coffee stain.
But for those of us who merely dream of star student status, here’s 7 tips to top the grades:
I met grad students who toyed with quitting their programs. Such mental flailing strikes me as “a rite of passage” for most grad students. It’s the norm. But “perseverance is the heart of mental toughness … you don’t have to do this. You can leave right now … All you have to do is quit … The mentally tough person will hear all these little voices in his head …. But they don’t have power over him anymore” (Winters, p. 127 of 134, 96%). Darn, they should’ve packed their books, not their one-way to Ding-Dong Texas bags. Yes, there’s such a city.
Don’t stack up the extracurricular fun.
Talk about Ding Dong, I had no thoughts of quitting grad studies. I was having heaps of fun doing fitness up to five hours a day, making documentary films, taking singing and dance lessons, and, oh, so much more. Studies seemed a side distraction. But I ended up short of the 3.8/4.0 GPA needed for PhD program entry. To my credit, I at least finished with the master’s degree. But my dream of a professorship died. So, don’t overdo the whoopla. I wish I saved auditioning for Survivor for the grad ceremony.
Limit your focus.
At the U, I floated my first year, taking all kinds of classes to gage my interests. “The shiny object syndrome is when people jump from one thing to another without settling on one thing and becoming good at it. The shiny object syndrome breaks many dreams into tiny pieces and many never recover from it” (Winters, p. 128 of 134, 96%). You’ll shine enough when you claim your A.
Choose programs based on talent, not buddies.
After some exploration, I went into math. But I switched to yet another program that offered the most friendships. That’s an issue with physical universities: you could end up taking a program due to peer pressure, not talent. That’s like dropping a star student status in astrophysics to study clowning with BFF Rex.
Academic success could use more than perseverance. Top performances beg for that something more: obsession. “Motivation is not something that keeps you up at night, but obsession does. It’s something that is always in your mind. When you go to the gym, in the shower or going for a run its always there. Your purpose consumes you” (Winters, p. 120 of 134, 90%). Find that obsession by discovering your academic passion. Or grow obsessed with the act of one-upping your last letter grade. Where there’s a will, there’s an A.
If you don’t feel obsessed with schoolwork, then shoot for small wins: a well-thought out term paper, a chapter read, daily studies, or an all-day study stint (with ten-minute breaks every fifty minutes). I shoot for small wins because, hey, nowadays everyone gets a prize.
And build on your goals.
My first goal at the U was to not fail the one class I took. When I did well, I mapped out my next goal: get an A. And then I started taking more classes, scoring all A’s. After that, I ended up the top performer in most every math class I took. Finally, I entered grad studies and got a master’s degree. “When you start building small wins you start creating massive wins” (Winters, p. 127 of 134, 96%). Don’t just win a giant panda; buy out the circus for your very own backyard.
So, now you have the tools to get the A’s. But avoid all-nighter coffee stains. Save the stains for Tim’s, not your take-home tests or term papers. But if you write a book on how you raised a family, worked full-time, took on extracurricular fun—and claimed straight A’s—all at once—then, by all means, sign it with a pot of Joe.
Winters, John. (2019). Self-Discipline: How to Build Mental Toughness and Focus to Achieve Your Goals. E-book.