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How to Get Good Grades in Graduate School

These tips for getting good grades in grad school are from my experience as a MSW (Master of Social Work) student. I learned how to succeed without studying 24 hours a day. Getting good grades in grad school is easier than you think!

how to get good grades in grad schoolOne of my favorite blogs is Cal Newport’s Study Hacks – I quote him below and link to his website. He’s the author of How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less, which is a must-read if you want to succeed in graduate school.

Learn how to get good grades by slowing down. If you’re rushing, multi-tasking, and going too fast, then you won’t absorb what you need to know. Read How to Study When You Can’t Focus if you’re finding it difficult to slow down.

And, remember that getting good grades isn’t the most important part of being a graduate student. It’s important to learn the course material and know your research, but it’s crucial to learn how to think. Graduate school is about getting deeper into a specific area of study, and learning how to think about the topics. It’s not just about grades. Nevertheless, here’s how to get good grades in grad school…

6 Tips for Getting Good Grades in Grad School

If you haven’t written a paper yet, check out my cultural self-identity paper for social work class. I got an A+ :-)

1. Participate in class discussions

We have a huge class – there are 28 MSW students at UBC, which is triple the class size of last year. This makes participating in class discussions more uncomfortable, especially for ESL students and quiet people like me But the more you speak up in class, the more you’ll learn! Your heart beats faster, your blood flows quicker, and your body goes into a mini “fight or flight” mode. I think this increases your ability to learn because it makes you more awake and aware.

Speaking up in class forces you to pay attention to what the instructor and the other students are saying, and can even encourage you to do the readings. If you prepare for class by reading the assignments and bringing one question to ask the instructor, you’re already studying for the exams and preparing to write the papers. Getting good grades in college (especially grad school) is about learning the material early and reflecting on it as you go.

2. Don’t read every single word of the articles or textbook

You’ll never get through all the material if you read the intricate details of how the study was done, who the research participants were, and how the results were tabulated (unless of course you’re in a research methodology or statistics class!).

Instead of reading every single word of the assigned articles and textbook chapters, make sure you understand the gist of the assignment.

3. Learn how to speed read to get good grades in graduate school

In The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, Timothy Ferriss explains two speed reading tips: 1) use your pen or finger to underline the sentences as you read, because it keeps your eyes focused; and 2) start reading 3 words into the sentence, and stop reading 3 words before the sentence ends. Your peripheral vision will take care of the rest.

I tried Tim’s tips for speed reading on the bus yesterday, and I read a whole chapter of my Group Therapy textbook in less than 30 minutes. And I understood it! I’ve always wanted to take a speed reading course, and now think it’s probably the number one tip for studying and getting good grades in grad school.

4. Put the material into your own words by teaching it to someone else

tips for getting good grades in grad school

How to Get Good Grades in Graduate School

One of the best study tips for grad school (or any type of school) is to understand the material. I always used to memorize the textbook and assignments, and I always got As and Bs. But now that I’m a mature student I’m learning the importance of making connections between ideas, understanding concepts, and applying theories to my practice.

To get good grades in grad school, make sure you understand the material presented in a journal article or textbook chapter before you move on. You’ll learn it better if you attempt to teach it to someone else, because you can’t teach what you do not know.

5. Learn it once ( a tip on getting good grades from Study Hacks)

“This principle asserts that the correct time to learn something is when you first approach it, either in your readings or lectures. Waiting until the end to study results in a lot of wasted effort and poor grades. Whenever I uncover a concept that doesn’t immediately click into place, I invest time right away to figure it out. This results in a focused effort to repair any holes in knowledge before they tear at the foundation.”

This excerpt is from Anatomy of an A+: A Look Inside the Process of One of the World’s Most Efficient Studiers by guest author Scott Young, who has a popular self-improvement blog. One of the articles on Scott’s site is 50 Tricks to Study Better, Faster and with Less Stress (tons of tips to help grad students succeed at school!).

6. When studying for a test, make your own exam

We have a Group Therapy final examination in less than a week, and I’ll be studying for it by making my own test. The instructor emailed us her power point slides before every class, and we know the test will cover those slides. So there’s the number one tip for studying for that exam: focus on the slides and the journal articles she assigned.

To study for this test, I’m writing the examination. That is, I’m pretending I’m my instructor, and I’ll write the test the way I think it should be. I know from past experience that my exam will be more difficult than hers (I learned this in high school, when we made up our own exams for each other – the students’ exams were much more difficult than the teacher’s).

If you’re a “mature student” (over 30 or 40 years old), going back to school is challenging. Here are a few tips for adult learners.

What are your thoughts? Successful graduate students read information, then form and express their own opinions. Practice that here…

May you succeed as a graduate school student – and may your grades reflect your learning and effort.


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3 thoughts on “How to Get Good Grades in Graduate School”

  1. Thank for for these tips on getting good grades in graduate school. Thanks for sharing. I’m in an MBA program, and I don’t think I have good study skills.

  2. The class average on our group therapy exam was 73% (very low! The instructor expected a 78% average). I got 90% on the exam, because of these tips for getting good grades in grad school!

    Study Hacks is an excellent website.