Ask a Professor: How to Improve Your Grades in College

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Ask a Professor: How to Improve Your Grades in College
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Published on October 26, 2021


Every professor shares the same experience. At some point in the semester — probably closer to the end than the beginning — a student comes up after class and asks how to raise their grade.

There's good news for students who want to improve their performance or earn extra points. A few steps can help almost any student raise their grades. For example, research shows that simply showing up to class regularly and talking to a professor during office hours can lead to higher academic performance.

Here, we explain how to improve your grades using seven key tips, as well as providing three bonus tips for raising your GPA.

How to Raise Your Grades in College: 7 Essential Tips

College students need good grades to maintain their scholarships, stay enrolled in school, and graduate. Undergraduates considering graduate programs also need strong GPAs. So what are the best ways to raise your grades?

1. Attend Class Regularly

It sounds simple, but going to class is the obvious first step if you want to improve your grades. A recent study on first-year college students found a direct relationship between attendance and test scores. On top of that, some courses count attendance as part of the final grade, so missing class could mean an automatic grade deduction.

2. Review the Syllabus

Many students barely glance at the class syllabus. But the syllabus has all kinds of information that can help raise your grade.

For example, many professors post their grading policies, including the breakdown of the final grade. By reading the syllabus, students can see how professors weigh test scores, papers, participation, and other assignments so you can know where to focus your energy.

The syllabus may also list deadlines, late penalties, and any other grading policies. Simply knowing where you might lose points — for turning in a paper late, for instance — can help students raise their grades.

3. Take Good Notes

Taking notes can help students retain information and study for tests. However, many college students struggle with note-taking skills. In fact, there's not one best method for taking notes. Instead, students should experiment with different note-taking methods to find what works best for them.

While some students prefer to take notes by hand, others benefit from typing their notes. And notes aren't just for lectures: Take notes during class discussions, when meeting with your instructor, and while reading class assignments.

4. Go to Office Hours

Professors hold office hours to answer questions and help students with course material. But many students never attend these office hours. A simple visit could get you vital information and help raise your grade.

Over a four-year period, researchers investigated the relationship between office hour visits and academic performance. It turns out that students who attend office hours do better in class.

Attend a professor's office hours early in the term to introduce yourself or visit before a test to review concepts. There's a good chance the visit could help improve your grades.

5. Avoid Late Penalties

Late penalties take an automatic chunk out of a student's grades, so students should do everything in their power to avoid these penalties.

Late penalty policies vary. Some professors drop a letter grade for every day an assignment is late, while others do not take off points for late work. Read the syllabus and reach out to professors early if you might not turn in an assignment on time. Many will grant an extension so students don't lose points.

6. Join Review Sessions

Review sessions can help students study for tests. They might even include tips on what material will show up on your exam. Many professors hold review sessions before the midterm or final to discuss course material and answer questions. It's a good idea to set aside study time before the review session so you can prepare your questions.

If your class doesn't offer a review session, consider forming a study group and holding your own review session.

7. Take Advantage of Extra Credit

Extra credit helps students make up for lost points or add extra points to their grade. Many professors offer extra credit in the form of extra credit questions on quizzes, additional projects and papers, or attendance at an event. Don't pass up opportunities for extra points.

How to Raise Your GPA in College: 3 Bonus Tips

On top of boosting your grades by attending class and doing extra credit, college students also can take steps to raise their GPA.

While tips on how to raise your grades tend to focus on in-class performance, raising your GPA requires a strategic approach to your course schedule and grading systems.

Choose the Right Electives

College students generally must take certain general education courses and classes in their major; however, they can choose their electives. Being selective about those electives can ultimately improve your GPA.

Choosing electives strategically doesn't mean only taking easy classes. Instead, consider scheduling more difficult electives during terms with a lighter course load or taking an elective pass/fail.

Think Strategically About Pass/Fail Classes

Using the pass/fail grading system can also help improve your GPA. In a pass/fail class, students who pass the class receive a "P" on their transcript instead of a letter grade. While a low grade might hurt your GPA, a P doesn't impact your GPA at all.

Every school maintains different pass/fail policies. Some don't let students take general education, major, or upper-division courses pass/fail. Make sure to review the policies before signing up for classes.

Retake Courses With Low Grades

At many schools, students can retake classes they failed or where they received a low grade. Depending on college policies, they can replace the low grade with a higher grade, which boosts their GPA.

Like pass/fail classes, make sure to review policies on retaking courses. Some colleges require departmental permission or list both grades rather than replacing the lower one.

Finally, students can appeal grades if they feel the professor made an error, assigned grades arbitrarily, or was motivated by discrimination when grading. However, it's easier to raise your grade during a class than after the fact. Investing in good academic habits can pay off for years.


Feature Image: skynesher / E+ / Getty Images

Failing a test is part of college. Use these five tips to get past the frustration of failing an exam and to perform better on your next assessment. What is considered a passing grade in college? Is a D a passing grade? Learn more about how to pass your classes and graduate on time. When should you drop a class and when should you stick with it? Learn about the consequences of dropping a class and your alternatives.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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