August 20, 2015

Hi, Subscribers,

I published this a year ago about the same time.

Since then, the number of my subscribers has increased significantly.  I thought I would publish it again for those of you who may have missed the original publication.

I hope this will help those of you who are going back to college.

Here are some excellent tips from books and students who really do know how to nail down A’s and beat the academic system.


Stop highlighting the daylights out of your text books!

What you are actually doing is highlighting what you think is important. Your professors don’t care what you think.  They only care about what they think is important.


Trot over to the bookstore and snap up a blue pen and a green one.  Forget red. It bleeds and clots like a murder victim.


Once you are in class, use your blue pen to write notes on what he says verbally.

But, when he starts writing on the board, grab your green pen and write down all of that information including the weird diagrams.

Anything your professor puts on the board will be on a test.

Go back to your blue pen when he is not using the board.

You want this color system so when reviewing your notes, you will be able to distinguish between his overall teaching and what he puts on the board. Both are important, but give eagle eye attention to your green notes.


Here is a trick I used.  It felt tedious when I first tried it, but it worked:

The night prior to a class, I re-read my notes starting all the way back to the first day of that class. I did not study them, I simply read them. Then I went on to read the assignment. When I timed it, I found it took two minutes to do this re-reading, even starting from the first class.

The beauty of this is that when you just read  – not study – your previous notes over and over throughout the semester, it starts to get etched into your brain.

When it is test time, you really do need to study all your notes. But, it should be relatively easy to remember everything since you have already read those notes 10+ times.


Try to re-read your previous notes and your next assignment in the library, not in your dorm room. You want as few distractions as possible.

If you still get distracted in the library, go to the “Absolute Silence” room.  It is quiet as a tomb in there and all college libraries have one.

Studying with your friends is great and study groups are really fun. But, if they can’t stick to the topic and would rather flirt with other students, bite the bullet and fly solo. Use one of those single desks facing the wall, or plant yourself back in the Absolute Silence room.

Another tip:

While you are in the library, there will be books like: “What ‘A’ Students Know” etc.  Ask the librarian to help you find them. Read at least one. Those books are the ones I read and am drawing from for this blog. The ones I read were easy and light reading.  Find one that appeals to you and feels comfortable.


Try to come up with a system you can live with and that is realistic. For example, some students have the amazing ability to structure their study time for Monday through Thursday night.

Friday nights, all day Saturday and most of Sunday they take off totally to go to frat parties, organize tailgate parties, take trips and, in general, just blow off steam and have fun. Guilt free.

Sunday nights, they make an attempt to head back to the library. They may have a killer hangover, but a few of them will be there.

Very few people have this kind of self-discipline, but it is the gold level.  Aim for it. If you can do just half of it, you should be in pretty good shape.

In one class, I was sitting next to a student who shocked the daylights out of me. He hardly took any notes at all. I asked him what he was doing and he said he took notes by writing down one word every few minutes.  I asked if he could recall the entire class from those single words and he said yes. Once he told me that, I was ballistic with jealousy.

If you have a brain like that, goof off all you want to!


Here are a few tricks to help you:

Read the entire test from start to finish before diving into it.  These few minutes will probably make you feel anxious since you are using up test time to do it.  Don’t worry about it. It is probably only one minute, although it may feel like more.

It will give you the big picture so you get an overall idea of what the professor is looking for before you start the test.

Ironically, it also forces you to slow down and in turn helps you to relax and concentrate.

Read the question and circle the key words. It helps you focus and zone in on exactly what your professor is asking.  I found this trick to be extremely helpful and used it on all of my tests.

Answer the questions with as much detail as possible.

I once totally bombed on a test, because I was leaving out what I thought was the small stuff. I was very upset and angry when I spoke to the teacher. I asked what I did wrong. She explained she needed more detail. So, I said “But, I know all of that stuff” and started to rattle it off. She advised me to put all that small stuff into my answers. I did, and started getting much better grades.

As the time draws closer to the end of the test, write down on the test how much time is left. For example, you are writing furiously and become aware of the time. You still have that essay question taunting you at the end that requires a lot of info. So, you tear into the essay question. But, after the third paragraph, you suddenly realize time is short and you have to pick up speed.

In the text while you are writing, simply put down how much time is left: (15 min) — and continue writing.  You will shorten your answers, but put in the key elements:  “Henry 8. Wanted son. Catholic church, divorces. United Church of England. No sons. Killed wives, re-married. (10 min) — By now you will be down to almost one word sentences. Get the main points down so your professor is aware you know this stuff. “Lincoln, Civil War 1861-5, Emancipation Proc, free slaves, assassinated” – and keep going from there.  (5 min left) — You are on warp speed.

I did this and it worked.  My professor accepted it.  He understood my timeline since I had scribbled it down and understood the need for my shorthand.

Every class and professor is different.  Adjust accordingly. After the first test, you will get the feel for what type of tests they give.


For even the smartest students, there are always one or two classes that totally throw them.

All professors have office hours where they can meet with you one on one.  Write those times down.

See them during office hours (it’s private) where you can have a melt-down, ask questions, and tell them you still don’t get it. You do not need an appointment.  Just show up. I thought there would be a line down the hall waiting to see him.  I was the only one there.

All of your professors have been teaching this stuff for years. They already know which classes or chapters will throw their students. They are expecting to see you.  They also know every question you are going to ask.

If you consistently (once a week or more) show up for their office hours for that tough course, there is a good chance you may get a B instead of a B-.  The professor will respect your effort to learn.  It shows that you are doing the best you can and at least making the effort to understand their class.  Professors like that a lot.


Professors also have a very relaxed unstructured class in the evening. I can’t remember what they are called, but they are different from office hours.

As many students who want to, show up and just throw out questions. You will not lose points for this. They usually last an hour.

You should hear about this class the first day, or just ask your professor. Definitely write this down.

I can promise you there will be others there in the same boat. Even if your professor for this class is scary and tough, they understand you are there because you are floundering and may relax their demeanor a bit.

Be aware that you will have at least one or two professors you will absolutely HATE.  Keep your cool in class.  You have to get by this jerk in order to have enough credits to graduate. Many times, when you see them during office hours, they are pretty nice.  No promises.


Grab as many resources as you can. For example, you know which students seem to understand the material that is throwing you.

See if you can get them and maybe one other person to form a serious study group. Once the word gets out about this group, you will most likely end up with similar students who don’t get it either.

It is very flattering to the student you ask for help, so it should not be hard to get one.

Here is another trick:

Ask one of your professors if you are allowed to get a real classroom late in the day to have this study group.  The blackboard will be available for diagrams, etc. and because you are among your peers, you can comfortably ask any questions you need to. The professor is not there so you don’t have to worry about the impression you are making.

Don’t wait until the third class to get help or you will always be playing catch-up making yourself feeling scared and miserable.

You should know after the first class and reading assignment that you are going to have a problem. That’s when  you shift into high gear for help. Do not wait!!

Not getting help soon enough and skipping class are the top two biggest mistakes you can make.


It is not all about getting A’s. Balance your student life with other things you enjoy on campus:  be in a play, join a debating club, take an elective that is just flat-out fun. All work and no play makes for a very lonely and depressed student.

To sum it up, college is a great opportunity that not everyone gets.

You will also meet a fantastic array of people, many from foreign countries. The friendships you make in college can last a lifetime.

Take full advantage of all of this. These will be some of the best and most memorable years of your life.

Best wishes,


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Updated: February 1, 2017 — 10:36 pm
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