Three Ways to Maximize Your Classroom Experience and Raise Your GPA

This time of year is a busy one for high school students. Freshmen have started their high school journey and are learning how to handle higher-level classes. Sophomores are making their first forays into the world of APs. Many juniors are beginning to prepare for their SAT/ACT tests, maintain their current GPAs, compile their college lists, and deepen their involvement in clubs, sports, or service. And seniors are eyeing their checklist, seeking out those teacher recommendations, and polishing their college essays, not to mention making sure they finish their senior fall classes on a high note. In the face of such a barrage of responsibilities to juggle, what should receive the most attention?

GPA, curriculum, and test scores

A recent NACAC survey found that the three most important criteria for college admissions are high school GPA, curriculum, and SAT/ACT test scores. For students wanting to make sure they are making themselves the most competitive applicants possible, this semester’s grades are hugely important. You can retake an SAT/ACT later and attempt a higher score, but you cannot retake your midterm chemistry exam. For this reason, you want to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success for midterms and finals later on this fall. You can do this in three ways: by taking solid notes in your classes, by strengthening your weaker areas, and by anticipating upcoming assignments, especially finals.

Take solid notes in classes

Many teachers provide their class notes or even videos recapping the day’s assignments. These offerings can be of great help to certain types of students, but they can disadvantage others. Teacher’s notes will benefit students who are already taking detailed notes during class but who might need help evaluating the accuracy of their content. Teacher’s notes can be a great way to ensure that you are accurately following your teacher’s methodology. Did you catch every definition the teacher wrote down? Did you miss a step in a cycle the teacher outlined on the board? By reviewing the teacher’s notes alongside your own, you can check yourself before you start committing errors to memory.

Teacher’s notes can backfire, though, for students who are not taking their own notes. A student might assure himself that, because he has the teacher’s notes downloaded to his computer, he doesn’t need to “download” them into his memory. The act of writing down notes helps commit the content into your memory by engaging your body in the learning process, forcing you to paraphrase the teacher’s words into your own, and providing an “orienting” activity that helps you to avoid distraction. Want to ace your finals or next week’s test? Start now by writing down the class’s content, not just what the teacher writes on the board, but also any discussion points the teacher chooses to pursue.

Strengthen your weak areas

It is no fun to focus on your weaknesses, but it is necessary for growth. If you sense that your weak area in Latin class is verb tenses, don’t assume that your strength in learning vocabulary words will “offset” the challenge of conjugating verbs. If you can identify areas of weakness, that’s the first step. Go back and look over practice quizzes and tests and see what types of questions you were consistently missing. Simply identifying where you excel and where you lag is invaluable. But don’t stop there! Find ways of learning that “stick” for you. Is the flashcard approach to learning vocabulary words not helpful? Try creating sentences that use the words accurately, and memorize the sentences. Try a helpful mnemonic to encode the words into your long-term memory. Chances are that you can be a good vocab learner; you just need to find the approach that works for you.

Anticipate upcoming assignments

You may be an excellent note-taker and master of the content, but if you aren’t aware that an important test is tomorrow, you will likely not perform at your best. It is imperative that you be aware of upcoming assignments, not only this week, but also this month. There are plenty of ways of staying organized, whether they be techy or old-school. Download a free reminders app to your phone, or buy a cheap day planner that you can write your assignments in. Then, go to your class website or sit down with your teacher and make sure you accurately write every assignment down. Next, go one step further and set reminders for those assignments. Have a vocab test each Friday? Make sure you get an alert Wednesday to review the words. Big project due in two weeks? Break the assignment down into a few steps and set deadlines for those steps (Buy poster board by ____, have written assignment done by _____, assemble it by _____). Finally, don’t wait until finals week to start studying! Two to three weeks out, begin assembling your notes and past assessments, meet with your teacher for some review, and start prepping. Organization will ensure that you have the opportunity to give every assignment your best and will never again say “wait, the test is today?!”

Never too late to improve your transcript

For those students who feel that they’ve “blown it” in terms of grades, don’t give up! Admissions officers will be looking at your GPA, but they’ll also be looking at the trend over the course of your high school career. If you had, or are having, a rough semester as a freshman or sophomore, you can redeem your GPA by deciding now that you are going to have the best semester yet. Whether you are on track or need to raise your GPA this semester, taking effective notes, strengthening your weaker areas, and anticipating upcoming assignments will set you on the right path toward a successful semester and much-deserved winter break.

Finally, if you need help with the subject matter or to develop solid study skills, don’t feel like you need to go it alone.  Applerouth has expert tutors in all of the popular AP/SAT Subject tests, and most of the less common tests. We also provide general study skills tutoring, helping students staying on top of an array of classes and assignments. Most students can benefit from an academic coach, someone helping to fill in content gaps, organize material into helpful structures, and prepare for assessments. As you make your way towards midterms and finals, consider how an Applerouth tutor might help you with your classes.


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or