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How to Be an "A" Student in College: Tips and Strategies

written by: Georgia Alton•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 2/21/2013

Successful college students have mastered reading and writing at a higher level than a student in high school is accustomed to. Here are some reading and writing strategies to become an "A" student in college.

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    Become an "A" College Student

    Becoming an "A" student in college takes a lot of work. Here are some tips and strategies to become an "A" student in college.

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    Read with Purpose

    College students are often surprised at the amount of reading their professors assign. Not only are college students responsible for completing more reading than they were in high school, but the reading tends to be denser. Methods to help students understand and retain what they read include searching for main ideas and asking questions about the reading.

    To search for a book's or article's main ideas, read the first and last paragraphs of the book section or chapter. In many scholarly and reference works, these two paragraphs will state and restate the thesis. After reading the first and last paragraphs, proceed to read the rest of the text. What is the main idea in each paragraph of the body, and how do these main ideas relate to the overall thesis of the chapter?

    Another way to read with purpose is by designing questions to ask yourself about the material. If the chapter or section has subheadings, turn these subheadings into questions. For instance, a chapter on study tips might include the subheadings "Time Management," "Concentration," and "Study Groups." Before reading the text, create questions using the subheadings: "how can I best manage my time?"; "what are some methods to improve concentration?"; and "of what benefit are study groups?"

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    Take Notes

    Take notes while you read to improve focus and retention. Highlighting can be useful, but overdoing it can defeat the purpose. Some students might find a simple outline of a chapter or section to be beneficial while others might prefer to use a more rigorous method. If an outline does not prove to be enough, students can try restating the material in their own words through a brief summary, making use of terms found in the text. Another method is to create a diagram, such as a mind map, that shows the connections between the reading and the professor's lecture.

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    Plan Ahead for Papers

    Writing "A" papers in college requires careful planning. Start your paper well before the due date. Spend plenty of time prewriting. Prewriting involves brainstorming ideas, coming up with a thesis, taking notes, and writing an outline. The outline should have a series of points that support and relate to the thesis.

    When writing the paper, make sure that each paragraph has one (and only one) main idea. In assigning a paper topic, college professors will often ask what a student thinks about a particular issue. Do not give unsupported opinions in your paper. Any position or argument made in the paper must be supported by evidence, which may take the form of an example that illustrates the assertion or confirmation from a scholarly source. By planning ahead, you can set aside the rough draft you have written for several days, and then revise.

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    Allocate at least an hour for revising a college essay. If you have been able to set the paper aside for a while, fresh eyes may help you spot grammatical or spelling mistakes. Read the introduction, and make sure that the thesis matches the conclusions you reached at the end of the paper. Look for stylistic problems. Did you use the same word repeatedly throughout the paper? Did you overuse the passive voice?

    Most colleges and universities have writing centers to help students become better writers. If, in spite of careful planning and revision, you are unsatisfied with your writing grades in college, the staff at your college's writing center will help you pinpoint your weaknesses. Students might also consider asking a professor to read and comment on a rough draft.

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    By following these simple but effective tips and strategies, any students can become an "A" student in college.