My Approach to Highschool

by JacquelineTeer

High school is where grades begin to truly matter, at least for me. Your high school GPA is now a huge piece of a puzzle that will determine what university you will get into.The 1st trait I notice that sets apart people who do well in high school is their demeanour and attentiveness in class.

1. Engaged listening

I found it much easier to follow a class when I engaged in the class with the teacher. This is much easier in a smaller class, but still possible in a large one. Engaged listening is truly what sets many student apart and this involves:


raising handAsking questions when you need clarification or assistance.


“Low achieving students- those in most need of assistance—appear to ask increasingly fewer questions as they proceed in school from grade to grade.”

(Good, 1981; Good, Slavings, Harel, & Emerson, 1987)


If you’re a “low achieving student,” you don’t have to ask about everything, but definitely try to ask about small relevant things. The logic of this is: in order to ask a question, you must have thought about the material, showing that you care.

Young female is writing notes and planning her schedule.

Actively taking notes.

I do admit I take an extensive set of notes; I use the Cornell note-taking system.

Yet, although active note taking is instrumental for me, I personally think that if your note taking gets in the way of your absorbing the material, you are better off simply listening to the teacher. If you take notes without absorbing the explanations, you will be left with empty words that you don’t understand. You could instead ask the teacher to email you the PowerPoint and take short notes of what he says.

PRO TIP: Something that works well for me is reading my class notes once I get home. Within days of practicing this, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve already forgotten after a few hours. You’ll also be surprised how much more you will remember over your peers after having kept this up.


On that note, since this article is an attempt to update your approach to high school, it is relevant to mention the use of laptops to take notes. For many, this is a viable option. I have seen many peers succeed with this note-taking style, but personally it feels detached. The ease of tabbing into Twitter and Facebook is all too real. Just remember, if you are taking this route don’t  forget to backup your files! I recommend investing in a 2TB hard drive


2. Use homework to your advantage:

High school students, as I once was, see homework as a task teachers set in order to make your life harder. But actually, if you take into account the skills that teachers are trying to check off their list when giving you homework, you will realize that homework gives you an opportunity to hone said skill/ topic in your own way.


In gymnastics, we were made to do a given number of sit ups at home. Lo-and behold, core strength is one of the most important factors to becoming a great gymnast. So next time you get assigned homework, try to find what that target skill may be. This varies with each subject and teacher so here are examples:


  • Do a full essay on A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the ways in which Shakespeare draws humor.

Be able to write a complete essay and be familiar with Humor in Shakespeare enough to be able to write about it in literary terms because humor is important in this play.

  • Read the entire Ecology chapter in the Biology book and do the questions found after.

Get familiar with Ecology – the book is apparently a great resource and will most likely come up on an exam.


After determining what your homework is for, you will see what the teacher deems worth spending extra time on. What do you do with this information? You do extra work on top of the homework to really hone the skill they are targeting! So if you are told to make an essay multiple times, don’t only focus on the subject matter, focus on the formulation of an essay under timed conditions to prepare you for exams! I recommend reading Pinker’s writing style manual.

If the teacher assigns a chapter, don’t merely read it and think you’re done. Really try to understand the concepts and engage with this material. When they go over it in class, you already have a leg up.

In addition to this tactic, homework, depending on your teacher, may also be a way to get numbers to make up your final grade. Most school systems frown upon hinging the final grade to a single test, so sometimes teachers are forced to give homework. Take advantage of this. You get to do it all at home, for however long you want. This may even make up for a bad exam grade somewhere down the line.

3. Quantify when studying for an exam.

What really works for me is quantifying the work I have and using that to create a schedule that is specific. Using the syllabus makes this much easier.

Different units of measurement I like to use:

  • Time to complete a test
  • Number of topics to go over
  • Pages to read
  • Pages to write notes on
  • Video length
  • Time to spend on planning essays


Take the total number of what you need to get done, and divide it by how many days you have till the exam.There are two ways that you can go about making your schedule. Very time specific and time bound such as:

1:00-2:00- read chapter 3

2:00- 2:30- rest


OR have a list of things you will have done by the end of the day like:


O finish English essay

O Write paragraph of Art analysis


When I have a few weeks left to study I make a calendar on A1 paper. This way I can see exactly how much time I have relative to the time I have already spent. But although I also prefer the agenda/ planner method, I have tried a few apps that may actually make this much easier if you are the techy kind of person. I just find myself returning to the paper method more often than not.

4. Use Internet resources!

CCkhan academy


I’m not only talking about Wikipedia! There are so many sites and accounts solely dedicated to specific areas of knowledge. Here are our favorites:

Use these in conjunction with your book, or when some concepts are not as clear as you would prefer them to be. Khan Academy was a godsend for me!

In addition to this, Internet sources also includes past papers. This is a very popular method of studying, but it is very specific to exams that are administered regularly such as the IB, and especially the SAT!

I suggest, that like in class, you remain active! With past papers, merely doing the exam and marking the answers simply isn’t enough. The more you understand the exam, the less worried and more prepared you will be, so look over your mistakes and study the relevant topic!

This will require:

  1.     Highlighting special points.
  2.     Noting your mistakes.
  3.     Most importantly, studying the relevant material that you missed.

5. Lastly, one of my most valuable pieces of advice in high school and getting the grades you want is to change your image.

Teachers, whether they like it or not, are affected by their own prejudice. You must be able to use this to your own advantage. When reading your essay, and you are the kid known for writing good essays and giving insightful comments in class, you already have a leg up over everyone else. Your teacher will most likely already expect good work from you, and therefore be more likely to give you a good grade. Teachers are merely human after all.

If the teacher thinks of you as a student that gets good grades, if they were to read your work, you are more likely to already have an advantage. Sure, this isn’t a formula, but it doesn’t take anything away from you and it has worked for me in many instances!

I find that it seems some teachers even feel bad to give students who usually achieve high grades a low grade; they understand our struggle, teachers aren’t heartless.

I don’t recommend the complaining method; however, I can tell you that talking to your teachers and expressing concern is never a bad thing. It shows you care. It’s much harder to give bad grades to a student who cares a lot and shows genuine care for their learning.