How to get a great GPA

Note: There is no ‘one size fits all’ method to get a great GPA. The strategies outlined in this article worked for me in an engineering degree. Some of these things may be applicable to your course and others may not be. If you are looking for some ways to improve your GPA, hopefully these tactics can do for you what they did for me.

P’s get Degrees

Everyone’s heard the phrase and many people follow it. It’s perhaps the worst motto a student can live by. If this has been your attitude in the past, you’ll know how well that semester went for you; not very. Whenever I see or hear the phrase, and most people who say it deliver it as a joke but are serious about their views, I see someone wasting their time and money, and setting themselves up for failure.

Here’s why:

  1. Many people I’ve studied with that had this attitude failed a subject and subsequently had to spend another semester repeating the subject, and pay for it again. If they don’t repeat they are left with a HEC’s debt for the subjects they took and no qualification. If they did ‘just pass’ like they planned to, but didn’t achieve the GPA needed to enter a post-grad course, they will have to pay for the subject in full before taking it again.
  2. If you just pass a subject that is a prerequisite to a more advanced subject, the foundation knowledge you are supposed to have won’t be as strong as expected. You’ll find yourself asking simple questions and having to learn what you should already know. This means you’ll have to work harder to keep up to date, or you’ll fail that subject and have to repeat it.
  3. There is a 0% chance of receiving an academic scholarship, which is both a very satisfying accomplishment and helps reduce financial stress significantly. You are invited to become part of a network within the university, which provides you with the opportunity to make contacts, as well attend free self-development classes.It also looks great on a CV.
  4. Many people regret how they approached tertiary education and according to this study more than half wish they could go back in time and make the most of the opportunities. You don’t want to be someone with regrets.
  5. Everyone has a degree in something these days. In the real world, who you know is a major factor when looking for employment. If you don’t know someone in a managerial position in your field, you’ll more than likely lose out to someone who did well at uni. Many large companies shortlist potential candidates based on their GPA, meaning you may not even get a callback if you had a sub-par GPA.So yes, the pass average may get you a degree, but it will be useless when competing against people who did well.

If anyone reading this article has the ‘P’s get degrees’ motto and are planning to stick with it, do yourself a favor. Defer and work full time until you’re ready to study. It’ll save you lots of time and money and you’ll be able to have enough financial freedom to travel, have some incredible experiences and make some amazing memories; or change to a course you’re interested in. One where you look forward to learning the content.

How to approach the semester:

Lectures –  It’s a good idea to go through the slides prior to the lecture. If you understand the content, you can skip the lecture. If you want to cement the content in your head or need a more detailed explanation, go to the lecture. I found going to the lecture even if I understood the content allowed me to remember it longer, as some things were explained in a way that made more sense than my interpretation of it.

Tutorials – Tutorials are a MUST for any student in any class. This is the time to ask questions on topics you don’t fully understand and take detailed notes so you won’t be caught off guard in an exam or assignment. It’s also good to try and squeeze some information out of the tutors about assessments and tests.

Assessment tasks –  Contrary to popular belief, the best way to approach an assessment task is to base your work on the marking criteria, not the task sheet. This ensures you cover all bases and minimizes how many marks you can lose. Sometimes you may complete everything on the task sheet but still not receive a good mark, and this is generally the reason.

Understand how the semester works – This may be hard for new students, but generally speaking most subjects have their workload spread throughout the semester like this. You can find a time-frame for each semester in the unit outline.

  1. The first few weeks there are only a few tests or assessments. If you have subjects with semester long assignments or portfolios, you’ll will generally be given these during this time period.
  2. Just before the mid-semester break there MAY be tests or assignments due.
  3. After the mid-semester break there WILL be tests and assignments due.
  4. The following few weeks will be relatively easy in terms of amount of work due but you’ll be learning a lot of content that will be on the final exams.
  5. The last week or two have the rest of the assignments and tests due. This time is very stressful as you may also be trying to prepare for final exams.tumblr_o1kqafizbe1ukgxyzo2_r2_500

    Image by The Peaceful Study Room

Time management – Never leave things till the last minute. Whenever I was given an assignment, had to write up a lab report or study for a test I started as early as possible. You’ll have to prioritize these based on their due date, but in general my plan went like this.

  1. Lab Reports – I wrote the report straight after the lab. This is when the content is still fresh in your mind, you fully understand what is expected and are in the best mindset to write up the report. People that waited till the day before it was due were always asking questions they would have known the answer to had they done it straight after the lab.
  2. Major Reports & Portfolios – Whenever I get a semester long project early in the semester, I start on it straight away. During the first few weeks you have the most amount of free time, and to minimise stress later in the semester, doing the majority of a large project early on means you won’t have to worry about it when the other subjects become more demanding.
  3. Tests – When a tutor would give us a date for a test, I’d start re-writing my class notes as soon as I could. This ensures you relearn all the content, and also gives you enough time to rebuild the knowledge before attempting practice questions; instead of getting to the practice questions and needing to use worked examples more than necessary.
  4. Oral Presentations – In my course, these were based off the major reports. After completing the report, I would open PowerPoint and Word, and snap them so they have half a screen each. I’d then create slides for the important topics and copy, paste and simplify the content from the report onto the slide.

You may think “this person has no life during the semester”, but this is far from true. I still went to parties, hung out with friends and had time to procrastinate, but when I knew I needed to study I studied.  It’s all about time management and self-control.

At the end of the day if you want to pass, you’ll have to complete all the work which means you’ll have to make sacrifices anyway. If work is not done early one, the sacrifices are just made late in the semester, when you’re stressed about meeting deadlines and have a large pile of accumulated work to complete. Understanding that the workload of semester is only temporary leads to the making of better decisions and better grades.

Mid-semester break

Mid semester break is a time to recover, but it’s also a time to get ahead. If you don’t, you’ll  probably suffer the shit storm that will be your life after the break.  I use my mid-semester break to finish any work I have, regardless of when it’s due. Even if it’s due at the end of the semester, I will finish it on my mid-semester break.

Using your mid-semester break to get ahead is the thing that can really set the students that do well apart from the others. Because you aren’t learning any more content, you can spend some quality time learning the content for the tests you’ll have when you return, and get ahead of the 8 ball with the major projects.

By the time end of semester and final exams come around, all you’ll have to do is re-read and edit the work you completed during the mid-semester break, finish the assignments you were given after the break and study for exams.

Almost all the other students will be stressing about work you have already completed and rushing to finish that, while you’re studying for exams. You’ll find that you’ll generally get better marks on both the assignments and exams, because you’ve had more time to work on both, have been more focused and less stressed about other things you have to do.

Part-time Work

When you are studying, studying takes priority over everything except your health. If work is increasing your hours and working will take you away from your study, tell them you can’t work; providing your financial situation permits. Doing one better would be informing your work before they do the rosters that you won’t be available on specific days.

Many people don’t do this because they are feeling like they are letting their team down. Part-time jobs are temporary and you shouldn’t sacrifice the time needed to work towards what will be your career because McDonalds needed you to flip burgers because someone called in sick. It is not your problem.

The Small Tasks Count

One of the best ways to boost your subject score and reduce the pressure going in to the final exam is to do well in the small tasks that are worth 5-10%. Lab reports, small assignments, case studies, E-tivities.

Many people neglect these and by mid semester they are already limiting themselves to a credit or distinction. Combined, the small tasks for most subjects contribute 20-30% of the overall mark. They’re generally easy, don’t require much time or effort and you’ll more than likely need to know the content they cover for the final exam anyway. The better you do in these tasks, the higher your study score and the less you have to worry going in to the final exam.

The best way to keep on top of these tasks to do them as soon as you get them. That way you aren’t left with 10 weeks worth of work at the end of the semester (provided the due date is the end of semester) to do on top of everything else you have to do.


Eat a banana just before an exam and have a coffee too. The coffee will temporarily increase your IQ and the banana will keep your energy levels stable throughout the exam (as well as provide numerous other health benefits) especially when the caffeine kick starts to ware off.

Reduce stress as much as possible. Many stress reduction techniques are found here. I personally love progressive relaxation or doing yoga in a park, followed by some mindfulness mediation. If something isn’t working for you, don’t try and power through it. Take a break, relax and come back to, just make sure you do come back to it.

Sleep! Sleeping is important for memory. This study provides a detailed explanation as to why. It is better to spread study over a week than to cram, as you’ll remember more and for longer. It is also important for concentration the following day.

Study smart. If you know what kind of questions are going to be on your test, or you have a practice exam, go through questions similar to those ones. There is no point being fantastic at a specific part of a subject if it isn’t going to be tested. Focus on the important topics!

Attempt every question in an exam. Even if you don’t know the answer, write something down. It is better to be wrong than have nothing down and most of the time you’ll get consequential marks, which can be the difference between a D and HD.

A Few Motivational Quotes

“What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” — Alfred Mercier.

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is just a little extra” – Jimmy Johnson






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