If I Knew Then: GPA Matters

I used to have straight A(+)’s.

Then… school became unchallenging and I thought letter grades were rather arbitrary. I’d rather pursue my own interests. I almost became a rebel in high school. While I still did all my homework (in class), I didn’t care to go above and beyond. I spent my time reading what I enjoyed and writing what my mind imagined.

College was not much different. I didn’t want my character to be defined by a number, a 4.0. For some classes, I didn’t care as long as I remained “above average”. I didn’t graduate top of my class. Sure, I still got a good job. Sure, I still got accepted into grad school. But…

I also got rejected. I applied to an Ivy League to work with a faculty who was very enthusiastic about me. She was on the admissions committee and I was pretty much a shoe-in. Yet, I got denied because my GPA didn’t make the cut; accepting me would mean lowering their statistics.

I also started grad school later than I would have liked because I needed years to build research experience in order to compensate for my less than stellar GPA. While in the end I still got where I needed to be, I can’t deny that my choices have been limited. This was the consequence I paid for not working toward “the grades”.

I admit it still feels silly that a number would have so much power over your career trajectory, but it begins to make sense. After all, employers and admission committees need an easy screening method to filter through thousands of applications. Don’t let a single digit number limit you. Once you’ve changed your attitude about GPA and are ready to work for the grades, read my study tips below:

1) Attend all lectures. You won’t know what materials the professor emphasized (and likely to be on exams) unless you show up to class.

2) Ask questions. No question is dumb. If it’s unclear to you, it’s unclear to someone else. They are thanking you for asking. Be their hero. If you are really shy and prefer to ask questions one-on-one instead, attend office hours!

3) Read. Why pay for an expensive textbook if you’re not going to use it? When you read, take notes on the margins. Paraphrase. Don’t highlight – that’s just an excuse to process the materials later. Process now. Synthesize now. For each paragraph, be able to summarize with a sentence or two.

4) Re-write your notes after each lecture. This may sound time-consuming, but it has saved a lot of students (I’m a TA, I know). When you re-write, you get to organize notes in a way that makes sense to you. More importantly, you get to incorporate the reading notes to your lecture notes.

5) Study at the same time everyday. Staying consistent helps you focus better. Make sure your study area has good lighting and little to no distraction. Avoid placing your desk in front of a window.

6) Write your paper now. There are no good writers. There are only good re-writers. Make sure you start your paper early enough to leave plenty of time for edits. Did you know that we offer free editing services? Take advantage! There is no catch – we simply love writing and helping others makes us happy.

7) Exercise your brain daily. A little brain teaser each day goes a long way. I like to begin my day with a morning latte and some fun brain games to help me concentrate better throughout the day.

We Say
A 4.0 isn’t necessarily a sign of a smart student, but it definitely is a sign of a diligent student. Hard work now pays off later. And everyone wants to employ a hard worker. No matter what career you choose, start with good credentials.



  1. You use Lumosity?!?! Haha – I never knew. Daniel and I just got into it a couple months ago. :)

    Another good study strategy – group study (although it’s helpful to review the material first). Particularly when there’s a huge breadth of information that someone else is bound to catch/know that you missed/didn’t know.


    1. I like that Lumosity actually models research tasks. I have experience programming the two tasks that inspired the shape/color match game as well as the lost in migration game.

      I find group sessions work best for classes that are concepts-heavy and employ mostly short answer questions on exams. The multiple choice tests? Works better to study independently.


      1. Really? :) I’ve noticed that the match game is much harder for me when they use Chinese characters than using shapes. Any idea why?


      2. I’m afraid I can’t cite research for this one. My hunch is that while Chinese characters remain symbols for most (much like shapes), they actually carry a meaning to you. Hence you give more time to interpreting meanings. I assume what you meant by much harder is a slower reaction time.


  2. Nicely written! All the technqiues I’ve used while I was studying in uni :) Definately works!!

    Same applies in Australia; despite people saying ‘marks aren’t everything’, it is definately plays a huge factor when applying for jobs. Those which don’t cut the mark automatically get screened out!


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