Four Tips For Straight-A's

28.09.20 02:04 PM Comment(s) By Tony Ripley

Doing School Like a Professional

COVID will harm more than the economy.  Many students have excellent GPAs on the line, and they're suddenly required to revamp their study habits, their methods of retaining knowledge, and their ability to focus - on a screen.  Screens triggered our brain for relaxation or the dopamine hit of entertainment.  Now, they are the center of student's concentration.  So how will students with 4.0 GPAs maintain?  How do students with 2.3 GPAs learn to thrive in this new environment?  Scholarships are one the line.  Seniors better figure it out, quick!

My friend Dan graduated from Harvard with honors in three years. Tessa, my wife, finished state school in 3.5 years with a 3.94GPA. I earned a solid 3.3GPA in high school and wowed my parents with a 2.3 freshmen year of college.  Getting good grades wasn't easy for me, even though I was motivated.

At 20-years-old, Dan and Tessa taught me four tips for straight-A's. What was the result?  This floundering undergrad earned a 4.0 my final year of school. 

Since then, I’ve shared these tips with students that I’ve coached with varying results. Those who applied them increased their GPA, and some received straight As.   It was time for me to share this mindset and these tips for academic excellence for the masses to learn them.  I recognize that the pandemic has changed the game of academics, but the rules of the game are still the same.  This article lays out the rules that straight-A students live by so that you can adapt them to your situation.

Since COVID, we've added ONLINE TIPS at the bottom of each of these principles.

"When I understood school as a game, I learned the rules and how to win."

​1. Show your teachers that you care and make them your ally.

  • What if you sit in the front row in class? For my final year of school, I sat in the front. No longer could I hide behind rows of students when I was inattentive. No longer was I distracted by the other people in my direct line of sight to the teacher. No longer could I show up unprepared. The fear of embarrassment with an empty homework assignment that my teacher would clearly see in the front row motivated me to use my free moments wisely and get my work done. This one idea helped me change the game that I was playing in school.
Use speaker view with your teacher.  You'll be less distracted by other students.  Keep your camera on so she can see you.  Interrupt her immediately if you don't understand.  You may have to say her name to interrupt her.  Be bold, your GPA depends on it!

  • What’s the best way to learn how to play the game in each classroom? Ask the teacher. During your first week of school, stay after school or after class, and see the teacher privately. Share with them your goals for the course. If that’s getting an A, let them know it, but say it in a way that inspires them:

“I don’t know much about European History, but I’m excited to learn and do well in your class.”

Can you imagine how Mrs. Finklemeyer's ears will perk up when you say this?  A student who cares!

“Will you please tell me how you set up the grading system for this class? Will the tests be mainly on the book or your lectures? I’d like to know what to focus on and what to review. Should I memorize the dates or be prepared to develop arguments in an essay?”

Try to get yourself interested in the subject, even if it’s just a required course. Being involved in what you’re doing is an essential habit for helping you live an exciting and joyful life. I get it; sometimes, subjects aren’t interesting to you. In this case, why waste your time and energy studying outside of what will give you an A? Ask the teacher how to get one and follow her instructions.
  • Speak up.  Teachers are getting paid to help you understand the material and get As on a test. This is their only job. When your prof gets a sense that you want to learn what they're teaching, they remember why they chose this profession in the first place. Raise your hand and ask questions the second that the idea doesn't click. Don't let her continue while you're confused. Or, if she must proceed, make a note of this point to come back to it later.


Teachers are responding to emails.  It's difficult to speak privately with your teacher and awkward to speak up in front of the class.  To get noticed as a serious student, and to speak up when you have a question, you need new methods.  Set up calls before or after the school day for questions, utilize group chats if your teacher has set them up, and EMAIL.  DO NOT LET the change in learning style become an excuse for neglecting the attention you need to do your best in school.  There's a saying that the squeaky wheel gets oiled.  If you earnest to learn and sincere in your questions, your teacher will love to help you out.

​2. Learn how to take notes

Teachers often teach from an outline. Most students write down the main idea, the topic, or header from the teacher's outline. Then they give up on writing when the teacher gets into the details. 

Why? The test question that we all get wrong is always a small detail, not the main point. The main point gets drilled into our head as the teacher repeats the concept with supporting facts. Most often, the supporting facts, the details, are what trip us up on the test. We rarely take notes on these details because the teacher is cruising through them.

CREATE notes with the goal of mastering or making sure you understand the material. Use your notes like a conversation with yourself or like a to-do list. If there isn't time to ask a question in class, write it in your notebook for later.  Learn to write in your notes what will be effective in helping you recall answers for a test.  Cornell Notes are an example of a good way to organize your thoughts.

Feel free to write incomplete sentences in your notes to keep your attention on the teacher during class.  Leave space to complete them later.

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT SEGMENTS OF CLASS are five minutes before class starts and the five minutes at the end of class. 

  • Slightly more critical of the two five-minutes segments is at the end of class. The teacher is wrapping up the lecture, and the students put away their notebooks and zip their bags. Then they talk or sit there with a dumb look on their faces. This is your go time if you are in it to win it. These final five minutes are when you review your notes, finish your incomplete sentences, ask questions, or highlight important information. During these five minutes, you turn your messy canvas of a note page into a piece of artwork. Use multiple colors, underline ideas, star what you'll need to study later for the test, and put giant question marks next to ideas you'll need to review. While everyone else is talking about absolutely nothing, you are prepping for an A in Mrs. Finklemeyer's class.
  • The second most important five minutes are before class starts or at the beginning of the class. This is when students file in, and the teacher takes roll.  Everyone else is on their smartphone or talking about what happened last night, lulled by momentary inactivity.  But don't be fooled.  If your teacher is any good, she's itching to soar into her lesson plan like a pilot of a 747 who expects her passengers to be buckled up. These five minutes are your second critical edge when you pull out your notebook and remind yourself of the previous lecture and any notes that you took on the book. By the time the teacher handles her administrative tasks, she's revved up to spit out knowledge like Lin-Manuel Miranda drops rhymes. After reviewing your notes, you'll have broken your mental inertia, and you're ready to riff with her like an improv comedian.

Are you good at multitasking?  Are you fast at typing?  With online schooling, your notes can have added spreadsheets, graphs, colors, and even videos.  You can listen to the teacher's lecture twice if she's recorded it.  Take advantage of the tech!

​3. Treat your school day like a pro

What if you worked a school day like an 8-5 job?  Whether you’re at University or in High School, 90% of your classes will be during the daytime. Imagine considering that you’re on the clock during those hours.  Any work you don’t get done, you have to bring home with you.  Why waste your time?

  • University Students
  • Remember my 2.3 GPA freshman year? If I had a slogan for that year, it would have been, "2.3GPA - Brought to you by the late morning nap between class hours."  If you're a college kid, you need more sleep than you think. You're nearly a grown-up, so now's a perfect chance to practice adulting.

    The year I got straight As, I'd show up to the campus library at 8:AM like I was clocking in. I arrived at my 9 AM class, fully prepared. Between my 10:10 class and my 10:40 class, I'd return to the library where I'd finish my reading assignments, complete my notes, email questions to the teachers, and close all the gaps that threatened my perfect A. After my 10:40, I'd eat a sack lunch on campus and return to the library until my 2:30 PM class. At 3:40, I'd return to the library until 5 PM. 

    I returned home early only when I couldn't get ahead any further in the teacher's syllabus. 
    At 5:00 PM, sometime earlier, I'd go home.  I had ZERO homework at home. Home time was for hanging with my friends or girlfriend, doing hobbies that I enjoyed, working on projects, and going to bed early. 

    I was a pro. Finally, I'd figured out how to work the education system that had eluded me for so many years prior. I learned (no, it was more than learning, it was knowing) that if I can solve the education game, there had to be other games that I could master to succeed in life.
  • High School Students

Every class and every day is full of wasted time, time waiting for instructions, time waiting in lines, time between classes. You're even given time to do homework in class. Take advantage of this time. Be organized. Get a daily planner and write down every assignment and every unlearned or unmastered idea you think will be on the test. Check them off or cross them out when you've completed the assignment or mastered the concept. Become vigilant about collecting every piece of information either in your memory, your planner, or your notebook. You might need to review a concept two times to lock it into your brain before the test, maybe more. Start the process now. You'll become more efficient at it as you practice the game.


Suddenly, because you're at home and your camera is turned off on your computer, you can do anything you want while the teacher lecture.  Use this to your advantage for positive results.  Some of you get antsy after 10 minutes of class.  Now, you get to stand up and stretch as the teacher lectures.  You can stand at your desk, do sit-ups during the breaks, and be completely fresh for receiving the lesson.

​4. Handle the pressure like a pro

I learned valuable insights from Tessa's straight-A college career. Even straight-A students get confused. Sometimes, I understand the general idea of a concept before she does. Tessa, however, has trained herself to be excellent with details.

Tessa taught me two tricks for handling the pressure of maintaining straight-As.
  1. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile. Sometimes she would have to study at night. Even though she had learned from my friend Dan to treat her college schedule like a professional, she put in over-time the night before a test if she needed to. Sometimes, she still didn't understand a complex idea with complete confidence before she went to bed. For this, Tessa had a trick.

We can sabotage ourselves by studying late into the night. If you're seeing the material for the first time the night before the test, shame on you for procrastinating. Reviewing instead of getting sleep can be counterproductive too. Alternatively, if Tessa didn't feel she fully grasped the material the night before the test, she'd ask her subconscious mind to work out while sleeping. 

She'd sleep on it. When she woke, the info was in place in her mind, ordered and ready for her recall. Your brain wants to help you when you know how to access it. If you've learned the concept and attempted to review it, ask your mind to be prepared to give you what you need.  Your brain loves to solve problems and will work with you, not against you when you ask it and let it do its job.  Twenty years ago, this would have been taboo, but now it's backed up with science.

2.  Show up to the test confident. What you tell yourself matters, so control your internal dialogue. It may sound cocky, but Tessa would look at the sea of students in her college class the day of the test, many of them she'd never seen before, and she'd say TO HERSELF, "Suckers, there's no way you'll get a better grade than me." She's competitive, and this worked for her to help her feel confident.

What works for you? Is it better to remind yourself of the effort you've put in so that you feel you deserve a good grade? Maybe, if you're like me, you have a moment of letting go, where you tell yourself that you've done all you can do, that you'll expect perfection, but that you'll be happy with yourself regardless of the result. My results were already recorded in the way I organized my time and effort preparing for the test. The test itself has an inevitable outcome, the effects of my hard work.

What you tell yourself matters. Even if you mismanage your time by mistake, you can show up with your best efforts on test day by recounting positive aspects of your character and effort vs. shaming or berating yourself. Professionals control their thoughts, actions, and emotions to the very end. After you get your grades, then evaluate and learn from the process. It doesn't do any good to label yourself as dumb or bad at math after a low grade. Consider a growth mindset. There will always be another test for you to determine how far you've come as a student of the game.


Your teacher would spend $100 getting his classroom ready to become your optimal learning environment before the year started.  Do you have a good learning environment at home?  You don't need to spend $100.  Print your goals.  Print and post vocab words that you struggle with on your wall or use them as your screen saver.  In short - TAKE OWNERSHIP of your domain and make it work for you.

The CSF's purpose is to support students interested in entrepreneurship education by providing mentors and scholarships.  We share information about character development, helping students succeed in business and life. 

Anthony Ripley is a blogger, the author of On Success, and founder of CREATE Clubs, student Entrepreneurship and Character Development Clubs, now launching in the United States and Europe.  He lives in Round Rock, Texas, with his wife and two kids.

Subscribe to the CREATE Student Foundation Newsletter, and we'll send a short video each morning for five days, helping you solve problems and be your best.

1. How to have self-confidence

- What does it cost you to underestimate yourself?

- What opportunities will you miss by failing to be assertive?

This short video gives you four steps to grow in your confidence daily and open doors for your future. Please, don't miss this video.

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- Most people make decisions on their gut feelings, but does your gut always know best?

- Your choices determine your future outcomes, and getting some decisions right is vital.

This short video gives you a framework for ethical decision-making practiced by three-million business owners and professionals worldwide.  Learn four simple questions you should ask yourself.

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- How do you learn to lead if you're not naturally assertive?

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- How do you find your style of leadership?

YOU could be the best leader in the room; you simply need practice.  Leadership is learned, and this short video lays out the eight leadership styles for you to decide and practice what kind of leader you want to be.

4. How to make money without a job

- How do students make money?  Unemployment is high.  Formerly known as students' jobs are now cut or filled by adults that need work.

In this short video, we share ten side-hustles for making $1000 in four weekends that are not only legal, your community will benefit.  

5. How to influence your moods

- It's not just hormones!  One minute you're happy, the next you're set off.  Sometimes you can focus, but other times you feel unproductive.  Why?

This short video gives you four suggestions that you can do today to level out your moods to feel consistent, normal, and productive.

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I'm thankful for Steven Pressfield, who inspired me to slant this article in terms of the student becoming a professional. In his book The WAR of ART, Pressfield lays out ten attributes of being a professional. The list is a kick in the pants for artists, entrepreneurs, writers, or anyone who creates as a profession. He admonishes us to walk away from the sandlot mentality of working when you feel like it. This sentiment applies to students.

When students fill out a job application or apply for a loan, what do they put for their occupation? Student. How many of us treat our school lives like it's our profession, like a professional? What if your mentality about school helps you develop focus-habits that open the door to future opportunities?

Some students say, "I don't care enough to change my efforts."

That's fair, that's your choice.  But what if you did?
Thanks to Dan Moore, my Harvard graduate friend. Dan is the president of The Southwestern Advantage in Nashville, TN. Through The Southwestern Advantage, Dan helps thousands of college students develop the character they need to reach their goals in life. As a business mentor, he didn't earn a penny on teaching me how to be an excellent student.  Dan's one of those rare people whose heart surpasses his enormous intellect.

Finally, thank you to Tessa Ripley. It's one thing to learn tips from a mentor, and it's altogether better to marry someone who embodies them.
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