What are the simplest ways for students to get better grades? Do we spend too long trying to find the latest silver bullet to magically help students kick on in their studies and fulfil their potential, when, actually, much easier and straight-forward concepts already exist?
Here are nine easy ways for students to improve their grades (and what’s handy about this is that they are backed up by some pretty nice research too):
Eat breakfast – Often described as the most important meal of the day, eating breakfast has been shown to improve attention and memory (both of which are key skills needed for learning). For students whose families are from a lower-income background, eating breakfast at school has been found to improve both school attendance and grades in maths.
Believe You Can Learn The Material – Much has been written on the benefits of Growth Mindset and how to implement it in a classroom (a lot by us). But does believing that you can improve your ability with learning and effort result in students getting better grades?
Carol Dweck and colleagues examined this question and found that those who had a growth mindset intervention scored significantly higher grades than those students who had just had a lesson on how to improve their memory.
Growth mindset may not be a one-size-fits-all instant fix, but research suggests it can certainly be a slice of the pie. For more information on Growth Mindset, check out our guide page.
Have a Sense of Purpose – Students who remind themselves of how doing well at school can help them achieve their future goals, along with having a Growth Mindset, have been led to an increase in grades. That was the findings of this study. What makes this study particularly interesting is that the authors suggest that (a) this is most beneficial for students who are at risk of dropping out of school and (b) this sort of programme can be scaled up across a whole school.
Put Your Phone Away in Class – Being on your phone divides your focus, making concentration and learning more difficult. Being on your phone too much can also lead to a range of other not very nice psychological consequences. In a study that wins an award for ‘stating-the-obvious’, researchers found that students who spend more time on their phones checking emails, Facebook and texting, get lower grades, regardless of sex or previous academic achievement.
Write About Your Nerves – In the build-up to an exam, have students spend a few moments writing down what makes them nervous about the upcoming exam. This technique has been found to help anxious students improve their performance and grades in the test. Why? Several possible explanations exist. The act could be seen as cathartic, it could help students realise their worries are illogical, it could lead to them addressing their fears, seeking support or working harder to avoid the negative consequence of not achieving their best.
A small word of caution. This sort of intervention is probably best done under the supervision of an adult. Done in isolation, it could lead to students dwelling on their worries instead of being followed up with positive behaviours.
Use Out of School Time Productively – A recent study by researchers from Cambridge University found what many teachers/parents have been saying for years. Students who spend more time playing video games and less time doing their homework/reading do worse in their exams. The report states that those who spent an extra two hours in front of a screen scored 18 fewer points in their GCSEs, whereas pupils who spent an extra hour doing their homework or reading each day got on average 23.1 more GCSE points.
Separate research supports this, with the authors of this study noting that students who game twice a day are also less likely to do well in their GCSEs.
Get a Good Night's Sleep – Sleepy students tend do worse at school because not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, concentration, mood, creativity, health and concentration. This has been found to have a negative effect on grades in both maths and languages.
It is worth noting that the research does not suggest that more sleep is always better; however, if you were to ask your class if they think they got enough sleep last night, our guess would be that the majority would say no. A good way to help them to start thinking about their sleeping habits is to ask how many of the 9 common sleep mistakes they make? Even just getting a little more sleep can have a big impact on how people feel and perform.
For ways to get better grades in exams, have a look at our tips in Best Ways to Revise - where there's also great links to blogs that will help you be exam ready.