How to Get Good Grades in College and How to Deal With a Drop in Grades

You’re graduating from high school and the future looks rosy. You’ve been accepted at the university of your choice, a prestigious one, and you’re planning on attending medical school after you earn your bachelor’s degree. As a straight-A student, you’re confident about your career path – what could possibly go wrong?

Is a D a Passing Grade in College?

Actually, one likely scenario features a drop in your grades. As surprising as that may sound, especially if you’re prepared to put in your usual effort, most students see their grades fall once they enter university. A research study by Felice Martinello, a professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and colleague Ross Finnie, cited in Maclean’s magazine, found that students see their grades fall by an average of 10 points as they university careers get underway.

“You’d think that maybe, oh, it’s the weaker students, that once they go to university, they’re really going to get killed, but it turns out that’s it’s the 90 plus group,” Martinello told Maclean’s.

Using data from Statistics Canada, the researchers found that almost 50 per cent of students saw their marks drop by a full letter grade and 23 per cent experienced a drop of two letter grades or more. Approximately 25 per cent of students maintained their high school marks, while only 2.5 per cent performed better than they did in high school.

Bad Grades in College – the Big Surprise

Even more surprising, the researchers found that those who were the biggest achievers in high school saw their grades drop most sharply. Students with high school averages of 90 or better experienced a drop in grades of 11.9 points, while those whose averages were in the 60-79 point range saw their grades fall by only 4.4 points.

“You’d think that maybe, oh, it’s the weaker students, that once they go to university, they’re really going to get killed, but it turns out that’s it’s the 90 plus group,” Martinello told Maclean’s.

College Grade Point Average and Expectations

As hard as this may be to believe, it becomes more understandable when you examine the changes in university admissions and student populations over the past decade or two. As the competition for university places becomes fiercer, universities can be more selective and accept only the students with the highest grades. Classes are filled with outstanding students from across the country and the world, and not all of them will earn As, whether due to outside factors or performance in comparison to their peers.

At the University of British Columbia, for example, the average entrance grade in 1990 was 70; in 2000, it had climbed to 80 and, by 2010, it was expected to be 87. Many of the top Canadian universities, such as McGill and Queen’s, won’t look at students whose high school grades average less than A. Maclean’s found that even many less selective universities were requiring at least a B average.

How to Get Better Grades in College

How do you cope with the shock of earning grades below the A’s that dotted your high school report cards? It may not be easy, but here are some hints for adjusting to the realities of university grading:

  • Adjust to the new situation. Understand that you are in a much more demanding, competitive environment. You will generally be judged on your work and your work alone, since your professor may not even know your name, given class sizes today.
  • No points for effort. Realize that high schools often inflate grades and your work may be judged differently at this level. Preparation isn’t enough; the product is what matters.
  • Don’t point fingers. Accusing a professor of grading you unfairly will only put antagonize him or her. Instead, approach your professor in a non-threatening manner, seeking to understand why you did so poorly on a particular assignment. In addition to getting some valuable insights in to the course and the professor’s approach to the material, it signals to the professor that you are genuinely interested in doing better.
  • Share your concerns. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Talk with your academic advisor, registrar’s office or someone at the career and counselling centre about your concerns. They can point your toward assistance with the coursework and help you accustom yourself to the new expectations and standards.
  • Take lessons. Most universities offer sessions about taking notes and studying efficiently. Even if you feel you know how to study properly, it can’t hurt to attend a session and get additional tips.
  • Join or form a study group. By working with classmates, you’ll have access to perspectives that differ from your, as well as support. Undoubtedly, you’ll discover you’re not alone in coping with grade shock. Together, you may find ways to improve your outcomes.
  • Query your classmates. Is there someone who is a star in class? Why not ask him or her for hints about approaching your coursework. Perhaps he or she has a different understanding of what is required and can shed light on what your professor is seeking.
  • Hit the books. Be prepared to put more time and effort into your work. In university courses, you can’t get by on charm or good luck. It takes hard work.

Grading System in College

So, brace yourself for the challenge of university. You may decide that a B is perfectly acceptable, given the higher level of expectation; you may want to put your remaining energy into extracurricular activities instead. Or, you may find that it is invigorating to be asked to rise to the occasion, and as you accept that challenge, you will not only learn about the subject matter; you’ll discover that your are more determined and disciplined than you expected.

Either way, don’t despair. Earning your degree and learning the material are the real goals. Once you’ve graduated, no one will ask whether you received an A or a C in any particular course.