What courage and diligence can actually do
In fourth grade, my primary school teacher tried to convince my parents, full of confidence, that I would be best placed in a special needs school. My parents were furious when my teacher explained that my social and learning behavior would fit best in an environment that particularly focuses on children with problems. They had never heard anything like this before. Fortunately, they remained stubborn – my grades were just enough for the transition, with an average of 2.33 (2.33 is the passing grade) – and they sent me to a German Gymnasium (high school).
Admittedly, I had some initial difficulties. My grades weren’t disastrous, and my class teacher praised my “uncomplicated and adapted” behavior. However, I didn’t feel particularly good about school. Sitting dejectedly at the dining table because of a bad grade; hiding in the closet for fear of being punished for a F in Geography or Math was the order of the day… I never actually received a punishment since my parents didn’t believe in it. But I was totally demoralized nonetheless.
A brief look at the end of my high school career.
Final grade: 1.0 (excellent, very high honors, among the handful of best students in the year). Along with my diploma, I receive numerous other certificates and awards for some additional gifted courses I attended in upper secondary school.
What would have happened if I had actually attended a special needs school? Would I have all the opportunities that I now have in front of me? Would I still see education (yes, education, not school!) as the greatest gift and the greatest opportunity of my life? I don’t know. But I am incredibly grateful that everything turned out the way it did. And endlessly grateful for the confidence my parents had in me. Moreover, I learned a tremendous amount, both about school and about myself. Therefore, I have summarized some insights and experiences from my time in school and formulated tips accessible to hopefully everyone, to not just get through school or university, but to exceed all expectations.
You are full of mistakes. Admit it. Deal with it.
My fear of bad grades significantly improved towards the end of seventh grade. I realized that many of my problems in various subjects had the same origin: I simply did not learn from my mistakes. So, I began to note down my errors on scraps of paper after each test to remember them for the next time. My goal was to make each mistake only once and thus achieve very good grades.
Did it work immediately? No. I’m not a genius. But I failed my way forward, constantly learned from my mistakes, and worked hard on myself. And ultimately, it worked brilliantly (or almost brilliantly).
Nevertheless, this approach is probably not for everyone. I think everyone needs to develop their own way of dealing with mistakes. My advice, however, is to deal with your mistakes!
Improving also means finding new approaches. Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is not only madness but nonsense.
So, be honest with yourself. Identify your own mistakes. Over and over again. And stop projecting your failure on anything but yourself. Look for situations where you might make the mistakes again and try to actively avoid them. This naturally means spending significantly more time on a task, preparing for school assignments or exams, or a presentation.
Seek help if you don't know what to do next. There is always someone who has done what you are supposed to do.
Do you know someone who seems like they never need help with anything? Someone who can solve every task without any problems and gets full marks in every school assignment or exam just by studying alone? I hardly believe so. That person doesn’t exist. And if they do, I would be very eager to meet them personally to tell them that they don’t get through life without help and so far have either just been incredibly lucky or are lying to themselves every day.
I personally got regular help from students in Physics and Math right up to my high school graduation and failed many tasks continuously. In the end, I still graduated both subjects with top grades. At ESCP, I am also continuously making mistakes and regularly seek hep from others. That’s what brought me and keeps me in the top percent of the school.
It doesn’t matter at all in which subject. If you can’t figure out a task, don’t know how to structure a certain topic for a presentation or your paper, etc. – get help. Don’t be too proud to ask. Ask a lot and often. Ask so often your friends, mentors, and teachers want to tear your head off.
Both school and uni are nothing but a game. Learn the rules and bend them to your favor.
Even though special, sustained commitment in a subject usually has a positive effect on your grades, you should pay attention to which questions you ask in which subject. In my experience, in social sciences, it can be very useful to ask a lot out of pure interest and give your teacher the impression that you want to engage deeply with the material. [Even if you don’t want to, play along! You don’t have to suck up. But it’s no secret that your engagement can positively influence the grading of your work!] In humanities and natural sciences like mathematics and physics, it has a much better effect if you don’t ask when you don’t know something. Instead, always ask exactly when you have already understood something and can be sure that your question demonstrates your understanding. Additionally, you can casually embellish your questions with facts you’ve picked up from books or YouTube. Why? Because in at least 50% of the cases, your teacher would have to look up “how it was again” or “how it works again”. Suddenly, you (apparently) know more than your teacher… even though you have just as little idea as they do. However, don’t be too intrusive. Don’t forget, school is a game and your teachers regularly hand you new cards. Once you’ve understood the rules, you can determine what cards your teachers give you.
#4 Learning to learn:
School and uni only present the knowledge. How to use the knowledge for something useful is up to you to learn!
School won’t show you the best way to learn. Of course, there are highly motivated teachers who offer to teach their students how to learn outside of regular classes. But usually, you go through your nine, ten, twelve, or thirteen years of school without even knowing how to do what is expected of you: to learn and understand. Don’t wait for someone to show you how. Not your teachers, because they are not paid for that. And not your friends, because they often don’t know themselves. Learning is a completely individual thing. If you want to be good or very good in school, take the time to find out what works best for you. The internet is full of learning guides, different learning types, and plenty of material on this topic. In the end, however, even the best guide won’t help you find out what suits you personally. So, simply try as much as possible and put in a lot of effort! Believe me: knowing how you learn best personally will not only help you in school. It will also help you to extract the most knowledge from non-fiction books, to master new challenges in life, and to generally have more success in everything you like to do or have to do.
Ultimately, I could continue this list indefinitely. However, with these four pieces of advice, four really honest and really helpful tips are already given to get through school better and improve your academic performance!