Given that this blog is about improving your grades and doing better at school, this next sentence may be surprising. Grades aren’t everything. Sure, doing well in school gives you more options, and you may need good grades in certain subjects to pursue a path that is important to you. And I do believe that you can learn to master any subject that you’re struggling with. However, just because you can study anything doesn’t mean you should.
Many well-meaning parents put inordinate pressure on their children to excel academically, sometimes even deciding what subjects they should study, what grades are acceptable (and what aren’t), and what their future career should be. It is important to work hard and to strive to be successful, but how that success is defined should be something that you get to define for yourself (while remaining open to helpful advice).
And even when you do want to aim for certain goals, it is acceptable (even usual) to falter and take a detour on the path to your goals. A bad grade on one test or even doing badly in one year of school doesn’t determine your whole future, even though sometimes it might feel like that.
It’s important to maintain perspective, to take the long view.
Although it is surprisingly counter-intuitive, but over the long-term, you are more likely to be successful when you enjoy your subjects and give yourself room to improve organically. Hard work is important, but you don’t want to cultivate an all-or-nothing belief, that anything less than perfect grades aren’t acceptable.
I know we all feel the pressure to take courses that look good on our résumé, or will appeal to future employers. However, wherever possible, learning what we are genuinely interested in will make the studying a lot less painful and dare I say it, even enjoyable. Most of you won’t have a chance to learn a lot of new things after you leave the cocoons of formal education, and even if you do, it will be fractured and disjointed. School and college is a great time to experiment, take a chance, learn something new. It doesn’t feel like it when you are going through it – the stakes feel impossibly high. But trust me, it’s far more so in the real world; so it is relatively easier to try something new at this point. At no other time can you freely dabble in anything that is really interesting or learn a completely new skill.
Even if you have made up your mind to major in a field with a set requirement of courses, you likely have a little bit of leeway in a few extra courses. Choose areas that you are genuinely interested in, even if they are not commercially very useful or quite different from your career path, you never know how they might be useful later. If you're an art history major, take a course on computer programming or game theory. If you're studying business, experiment with a class on social psychology or Ancient Greek philosophy. Allow some time for serendipity – perhaps attending interesting lectures outside your field, or reading popular non-fiction in different genres. Research shows that going outside of your field and gaining some knowledge in different disciplines can be a great source of insights and creative breakthroughs in your work. Even if you don’t see how it can help you with your career, the course you take could prove interesting conversation fodder on a date or a job interview. It might also give you a different perspective on the topic of your major.
Being passionate about what you're studying - even though not always possible, should be something you feel at least occasionally. Being genuinely interested in something means you put in extra effort to master it, you do additional reading on your own, you watch a movie or documentary connected to the topic, you bring your enthusiasm to seminars and confidently discuss your opinions.
On the other hand, how do you get yourself to work on subjects that you don’t like at all, or ones that you are bored by? Find a way to make your work interesting - focus on aspects of it that are interesting, or focus on what doing well in school can help you to achieve. Remember to find your own reasons, not those given by parents or teachers.
Getting better at a subject also makes it far more interesting. Read popular books on the subject, to get context. For instance, physics taught in school can be very boring, but there are some popular science books that describe interesting aspects such as quantum theory and can make physics fascinating. Similarly I read a book on astronomy that was so interesting it made me want to learn more about planets and stars, although I had never been remotely interested in the subject previously.