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The Secret to Earning an "A"

by Darren Root

November 03, 2011

The Secret to Earning an "A".

It took me until I was a junior in high school before I discovered the secret to getting good grades.  Time management, flashcards, reading fluency, and organization were all told to me as being "the secret".  As I got older I realized that the list of secrets given to me were not secrets at all.  Not only did everyone know them, they didn't seem to work for me.   I tried to do all these things, but still found homework, quizzes and tests to be stressful and sometimes painful.  In time I learned that these were techniques for efficient  studying and not necessarily the magic potion for getting good grades.   I hated doing homework and had anxiety over taking tests.

As a junior in high school I was fortunate enough to get the leading role in the high school musical.  I remember being nervous because I wasn't the fastest reader when it came to reading my lines and I had nearly one hundred lines to memorize.  I felt dumb because I didn't know the character.  I had to learn how to say my lines, when to say them and where to stand.  This was going to be impossible and I started to question why I auditioned in the first place.  Another student was assigned to be my understudy, so if I could not do the part well he would replace me.

In the evenings I would complete my homework then study my lines. It was a lot of work.  I decided I was not going to be embarrassed in front of the whole school by not knowing my lines or slowly stumbling through them while everyone watched.  I read them over and over until I knew them all.  Every night after chores my parents asked the traditional question, "Did you finish your homework?"  I quickly completed my homework so I could answer "yes" and put my academic books aside.  Then I would spend my time delivering my lines several different ways.  I realized that knowing my lines was only the first step.  I needed to understand my character so well that I  would be able to adlib if something went wrong on stage.  I started repeating the scenes in my head while doing my chores and while walking to and from school.  A competitive fire grew in my stomach and I decided that no understudy was going to replace me.  I discovered there was dual meaning, irony and hidden jokes embedded in the script.  My walk, hand gestures and influction in my voice all needed to be perfect.  It became a quest because the more I studied my character, the more fun I had performing it.  I began to push myself to have a deeper understnding of the storyline and what the author was thinking. Every word had been branded into my long-term memory.  Other students started to look to me for their lines, their blocking and their delivery.  I was the first one at rehearsal and the last one to leave.  I was confident and couldn't wait until performance night.

About a week before opening night, one of my teachers came to me and said that my grades were not the best and I needed to have better time management, use flashcards, increase my reading fluency and become more organized.  I didn't understand what the problem was.  I always completed my homework.  Everything was finished on time.  All my assignments were done.    How could I have memorized my part in the play so well but not understand my history, English or science material?  It was at that point when I discovered the secret.

If you truly want to know the secret, here it is:

Homework needs to be viewed as a process for gaining a level of understanding, not as a task that is timed and either done or not done.  One who views homework as a completed task shuts the book after writing the answer to the last question. Their level of understanding gets surpassed by the efforts of their peers and their teacher's expectations. There is no passion developed for discovery.  They forget most of what they had completed on their homework assignments so little is remembered for their test.   

One who is driven by levels of understanding use the natural motivator of peer competitiveness. They become self motivated through the natural drive to have a greater understanding of the material than the person sitting next to them in class. It is about the performance and it becomes a personal quest.  It doesn't matter what technique is used as long as there is repetition so that the information is committed to memory.  It takes time, to the point where time doesn't matter.  Homework becomes less painful.  Tests become easier with little anxiety, higher confidence and better grades.  Soon you gain a true feeling for what it means to understand the material and you know before the test is given that you will earn an "A".

Now you know the secret.

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