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Studying strategy for high school students

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I went to one of the most competitive public high schools in Southern California, Arcadia High School. Many of my peers took anywhere from 3-6 AP classes per semester starting their junior year, and our 2 valedictorians both had almost a 4.6 GPA.

I studied and hung out with the best students – from people who went to Harvard to people who were class President at Yale. I can’t say I had the same success as they may have, but I sure picked up a few things that I can share with others to improve their study approach – techniques and ideas that are rarely talked about.

Understand the due dates to create a study schedule

On the first day of class teachers pass out a syllabus that details how to do well in the class, expectations, and breaks down when tests are. USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. During the first week of class you want to put tests down on a calendar, along with what percentage of grade they are. This will help you:

Understand when your busy weeks are

You don’t want to be caught up in tests only to forget one the next day, or even the same day. Many students in high school don’t have a good grasp on when their tests are and often arrive unprepared for their tests. Plotting out test dates will make sure you aren’t caught by surprise so that you’re always prepared.

Start planning ahead of time to anticipate busy weeks

Being able to see when your tests are lets you start studying ahead of time. If you see 3 big tests in one week you need to start studying the week before to do well.  Being able to plan ahead makes sure you’re well prepared and not too stressed when crunch time comes along.

Prioritise AP/honor classes

Not all classes are created equal, not only in terms of your academic interests, but also for your GPA. AP and Honor classes can boost up your GPA past the typical straight A 4.0, meaning an A in one of these classes is more important than an A in a non AP/Honor class.

Keep this in mind as you allocate study time for each class. Of course, AP/honor classes tend to be a little more difficult too so they might require more time.

Prioritise by weight of the test relative to grading

We said not all classes are created equal, but added onto that not all tests are created equal either. If one test is worth 40 percent of your grade for class A and another test is worth 5 percent of your grade for class B it’s easy to see which one is more  important.

In fact, even if the 5 percent test for class B is an AP class, given the fact that the other test would be worth 8x more for class A, you should definitely prioritize the test worth 40 percent of your grade.

Handwrite your notes

Note-taking is important and research has shown that it can be 25% more effective compared to digital notes.

It’s faster to type notes, but it’s not of much use if you can’t remember them well. Also, if you get a cheat sheet then it’s very easy to transport the notes.

Factor in when your classes are when prioritising classes

When time is of the essence, prioritisation is KEY. If you’re reading this article there is no doubt that you are looking to be the best student possible, and chances are you’re busy.

When allocating time for other classes remember that you can study during lunch, breaks and other classes. That means you can squeeze in an extra 1-2 hours of studying for that 6th period AP Calculus exam you’re going to take. Factor that in as you study for other classes and do work the night before the test. Be strategic.

Use additional resources to understand concepts

Most high school students only read their textbook, and if they’re confused they keep re-reading the same text – their textbook. Leveraging other resources will not only help you better understand the concept at hand, but will also help you better understand it as other resources will provide more context, use different buzz words, and have different problem sets (if applicable).

We understand that the questions are likely to be most similar to those in the textbook but leveraging additional resources will give you a more complete understanding so that you can solve unseen questions, with new approaches.


Being good at high school isn’t rocket science, but it is hard given the lack of experience most high school students have. With a set schedule and proactive efforts in planning, it’s not hard to succeed at high school and to ace all your classes – even your APs. Sure, it’s not easy, but good grades starts with proper planning. The rest is up to you.

Do you have any study tips to share with others? Put them in the comments below.

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