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10/05/2012

A Ridiculously Easy Way to Raise Your Grades

You might view your college professor as little more than a droning voice coming from the general direction of the podium, and you might think your professor views you as just another face in the crowd. This may be true in huge lecture settings. But when it comes to smaller classes, you’d better believe that your professor forms some opinions about you, and it’s to your benefit to do what you can to make those opinions positive, especially in a class where there’s a higher degree of subjectivity to the grading.

You can tell within one or two class periods, usually, whether you’re going to like the class, right? Similarly, professors can generally tell within the first few weeks which students are likely to do well, which are going to get by with a gentleman’s C, and which are going to fail spectacularly. I’m not always right about this, and I keep an open mind, because people can surprise you. But my beginning-of-the-semester hunches generally play out as expected. My colleagues agree: we can predict your overall success in the class two or three weeks in, without having many, if any, assignments to go on.

We make these judgments based largely on the way you present yourself in class. It’s not that we end up grading you badly because you act like a jerk in class; most professors make a sincere effort to keep negative personal feelings out of grading. It’s that acting like a jerk in class is strongly correlated with performing badly overall. Very rarely do I come across a student who behaves like a first-rate jackhole but still turns in excellent work. No, the first-rate jackholes, who wander in disruptively late and spend class time playing with their cell phones, one bud firmly in-ear, exhaling frequent sighs of boredom, packing up their things seven minutes before the hour, tapping their pencil loudly and rapidly on the desk, eating chips and salsa, showing classmates the hilarious doodles in their notebooks—these people don’t usually do too well overall. And if a student like this has a 69 at the end of the semester, I’m not bumping it up to a 70.

Guess what, though? If a student has been attentive and respectful in class, has indicated interest in the material, has attended regularly, has maybe visited me in office hours once or twice, has demonstrated some effort to improve, and has generally been a decent human being, I’m likely to tack on a few points, say, raising a 78 to an 80. Many professors have a “participation and demeanor” component to their grading to allow for such flexibility, but truth be told, even among professors who don’t, many are likely to toss a few extra points your way if you’ve portrayed yourself as a serious student.

This seems ridiculously obvious, doesn’t it? Even so, year after year, I encounter students whose rude behavior knows no bounds. Even if you don’t care about the material one bit, fake it. Grades will rise. Peace will reign.

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