Getting Good Grades

I am sharing my own experiences as a student and life-long learner.  Often students ask for advice when they get a lower grade on a test than they hoped for. Others do not ask for advise, but need it.   I hope you find something that works for you.   -mb

Understanding vs Mastering   |   Keeping Up in Class   | Making Sense with Application
Visualizing Ideas   |   Reasons to Practice   | Good Mistakes

 by Marvin Bartel, Ed.D.
Professor of Art
Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana 46526

When I was in a class that was especially difficult, I invited another student in the class to study with me. We benefited from each other's class notes. We were able to ask each other questions and formulate problems for each other that we thought would be important test items. We practiced solving our own test problems together until we felt like we had some mastery. It helped us both significantly. Being in a position to teach (explain) something to a colleague helped me clarify and reinforce my own learning.  During the test I was more confident and could work faster.

Mastery vs Understanding
The course was an important requirement, but really out of my field of expertise. When I got a low grade on a mid term essay test, I changed my study methods and concentrated on learning more detailed terminology and names so I could use the technical terms, dates, and theories when writing answers to questions. I had made a fundamental mistake in learning. It was not enough for me feel that I understood what was being said in the lectures. I had to feel like I could master the material. I could no longer "blow off" the reading assignments. On the final, instead of only giving general summaries for answers, I also gave specific examples to substantiate general principles. When studying, I made preliminary lists and sub lists to help myself organize materials and arguments better. On the final exam the professor found substance in my responses. He found evidence that I could use the material.  He was more convinced by my answers. I was quite proud to move from a bad grade on the mid term to an average grade on the final in a field that was totally out of my field of expertise.

Too Much Too Fast
I was in a class with lots of new material outside my field.  I couldn't take notes fast enough and think about what was being said at the same time.  I took a tape recorder into class.  During the lecture my class notes were sketches of relevant material and ideas. After class I added notes from the tape.  This gave me a chance to rethink the material while still remembering the presentation.  This was a second chance to jot down possible test questions and to make associations with prior knowledge and experiences. 

Making Applications
I don't remember new things well unless I can make an application of the new knowledge. I try to make my own imaginary creative application of the concept being learned. I often jot down or sketch the application.

It helps me to think visually.  It is hard for me to remember things by rote memory alone. To somehow picture something helps make a much better imprint on my memory. I use my imagination. I sketch it. We remember faces better than names. Faces are visual. Names are words.

Motivation to Practice
Not many tests are actually tests of skill. However, some tests are. Computer software skills are tested in some of my courses. 

In art courses like ceramics and photography not all of the grade is not based on tests, but much of the grade is based on the quality of artwork produced. Skill is not the only requirement for strong work, but skill with the camera, or at the enlarger is very useful to me when attempting to produce good artwork.

I find it hard to practice new skills just for the sake of practice because I keep getting distracted by other stuff I would rather be doing. My concentration is so bad that it becomes a waste of time. 

Therefore, it is much easier for me to practice a new skill when I give myself an assignment or when I volunteer to produce something for somebody. Once I need to know the skill in order to produce something meaningful, I can learn difficult material and be prepared to do it on a test if needed. Having to teach something to another person is also very good motivation for me to practice it.

Experts are those who routinely review their mistakes to see what they can learn from them them.  I find that mistakes are good in two ways.  In the first place, a mistake is an obvious reason to make a correction, to try another way, or to practice more. 

In the second place, I find some mistakes are not so bad, but they are actually the suggestions of better things to come.  Some of my most creative solutions to difficult problems have been inspired by accidents and mistakes.  Highly creative individuals are very good at seeing the potential in accidents, mistakes, and opposites.

Understanding vs Mastering   |   Keeping Up in Class   |  Making Sense with Application
Visualizing Ideas   |   Reasons to Practice   | Good Mistakes

---   other links to sources of help  ---

Check this list of handouts and essays on learning and other helpful topics
by David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

Goshen College Learning Resources Center
Goshen College Writing Lab    Floyd Saner's Links for Attention Deficit

Floyd Saner's Links for Depression

  Volunteering at Goshen College    Teaching Others to Improve your grade
Study Skill Links from Union College    Get Good Grades web site
   Better grades Joke    Goshen College Health Center

---  the Internet is not the only network to use  ---

Talk to your academic advisor.   Have lunch with a successful student.   Invite your instructor to lunch.

Contact Goshen College Student Development Office in the 
Ad Building for help with time management, peer tutors, and other resources for Goshen College students.  phone 7576

Goshen College Art Department
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updated July 2002