How to get an A* - (Without Going Insane. Or Breaking a Nail. Mostly)

What I did (in Month 1)

Three months ago, on the 15th August 2013, I found out that after months of working towards my dream grades, I'd failed.

(Oh, the joys of Results Day).

But I decided "heck, I refuse to wallow in my own pity. I didn't achieve what I'd set out to do, fine..."

(And let's face it, I was the only one to blame *ehm, and every Jeremy Kyle show on for that year* - OK fine. Just me).

"But I will turn this into an opportunity to do better."

And so the 'A* Grade Challenge' was born.

I essentially set out to push myself and think bigger, work harder and achieve more.

But rather than simply aiming for A's, I decided that I wanted to be even more ambitious and score 100% in all of my exams.

And so here's what I did to start achieving those 100%'s (1 month in), and the ups and downs I've experienced and learnt from so far:

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What went well:

1) Mindmapping my class notes

Rather than making looooong written notes for every class, I decided to start mindmapping everything with bright colours and pictures.

I've found that this has served me really well, because making mindmaps allows me to:
  • Condense and simplify the information I get in class
  • I can find links between the information MUCH easier
  • My notes just look so HAPPY thanks to all the colour (which by the way, has been proven to make us students more motivated to do our work, and helps us retain the information in our memory for longer *double points*)
  • It also means that I can use these notes straightaway as revision material when exam season comes knocking on the door

Plus, it beats the notes that I used to make - which were a huge bunch of hundreds of words listed in dull black ink on lined paper (snore.)

2) Starting exam practise early

I've already started getting tested in all of my subjects (and doing a few voluntary tests too - yes, that is a number 10 on the Geek-O-Meter you see there).

I think this is crucially important though, as it allows me to see how I'm doing in each subject, and which ones I need to work harder in.

Here's the grades I've been generally scoring so far:

Physics: (I'll just turn away and cover my eyes here) D
Psychology: B+
Sociology: B+
History: B+

By doing this I can tell straightaway that Physics is where I want to improve, and so I've started boosting my revision for it already.

I've covered all the material we've studied so far in class and have even gone further ahead independently.

I'm also making sure that I do practise questions on each topic I cover, and I'm making a note of the things that I don't understand yet as I go along (so that I can get help from my teachers).

3) Getting an 'accountability buddy'

After a few weeks into the challenge, I could tell that my motivation was slipping and I was falling back into my dreaded 'Oh hey, I'll just watch TV all day' stage.

So I called a friend of mine, who's also in the same situation as me (redoing the year) and is aiming for the same grades (straight A's), and we made a pact to call each other EVERY Friday to discuss our progress, support each other, and issue out cyber slaps when we're slacking.

Our weekly conversations normally revolve around these 3 questions:

  1. "What have you done this week academically (to reach those A's)?"
  2. "How did it go - what worked and what didn't?"
  3. "What are you going to do next week?"

We then check that we're both getting the work done, and turn evil if it's not completed (by taking a prized possession from each other).

(I steal her phone for the day - yes, she may die without it, and she'll take my lunch - and - wait for it - THROW IT IN THE BIN. EURGH. THE WASTE. THE WASTE!).

*ehm - pulling myself together*

So far the peer pressure has been brilliant, and we're both getting our work done and making sure neither of us strays most of the time.

(I won't lie though. Most of the straying is being done by yours truly. Please issue cyber slaps this way).

4) Expanding my learning outside of the class

So seeing as English and History are my CHILDREN, I really want to make sure that I'm a good candidate for the English and History joint degree at Oxford (yep. This dream will just never die).

So I've started preparing for my Uni applications and the course by:

1. Listening to University lectures by Oxford and Yale. They have a brilliant online collection of their lectures for SO many subjects (you can check out the Oxford lectures here, and the Yale ones too).

2. Reading more widely - In order to become a History-English academic badass (hey, it's a thing), I've begun reading more than simply what's required in my A-level courses.

So far I'm really enjoying classical epics *weirdly* (ie. giant monster tales, like Star Trek, but thousands of years ago - WHO KNEW), Victorian poetry and writers like Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde.

3. I've subscribed to the New Statesmen (a cultural, current affairs and political weekly magazine), so that I can expose myself to thought-provoking and witty commentaries and analysis' on topics we're facing in the 21st Century. It's a great way to expose myself to higher level thinking and writing.

(Ps. they also have a great subscription discount for students).

The challenges I ran into:

1) Trying to stick to a studying routine


I swear every one makes these, and then just ignores them for the rest of the year.

But I decided to give them a chance again (I mean, people, I NEED organisation in my life), and so I settled on a studying routine of 2 hours a day.

But it just isn't happening!

Every time I get home Hollyoaks or Pinterest just seems to suck me in, and then I look at the time and 'WOAH, it's 1am already'.

How I'm going to tackle this issue:

I think staying behind afterschool for an hour at least and working away from everyone else would do wonders for me.

At least this way I can't get distracted, as I have nothing else to do but work.

2) My sleeping routine is out of whack

In order to get work done consistently and feel energized in the morning, I decided to join Robin Sharma (one of my favourite motivational speakers) '5am club'.

(If you think I'm absolutely nuts and wondering why on earth I'd do that, here he is explaining the reasons behind the '5am club'):

The (*ehm* few) times that I've actually woken up at 5am to do this have been brilliant.

However my sleeping routine is so random that I have difficulty getting up at 5am regularly and making it a new habit (after all consistency is key when developing a habit - according to a study by UCL, it takes 66 days to carve a new habit into your brain *sooo, I have some work to do*).

How I'm going to tackle this issue:

I've decided to begin going to bed at 10pm (like the good old days).

This should give me enough time to rest so that I can wake up at 5am feeling refreshed.

3) My working speed

After the experiences of a few last minute exam frenzies, I know that when I REALLY push myself, I can do massive amounts of work within a few days.

(For my Psychology exams last year I managed to read and memorise the entire course in roughly 5 days!)

But without any pressure, I just seem to be getting through my work load at the speed of a turtle. That's broken it's leg. And gone blind.

How I'm going to tackle this issue:

I've scheduled weekly meetings with my schools academic mentor (who'll check that I'm making progress and completing all the tasks that I said I would).

I'll also speak to my Physics teacher (seeing as that's the area I want to concentrate on first, and then I'll move onto the other subjects) about doing weekly tests on specific topics.

Aka, I'm going to do EVERYthing I can to pile on the pressure, because that's when I really get working.

Now, I'd love to hear what you think!
  • What grades are you aiming for this year?
  • And what have you done so far to begin achieving them?

Let's chat in the comments below!

'A* Grade Challenge' posts so far:

Month 1 (Progress made in November 2013)
Month 2 (Progress made in December 2013)

Month 3 (Progress made in January 2014)

P.s. Freebie Alert:

A few weeks ago I created a worksheet on how to get through the first month of the challenge, which you can download for free (ps. it's exclusive to my email buddies, so if you want to join, just fill in the form below).

Oh and the Image is courtesy of Bungalow5 :)

Want to Join 13,900 Students in Learning How to Crush Procrastination, the Fear of Failure and Fear of What Others Think? 

Get Bi-Monthly Email Updates with Actionable Advice on Overcoming these 3 Mental Barriers to Achievement:

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  1. Oh I so need you as my motivation-buddy! I'm experiencing the exact same problem with the pushing myself-portion. I'm for once doing all the absolutely mandatory stuff well ahead, but am not managing to do any extra-work, which for courses like international contract law would be nice, since they're not counted in the grade, but do help in the exam, when one has rehearsed... Just trying to find some inner cell in me, which would push me to read and study more effectively. Otherwise, in a month, I'm screwwwweeeeedddddddd....!

    1. I know exactly what you mean!

      For my Physics exam I've decided I want to stay ahead of the class work, so in order to keep up with it I'm going to speak to one of my Physics teachers about scheduling a weekly test on each topic.

      That way I have some pressure on me to keep going.

      Perhaps you could try something similar? :)

  2. I managed to have all B's for quarter 1. Even bringing up my Algebra 2 grade 10% in about 2 weeks (crazy what bonus points do!!) I haven't been studying though and its terrible >.< I completely lost all motivation I had!! Like you my sleep schedule is pretty crazy. Monday and Friday I can get to bed at a decent time. However, on Tuesday(Work), Wednesday(Youth group), and Thursday(Work) I don't get home until 10ish or later. Then im so exhausted from doing all dat stuff that I need more sleep! Ahhh its a vicious cycle. Anywho, thats where I am right now.

    1. Hey Jess,

      That's brilliant! Congrats on such super grades :)

      And in terms of motivation, I'd definitely recommend listening to some motivational speakers once a day.

      My favourites are from Tony Robbins and Robin Sharma, it's definitely been helping me stay focused and energised on my goals.

      And I still need to get my sleeping cycles under control too!

      I think a 10pm to 5am sleeping routine is good, but it's still a bit of a challenge getting into this new habit.

    2. Thank you!! Also, thank you for the tips :) I am sure you can do it!!

  3. I didn´t had any success with my challenge :( I had only B´s and C´s :(
    (in Spain, the best mark is 10 and I got 6 in all my exams)
    I´m a big procastinator and, moreover, I arrive terribly tired from class U.u
    I think the motivation-buddy is a great idea!! I wanna try it :)
    I will try to wake up at 5 too :)

    Congrats Jees for your grades, it´s amazing!!!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I will follow your tips, Sanam, I think they´re amazing :)

    3. Yeah I think procrastination is most peoples issue.

      The best ways I've found to combat it though are:

      a) isolating myself when I work (my school's study room after 4pm is normally the best place, as there's no one there)

      b) putting pressure on myself by creating weekly deadlines for my work (because then I can't fall into the 'ahh, I'll just do it later' trap)

      c) Listening to motivational speeches every day in the morning (normally on my way to school), which get's me excited and motivated to do my work.

      I hope this helps :)

      And thanks a lot, I really appreciate it Betty :) x

  4. just take adderall

  5. I have a question :D How did you do your worksheet?
    I really want to see it :)

    1. Quite well actually, I scored myself 16/18 ;)

      The only thing on my list that I haven't technically done yet is scheduling a monthly exam for each subject. I've done some tests on specific topics in each subject, but not a proper practice test yet.

      What about you? :)

    2. How did you got your score?

      I have momthly exams too, I got some books with tests and I'm trying to do all my homeworks and extra work (it's quite difficult to do 200 exercises every day lol)
      I'm trying Pomodoro sistem to stick to my study scedule and mindmapping.
      I think the worst thing is to study daily, specially when you have exams, don't you you think so? :)

    3. Oooh sorry, I assumed you were talking about the A* Grade Challenge worksheet score (ooops. My bad) ;)

      And that sounds like a great start, high five for the effort! :)

      I'm currently getting a lot of tests too. It's worth it though, because it stops me from leaving all my revision until the last minute, seeing as I have to do it really regularly to keep up with the tests.

      Good luck with it all though!

  6. I saw you talked about the worksheet, but I haven't seen it. Did you sent it via email?

    I'm still doing last-minute revisions, because of the time lol

    Good luck to you too! I'm sure you'll get into Oxford (was it, right?) :) Keep going!! :)

    1. Yep! In the confirmation email (which comes immediately after someone adds their email address to the newsletter), there's a download link to the worksheet :)

      And ahhh, thank you. I definitely hope so!

    2. I´m sorry but...could you send me the link again? I`ve lost the confirmation mail :(
      I´m Betty Sparkle :)

    3. Of course!

      I had a look at the email subscribers list though and couldn't find your name - If you send me a quick email (editor AT I'll send you the worksheet myself :) x

  7. Hi!

    I know you posted this forever ago, but I'm curious if you have a more detailed post about mindmapping? It would be awesome to see an example or a step-by-step how to do it with photos. :)


    1. Hey Lauren,

      A post on note taking techniques is actually in the works at the moment and will be published next. So not a long wait :)

      Other than this post, I don't actually have anything else on note taking. So the one coming up will hopefully be of better use.

  8. Your blog has been really useful for me! Thank you sooo much. I always was convinced, that my parents forgot to give me my middle name (that being 'procrastinator'). Now, with your fantastic helpful tips on studying, motivation and avoiding procrastination, I'm felling much happier and getting much more work done. I know I have a long way to go (and be aware of the 'fallback'-trap), but we'll see about that.

    The huge wake-up call for me was a quote from the video: 'as you live your days, so you live your life'. That really resonated with me. I don't want to be a facebooking, unhappy, unsatisfied person, who just let slip her life away on Facebook, Twitter, 9Gag and Pinterest. So I made some changes to turn that around and become a happier, healthier and better me.
    That's more than I've ever done for myself, so thank you for that.

    And, keep up the good work ofcourse ;)

    1. Lykke, thank you so much! I'm glad to hear that you've found the blog useful :)

      And those sound like brilliant changes - good luck to you.

      Feel free to update me on your progress - I'm just an email away ;)

  9. where can i get board like that ? how it is called ?


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