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How to turn your GPA around as a second year at uni

James Davis

All is not lost for students who spent a bit too long at the pub! We’ve got a few ways to catch up and boost your GPA.

We get it. There’s a great allure to suddenly being free from people leering over your shoulder to check if you’ve got your work done. No more strictly enforced routines imposed upon you by others. While this freedom is great, it’s also a significant hazard to people who’ve not had it before. If you’re going to be a second-year uni student soon, or are one right now, here are a few ways to reign yourself in, dust yourself off and get back on track academically if you’ve fallen out of the saddle. If you’re someone for whom other circumstances caused your GPA to take a hit, that’s OK too. No matter what you’ve been through, these methods will help you to boost your GPA. 

What is GPA?

GPA stands for ‘Grade Point Average’. In Australia, it’s a score from one to seven, representing the sum total of your academic achievement, where one and two are failing and seven is a high distinction. In other countries, GPA is usually represented as a figure between one and four, where four is a high distinction or A+. Keep this in mind if you’re ever looking at the requirements for courses at other universities, or employers from other countries who want to see your GPA. Even in Australia, some companies and universities use this system, so keep it in mind. A 4.0 in the American system is very different to a 4.0 in Australia! 

So what is a good GPA?

Depending on previous performance, you’ll want to set a realistic GPA target. All grades are weighted higher in later years at uni, which is what makes getting back into the swing of things even more important in the second and third year. 

If you’re someone who’s just looking to graduate, a 3.0/7.0 is the bare minimum required to pass. While by no means a ‘good’ GPA, if you’re someone who’s desperately struggling with classes, this is what you need to aim for at the very least. 

If you’re gunning for a master’s degree, going into honours or finding your way into a PhD, you’ll want to shoot for a 5.0. This means getting a credit average across the board. While higher grades will improve your chances of success, a 5.0 is usually the minimum (plus or minus about 0.5 points depending on the institution). 

If you’re hungry for some competitive internships and graduate jobs, you’ll want to shoot for a 6.0 or higher. This means getting a distinction for just about everything you do. If you get a high distinction for one course, you can then afford to get a credit in another. If you’re sitting on a 3 or 4, you can still achieve this by excelling in second and third-year courses due to weighting. 

How do I achieve my targets?

There are a few tricks any relatively new student can employ to boost their GPA. 

Try to determine which units you’re going to struggle with

A GPA is an average, meaning not every class you take has to be perfect. If you’re delicately fighting to achieve a specific GPA, you’ll need to know which units you’re good at and which ones aren’t so strong. You can do this by examining the prerequisites of second-year courses you’re about to take, then go over in your head how you found those prerequisites back in the first year. Were they easy? Difficult? Keep notes of this. You then know which second-year subjects need what sort of grades to succeed in your goals. For instance, if you’re going for a 6.0, then instead of aiming to get 6s in everything, resolve to just get a 5 in a subject you’re struggling with and make it up with a 7 somewhere else in the second year, or even just another 6 in third year (weighting is your friend!). 

You can use online GPA calculators to get a rough estimate of what you stand to get, but be very careful when using them. Each employs different methods, which may not be reliable. Do careful research when making decisions based on these and consult friends and mentors to see if there’s a more reliable method. 

Seek help from mentors and peers

Many if not most universities in Australia offer programs and services to students who are struggling. Whether you’re grieving and can’t focus on study, don’t understand the course material, or simply spent a bit too much time on the couch, there are people who can help. ‘PASS’, which is an acronym for ‘Peer Assisted Study Sessions’, are comprised of high-achieving students who’ve completed whatever unit you may have struggled with and are giving their time to help others. Even if you think you’re going to struggle with every single one of your courses, these sessions happen regularly and for many core units. They’ll also help you become accountable to someone other than yourself, which can be a helpful motivator. 

Professors also have open-door hours. While advisable not to make this your go-to method of study assistance, seek advice from your lecturers and tutors in a pinch to get some essential guidance on improving. 

Your friends could also help. They know you better than the former two groups, so may be able to offer tailored advice. This is especially helpful if they share one or more units with you. 

Layout your obligations somewhere

Doesn’t matter where. It could be a calendar, organiser, a notepad, phone or scrap of toilet paper. Whatever it is, having your obligations written down somewhere helps you keep track of them. High achieving students generally aren’t smarter than everyone else or genetically gifted (although some are!). Mostly they’re just organised! Part of the organisation is being aware of everything you need to do. That means an exhaustive list of tasks. Exhaustive is the important word here. If your obligations are finite, that means they’re doable. Procrastination and demotivation can often stem from a sense of doom and gloom like nothing is ever done. If there’s a defined, measurable point at which you are done, life is much easier! This comes with the added benefit of helping you boost those grades. 

Do more… of everything!

The more you do, the more you find you can do. Engaging in extracurricular activities has the added benefit of forcing you to allocate time to study under the threat of no longer being able to! They’re also beneficial in and of themselves. From something as simple as attending a club meeting to going on a six-month international exchange, these experiences not only drive your performance but enrich the entire university journey. Second-year is perhaps the most crucial time to get involved in these things because the third year will be the crucible where study should be your entire focus. 

Even if you don’t buy that old saying, consider this. If you choose extracurricular activities that compliment your studies, you’ll get more out of both. An investment banking competition is great for any accounting or finance student, for example, as you’ll be putting your skills to use. If you’re a student of languages, showing up to the German club’s bizarre rendition of Oktoberfest may be an excellent bit of practice. Look around and find things that not only suit your interests but your academic goals too. 

Be strict with breaks

This means both ensuring you take them and keeping them to a timeframe. Taking periods to switch off is critical to maintaining concentration over long periods, even if it’s just a five-minute walk. Any study session is incomplete without them. You can help in this regard by studying with others. When everyone’s taking a break together, it only takes one person to guilt the rest into getting back to work in a timely fashion! Even when studying alone, be sure to find some method of accountability. Having short breaks on the horizon every 30 - 50 minutes can make just about any task all the more manageable. 

Use productivity apps

Some programs actually restrict access to your leisure programs, be they Netflix, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. If you’re someone who’s still working on their self-discipline, these can be god-sends. It’s worth setting them up to get back on track. 

There are actually phone apps that prevent compulsive checking too, regardless of what it is you’re checking. The Forest app is a great example. This curious, yet compelling app grows virtual trees on your lock screen, which then get cut down the moment you unlock your phone. It’s a way of ‘gamifying’ productivity, in that you’re seeing how many trees you can grow before choosing to use your phone again. Some people report a sense of loss when they get cut down! Maybe you’d like to unleash your inner gardener? 

Now hit the books!

You should have a much better idea of how to improve your GPA in the coming years. If you take nothing else away, just remember: GPA isn’t everything. Even if you completely bomb, perhaps there’s another degree for you or another line of work or education. Just give it your best shot, use these tips at your discretion and you’ll find your way. We’ll still be here to help you do it! 

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