How to get top grades even if you don’t attend a good school

Charlotte Bailey, Founder of TypTop Global Community, Study Skills Expert & Anti-Bullying Activist

May 2019

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So you want top grades but you don’t attend a good school? I’ve got you covered.

Make sure to Pin me to read later!

I totally get it – I’ve been there myself! I attended a school which is rated as 2* by teaching authorities – one of the worst schools in the nation.

Before my final exams, I discovered that in 10 out of 12 subjects, over 50% of the curriculum hadn’t been taught in lessons. Insane!  

I was also severely bullied by some kids and even teachers. It got so bad that I had to leave school early before I could get A-levels (UK University entrance exams).

Yet, despite all this, I still managed to achieve 12A*s in my final exams, with 45A*s across my individual modules, putting me into the top 2% of all international test takers, and I’m now working at a first level in university.

So…I promise you it’s possible.

Before we jump right in, make sure to grab your free ‘Quick and Easy Study Hacks Guide’ where I share some study techniques I used to get 45A*s!

Before we jump right in, let me iron out a few myths.

Myth number 1) You have to be a genius with an eidetic memory to get good grades.

You don’t have to be a genius to achieve top marks.

You also don’t have to be born with an insanely good memory. Studying is a skill which can be fine-tuned and developed. I didn’t always achieve top grades in the beginning.

Sometimes I would get great marks, get excited, and then dip 2-3 grades lower. It wasn’t until I discovered how to actually study and learn that I consistently achieved top grades in all of my subjects.

If you are currently not working at the level or grade you want but are trying your best, and don’t know where you’re going wrong, don’t be disheartened. You just haven’t found what works for you (yet!).

Myth number 2) You have to work and study an insane amount of hours to achieve excellent grades.

I love to be the bearer of good news, but you really don’t need to study for hours and hours on end to achieve top marks.

In fact, numerous research studies have proven that students who spend more than 3 hours a day studying or revising (trust me, this is plenty if you know how to work, study and revise effectively) retain less information than students who study less than 3 hours a day, and they run the risk of a complete burnout. Not a good look.

Myth number 3) You have to attend an elite or prestigious school to achieve top grades.

I just like to laugh at this one, because it’s so not true. I’m proof that this one is a complete myth.

Myth 4) It will be super difficult.

Getting rockstar grades doesn’t have to be overwhelming or difficult.

In fact, it can be easy peasy lemon squeezy once you know how to study and learn effectively. If you currently feel like you’re going to fail, you feel out of control, or you feel totally overwhelmed, this is often due to 2 reasons 1) a mindset issue and 2) not having an arsenal full of study strategies, techniques and systems that work for you and your learning style.

It’s RARELY ever an accurate gauge of your true ability to get top grades.

Quick tip: If you hang around people who are negative, try not to fall into the trap of taking on their beliefs. It’s super easy to just follow the crowd, but try to either distance yourself from them, make new friends and remain positive.

Here are 4 top tips on how to get top grades even if you don’t go to a good school.

1. Fill in gaps in your notes, and learn how to do your own research outside of class.

Most teachers and instructors will try their best to provide relevant, accurate and up to date information.

However, this doesn’t always happen. To ensure you have a full set of notes, you must learn how to research information for yourself.

Independent learning and research is the best way to fill the gaps in your notes.

 PRO TIP: As you are the one doing the research, your brain will automatically start to digest, process and retain the information better than if you were just simply handed a full set of notes.

This is a form of active learning. You’re readily processing information because you’re engaged with it.

This is how your brain digests new information when you’ve passively ‘learnt’ it versus actively ‘learnt’ it.

Picture this, you’re in a lesson where the teacher just talks at you for over an hour.

They give you all the answers and you’re just expected to write them down. Instead of asking ‘where is South America?’ you’re simply shown a map with South America already highlighted.

This is passive learning. Passive learning means you’re not engaged with the lesson material, you’re more of an observer.

This is why I highly recommend you do your own research outside of class (even if you have the best teacher in the world!).

Think of this as early revision!

So, Charlotte where do I find this information?

a) TES (teaching community)

TES is a worldwide teaching community, where teachers create resources (i.e. presentations etc) for other teachers to use in their lessons.

The beauty of this site?

You don’t have to sign up as a teacher to access their resources!

Missing some Biology notes? Want to brush up on your French? Struggling to understand some key concepts in History?

Sign up to TES.

It’s free (unless you want to pay for some of the guides – but I personally don’t think it’s necessary to pay for them because there are literally thousands of free, high quality resources posted every day across all subjects).

b) Youtube tutorials & videos

I would highly recommend checking Youtube out for online tutorials and guidance videos.

Alternatively, type the subject you are studying into Google and simply look for student forums, or key websites which provide additional information to supplement your teacher’s or instructor’s course notes.

 PRO TIP: Use Viewpure/Videos without Clutter to remove all distractions whilst watching youtube videos.

c) The Google Hack

 PRO TIP: One of the best hacks for finding more subject-specific info? Type this simple formula into Google: ‘Site: edu (subject) (questions) (file type)’

E.g. Site: edu Roman History exam questions pdf

Or Site: edu Roman History ppt

You might find some gems using this method.

2. Create a note filing system, and become the king/queen of organisation.

Okay, okay. You’ve probably heard this ‘tip’ before a million times, but it’s honestly so undervalued in getting top grades.

I would highly recommend investing in the following:

An expanding file to store and catergorise your notes/files for the day.

I use this to organise my notes each day. Inside the folder there are coloured tabs, which I use for different subjects.

Quick note-filing tips to save oodles of time

a) Create a separate folder for each subject.

b) Use sub-sections within each folder to divide different topics and concepts. I’d also recommend using dividers for ‘homework’, ‘revision materials’, ‘assignments’ etc.

c) Keep your folders in one place so you don’t lose or misplace them.

d) For super important materials such as certificates, course syllabi, specifications and assignment transcripts, create a separate folder.

e) Schedule 5-10 minutes into your day to organise and transfer your notes from lessons into your folders.

f) Label all class handouts with subject, date, topic title etc. I also like to add the teacher’s name to the top of the handout especially if I have multiple instructors for the same subject.

g) If you use note-taking template(s) such as those in the Student Survival Academy – Boost Your Grades In Less Time, add them to the front of your subject folders. This will save you heaps of time when you come to revise and condense your class material.

3. Purchase (or find) the relevant books which are designed to fit your course or subject.

This might seem like a no-brainer but some students forget to purchase the books which are specifically designed to complement their course.

Before you buy any books though, make sure to check out your individual exam or study board to check which books you need. Your tutor or teacher may also supply a reading list with compulsory books to read.

Sometimes, you might find that the books made for your courses are a little basic, or don’t explain the concept in enough detail.

I would also suggest having a look around on the internet for other books which will supplement your course structure.

As an international student studying for SATs and ACT exams, I frequently combined the traditional College board approved textbooks, in addition to Barron’s textbooks.

I especially loved using Barron’s books for the subject specific SAT tests.

Looking for cheap or free textbooks?

 Check out:

Google – Use the filetype command in the search bar e.g. filetype: pdf ‘’the basics of earth science’’. If you can’t find the textbook by its’ name, try typing in the author (again, surrounded by quotes).

Google Scholar – Great for finding heaps of articles, journals, presentations and textbooks.

Openculture ( OC has over 200 textbooks ranging from Astronomy to Plant Life.

PDFDrive – a search engine for PDF files including some fiction books.

Textbook Revolution – This site organises free textbooks based on subject, course, topic and study level.

Online Mathematics Textbooks – just as the title suggests, this is a handy website containing all sorts of mathematical related textbooks, ranging from calculus to mathematical biology.

4. Learn how to teach yourself and develop the key study skills needed to ace your exams.

This one is a little trickier. Often, you need someone to help you develop these, or you can spend hours upon hours playing the trial and error game – precious time a busy student like you doesn’t have to waste.

Here are 2 super quick study skill tips:

a) Mapping out a difficult concept

A great way to begin to understand unfamiliar concepts is to map it out on a whiteboard, and then try to make links and connections between this material and your notes.

Here’s an example of a Chemistry concept I mapped out using my whiteboard.

For subjects which are heavy in diagrams (e.g. chemistry), I highly recommend purchasing a whiteboard (A4 size or bigger).

Mapping out concepts is great if you’re a visual learner!

b) Understanding your learning style

There are over 8 learning styles in total, and your learning style can make the difference between you getting an A grade and a D grade, yes seriously.

I go into waay more detail about learning styles and finding the right ones for you as an ambitious student in the Student Survival Academy featured below, but here are the 4 main learning style categories for you as a general guide.

Based on these learning styles, you can then start to pick the revision strategies and study techniques that work for YOU as opposed to thousands of other students.

And, there you have it – 4 quick and easy tips on how to get top grades even if you don’t go to a great school.

Ready to get top grades whilst studying LESS?!

Developing the necessary study skills to ace your exams whilst studying less is a big task, but it doesn't have to be difficult or BORING.

In fact, getting top grades can be super simple, and actually FUN (yes, really!)

That's why I built the Student Survival Academy - Boost Your Grades In Less Time.

It's helped over 2000 students worldwide boost their grades, ace their exams and even secure top scholarships to their dream university!

It's the exact system I used to get 45A*s, and maintain a 1st grade at university whilst working FULL-TIME.