Congratulations! All those hours spent hunched over your laptop have paid off: your paper has been passed back with a bright red “A” circled at the top of the page. Your initial impulse might be to tack your finished piece to your mini-fridge and head off in search of celebratory entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong, you deserve to celebrate! Just remember that your work isn’t done yet: if you act now, you can capitalize upon your good grade by improving your writing and ensuring your future academic success.
When you receive a good grade on an assignment, your first step should be to figure out why your Professor felt you deserved this grade. Too many students, satisfied with their grade, never bother to check the Professor’s comments. Yet if you take the time to review this feedback, you will find it can be an invaluable tool in helping you to keep up the good work. Next time you receive high marks on an assignment, take the time to:
- Reflect on what you did well. What sections have check marks or positive comments next to them? Did your Professor complement any aspects of your paper or writing in particular? Jot these down for later: the next time you are struggling with your thesis statement, it will be a huge mental boost to have proof that you have written successful theses in the past.
- Just because you got an “A” doesn’t mean your writing was flawless. Take note of any grammatical mistakes your Professor has cited. While you might have caught a break this time, it is likely that your Professor will be less forgiving should these same mistakes show up on your next assignment.
- Make a list of your Professor’s stylistic preferences. Some Professor’s abhor the passive voice while others are indifferent to it; some ask for a short, succinct introduction while others prefer that papers begin with a gripping hook to suck the reader in. Read through your Professor’s comments to get a sense of which of your stylistic choices she appreciates to and which she doesn’t, keeping her preferences in mind for the next time you write a paper for her class.
- Make a photocopy and file the original. Many applications for jobs, internships, and scholarships require that you submit a graded paper with your Professor’s comments. Make sure to file the original paper somewhere safe so you can access it when the time comes and, because files of old papers can easily get lost in the shuffle, make a photocopy or scan just to be safe.
- If your returned paper is relatively unmarked save for the grade, do not be afraid to follow up with your Professor. Scheduling a short meeting to check in with your Professor about what she responded well to and what she might suggest you change for next time can be extremely beneficial in figuring out how to replicate that grade next time around. Remember, Professors are generally happy to meet with students whatever the reason; it’s not only “bad” papers that warrant a meeting!
Finally, resist the temptation to use this paper as an exact template for subsequent assignments. First of all, Professor will know – and not appreciate – if they are reading a carbon copy of your first paper. Furthermore, remember that every paper is different: the organizing principle that works well for one assignment won’t necessarily translate to another. Let the content of your paper guide its structure, not the other way around.