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The City Journals

Recent high school graduate shares study strategies in new book

Nov 01, 2022 06:52PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Study smarter, not harder.

That’s what a recent area high school graduate advises secondary students.

Emily Erickson graduated in 2021, but in the last month of her senior year of high school, she wrote the book, “The Art of the A: A Guide to Earning Straight A’s in Middle and High School Without Sacrificing Your Social Life, Sleep Schedule, or Sanity.” She self-published the 300-page book that is available on Amazon.

As a 4.0 grade-point student who took 14 advanced placement classes, earned her associate’s degree while in high school, was named Utah’s business and marketing Sterling Scholar, finished first in her class of 563 students and was involved in seven clubs, Erickson said she was able to do so with eight hours of sleep per night and being able to do activities with friends.

“I found that a lot of the information on the internet isn’t good advice. The people who write it, they haven’t actually gotten straight A’s themselves, or they haven’t actually done it recently, or really understand what it’s like to be a student now,” she said. “I also feel there’s a lot of books on the market of study tips for college students, but not really for middle and high school students—and not one written by a high schooler for high schoolers and middle schoolers.”

In her book, she addresses the mistaken impression that a student needs to be brilliant to succeed in school.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to get straight A’s. A lot of people think that you have to be a genius to get straight A’s and while there’s some level of intelligence that you need, I don’t think you have to be prodigious in any way. If you’re strategic and you’re organized, and you have an idea for what you’re doing and know how to work effectively, it’s very possible for any student to aim to get A’s,” she said. “The idea that students have to work all day long, be completely obsessed with their studies, have no life outside of school, not have a sleep schedule and be under tremendous amounts of stress is a stereotype which is incorrect and harmful.”

She used her knowledge of being a student today along with her strategies she used to write the book to help others succeed.

“The perspective I wrote the book from is if you’re a student who’s struggling in school, and you ask how you can do better. The advice people typically give you is study harder, engage more in class or take good notes. Those are OK tips, but they’re kind of poor advice because they don’t ask the central question: what does it really take to earn straight A’s? The answer is really simple. It’s earning a high enough percentage on your assignments, your exams, your essays, your projects, everything you do in a class, so that at the end of this semester, you have enough points or percentage of points that your grade falls above a certain point cut off for getting an A,” she said.

Erickson said she ensured what she was doing would affect her grade, not just complete busy work.

“I asked myself, ‘How can I put in my time, effort and strategies in a direction that moves me toward that A instead of just saying, ‘take better notes.’ I questioned, ‘Why do we need to take better notes? What is the function of notes, how are they earning points?’ A lot of people will come home, and study and they’ll make their notes pretty, which doesn’t help get A’s because it’s the assignments that you turn in and are graded on that earns you points. Identifying that is a huge thing,” she said.

With her assignments and tests, she tried to be efficient and effective.

“In the book, I talked about different strategies for different types of assignments. I go into detail in the book on each type of assignment so like essays, how you plan and write and do those effectively and how you do daily assignments, math homework or just short things,” she said adding that she also shares specific strategies for long-term projects. 

She includes organizational systems so “you can succeed and handle things that are coming in when you get into the middle of the school year.”

Even if you read her book at this point in the school year, Erickson has advice.

“Start with making sure you put out any fires,” she said. “Make a list of what needs to be done, and then do what’s worth the highest number of points and due the soonest and then attack it as much as you can. Then refine your systems. Learn organization.”

One section Erickson is especially proud of is a chapter titled, “Creating time out of nowhere.”

“When I was a sophomore, I took five AP classes at the same time. My counselor was like, ‘You’re insane; nobody’s done that. You’re going to be stressed out of your mind and go crazy’ —and I kind of did at first,” she said, remembering she took even more AP classes her junior year. “Then, I realized there are periods of time throughout the day like when my dad dropped me off for school or was picking me up. I had a 30- to 45-minute window there. I had 30 minutes during lunch, and then we had advisory, which was a 30-minute study hall, and I realized if I used those times, instead of just talking with friends or wandering around having lunch and texting, like everybody does, then I could get two hours of homework time during the day that I never realized existed. When a student who feels overwhelmed by homework realizes this, it can really help. I made the choice to do homework at those times because I was at school anyway and I found that by finishing what I needed to do at school, I was left with the evenings free.”

Erickson also addresses stress and burnout of high school students.

“If you’re doing school right, stress can be a positive thing; it means you’re doing something that matters. I’d reframe that stress as if I was playing a game to get good grades and trying to learn to move forward in the world to make it fun. It’s a challenge to build mastery. I talk a lot about mindset and dealing with the game and doing it proactively in the book,” she said.

That mindset extended to assignments, and she would see if she could concentrate on them and turn them in the same day.

“I found that the times I was working most intense, were when something was due in 30 minutes. So, there’s the game there; I’d make the strategic game to not procrastinate and get it back to the teachers as if it was due sooner. I remember my English teacher would give out projects and assignments. I had this joke with her that she would finish her lunch and I would hand her my homework before the next period,” she said.

Part of the trick, Erickson said, was to stay organized. She kept her papers and assignments in files at home so she could quickly review assignments or refer to them.

“It’s really helpful to keep track of assignments. I’ve also had times where teachers have missed entering a grade, so I was able to go to my filing cabinet and pull it out and that really did end up saving my butt a couple of times,” she said.

Especially for high school seniors, she said make sure organization and strategies are in place for assignments “as you may be trying to fill out these college applications or traveling for scholarship interviews. Having the ability to have things on autopilot and just having the systems in place to keep you on track when you have other priorities going on. That’s huge as a senior.”

“The Art of the A” is Erickson’s second book. The current University of Utah student wrote a book about education reform titled “Unlearned: A Student’s Perspective on Bridging the Divide Between Schooling and Educatedness” during the COVID-19 Alta High School closure in 2020.

“The best part of writing this book was just thinking about what I did. It forced me to go back and reflect on everything that I’ve learned all throughout my K through 12 education, about studying and homework and all the strategies and the experiences I had with teachers,” Erickson said. “I realized everything I’ve learned over the years would be lost unless I could share it with someone, maybe a little sixth-grade girl who was like me and really wants to succeed academically in school. Maybe she’s going to find my book and will develop a solid strategy and find inspiration. Just knowing that my experiences may have that positive impact is really cool. It brings things full circle for me.”