Hacking School: An Unconventional Guide to Better Grades with Less Effort

better grades less effort

In 17 years of school I’ve learned a lot. I’ve forgetten a lot too, both intentionally and unintentionally. If you’re awake and astute and you care to do so, you can identify the patterns and learn to play the game. There are a few games you can learn to play in school like how to get good grades or how to become well-liked.

Each are about pattern recognition and unconventional thinking. Because in any system there are strong points and weak points of entry.

Here are three ways to get better grades without trying any harder than you are right now:

Look presentable

You wouldn’t believe how much this makes a difference. Showing up to class showered and well-dressed can immediately make you stand out. When sweatpants are the norm, a pair of corduroys, khakis or a nice pair of jeans can go a long way.

When you look good, you feel good. When you participate in class, you suddenly have an air of confidence driving your thoughts.

Showing up to class in a presentable fashion also makes a bold statement to the teacher. It shows that you’re put together and that you respect the institution of school. Personally, you could care less about any of that, but to instructors it puts you on a whole other level above your peers.

Take two groups of students giving the same presentation. One group wears button downs and nice jeans and the other group wears t-shirts and shorts. They present the same material. From my own observations, looking at other students in the class, they respect the group that dressed up more than they respect the group that didn’t. Audience participation was higher for the well-dressed group than the group that didn’t care.

You can figure out who got the better grade.

Respectfully disagree with the majority

Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.” I find this to be true in classes as well. I’m not arguing that you should be a jerk and pick fights with your peers.

But one way to get better grades is to determine what the majority view is in a discussion and ask yourself why that position is the most popular (is it a topic where it’s unpopular to take the opposite stance? Are people lazily agreeing with the first person to comment?). Find a rational alternative so that you can politely disagree and suddenly, in a class of yes men you suddenly stand out.

Most classes have portions of grading that have to do with class participation. Participating in class and disagreeing when the time is right is a great way to position yourself differently in a class. It could be the difference between a B+ and an A- or between a B and an A (depending on who’s grading you).

Spend time with your teachers outside of class

When I take notes in class I take a second set of notes in the margins. Those margin notes include words and ideas I want to look up, blog ideas that come out of that class, topics that the teacher briefly touches on but are outside of the class’s discussion and general thoughts that are loosely tied to the class subject but aren’t appropriate to bring up during class. Then I seek out my teachers outside of class, either after lecture or during their office hours to discuss some of the notes I left for myself in the margin.

These outside of the classroom meetings often lead off of the original topic and I have the unique opportunity to learn more about the teacher. They get to learn more about me too.

This tip holds especially true in classes of a larger size. If an instructor can differentiate you from 50 or 400 other people in the room, favoritism allows for opportunities like grade bumps in your favor.


Stand out. Don’t be jerk but show that you’re a smart person. It will do more for you than most things you’ll actually get from the class.