I got very good grades in college, but I didn't set out thinking that I wanted to get straight A's. I set out thinking that I wanted to master the material, and the kids who set out to game the system couldn't figure out how I seemed to breeze through without resorting to ridiculous tricks, or at least cramming a few times, or pulling all-nighters once or twice a week like they did.
Note: (i)Gaming the system: manipulation or exploitation of the rules designed to govern a given system in an attempt to gain an advantage over other users
(ii)Breeze through: to complete some task rapidly and easily
But that's really the secret. When you master the material, you can pass any test given at finals. Here's a list of things I did, in no specific order.
Leave NOTHING to chance -- This means planning ahead for all assignments, projects, and tests. It means that if something crazy happens the night before, from a printer issue to a friend going to the hospital, you'll be in a good position to turn in your assignment or pass the test, and if you have to ask for an extension it will only be for a day or two. You should be able to go to bed early the night before a big whatever -- sleep helps your grade more than a cram session.
Make meticulous lists and small goals the first week of courses -- Start tracking your assignment's due dates, the materials you need to get, the research you'll need to do for that big paper, and so on. Figure out what tasks you can do NOW and use the slow first few weeks to get a head start.
Choose research / project topics early -- It doesn't matter if your paper is due in two months, choose three possible topics NOW and start researching. Your ideas will evolve, but if you have already looked into the options you will learn more from the class as you see relevant or useful topics come up, you will be able to run through ideas earlier, and you will not be in the crippling position of "generate 5 pages in 2 hours," but can work at your leisure, and you have weeks to talk to your professor. Also, few people really go to the library / lab in the first few weeks of school to do heavy work so if you're there you will almost always get what you want, and get it out of the way before more serious obligations come up later in the semester.
Note:(i)run through: to read or examine something quickly
(ii) at your leisure: in your own (good) time, in due course, at your convenience, unhurriedly, when it suits you, without hurry, at an unhurried pace, when you get round to it
Do extra research -- You can benefit from starting your papers and projects early by having the freedom to go beyond the bare minimum. Research two or three possible topics you are interested in, keep all the notes and information organized, and you will be able to change topics on a whim or have a pre-researched topic for another class when you need it most. Do not underestimate this. Again, the first two or three weeks of school are excellent for this as there are few deadlines.
Note:on a whim: done without thinking seriously about the consequences
Ask questions, even if you look like an idiot -- It took me a while to swallow my pride and speak up, but I'd rather get the added knowledge than 'look cool'. And the joke's on those who look down on this -- I get the A and they don't.
Note: swallow one's pride: to forget one's pride and accept something humiliating
Talk to your professors after class -- Ask that burning question, tell them something you thought was interesting, blah blah blah. Learn that extra bit of information, make sure they know you by name and find you engaged and interested. Then when your printer dies or cat gets a hairball, they'll give you that extension.
Note: burning question: a question whose answer is of great interest to everyone; a question that needs very much to be answered, as a fire needs to be extinguished
Avoid all-nighters. Schedule study/homework. -- Unless you really really have to, all-nighters are bad news. Look closely at your schedule of classes and work, and find little gaps where you can go to the computer lab or library or quad or student center and do some work. You can spend just as much time on homework as the kids pulling all-nighters without staying up past midnight. Also, its best if you figure out what bits of your homework you can do where, and always have something quick and easy you can pull out if the opportunity presents itself.
Note: (i)quad: abbr. quarangle club
(ii)pull out:to move away from sth or stop being involved in it
Take one class a semester that isfun -- Usually these can be your general eds or nonmajor requirements. I loved taking a mental break from my major with history or philosophy, for example, and the semesters that I didn't have one of these classes were significantly worse.