1. Take Hard Classes
You're paying good money for an education, make sure you get one. There will be classes that are required for your major, of course, but you will have a fair number of electives as well. Don't take classes simply to accrue credits. Take the classes that really teach you something.
Be passionate about learning.
I once had an advisor that said to me when I expressed fear of a difficult class, "Do you want to get an education or not?"
2. Show Up, Every Time
Make your classes your highest priority.
If you've got children, I understand that this isn't always possible. Children should always come first. But if you don't show up for your classes, you're not getting that education we discussed in No. 1.
Make sure you've got a good plan for seeing that your children are cared for when you're scheduled to be in class, and when you need to study. It really is possible to raise children while you're going to school. People do it every day.
3. Sit in the Front Row
If you happen to be shy, sitting in the front row can be very uncomfortable at first, but I promise you, it's one of the best ways to pay attention to everything being taught. You can hear better. You can see everything on the board without having to crane your neck around the head in front of you.
You can make eye contact with the professor. Don't underestimate the power of this. If your teacher knows you're really listening and that you care about what you're learning, he or she will be extra willing to help you. Besides, it'll feel like you've got your own private teacher.
Ask questions immediately if you don't understand something. If you're in the front row and have been making eye contact, your instructor probably already knows by the look on your face that you don't understand something. A polite raising of your hand is all you need to do to indicate you've got a question.
If it isn't appropriate to interrupt, make a quick note of your question so you don't forget, and ask later.
Having said this, don't make a pest of yourself. Nobody wants to hear you ask a question every 10 minutes. If you're completely lost, make an appointment to see your teacher after class.
Carve out a place at home that is your study space. If you've got a family around you, make sure everyone understands that when you're in that space, you're not to be interrupted unless the house is on fire.
Create a space that helps you make the most of your study time. Do you need absolute quiet or do you prefer to have loud music playing? Do you like working at the kitchen table in the midst of everything or do you a quiet room with the door shut? Know your own style and create the space you need.
Update! Research shows that varying your study space improves memory: 3 Ways to Improve Memory While Studying
6. Do All the Work, Plus More
Do your homework. Read the assigned pages, and then some. Plug your topic into the Internet, grab another book at the library, and see what else you can learn about the subject.
Turn your work in on time. If extra credit work is offered, do that too.
I know this takes time, but it'll ensure you really know your stuff. And that's why you're going to school. Right?
While you're studying, pay attention to the material you know will be on a test and write a quick practice question. Start a new document on your laptop and add questions as you think of them.
When you're ready to study for a test, you'll have a practice test ready. Brilliant.
8. Form or Join a Study Group
A lot of people study better with others. If that's you, form a study group in your class or join one that's already organized.
There are lots of benefits to studying in a group. You have to be organized. You can't procrastinate. You have to really understand something to be able to explain it out loud to someone else. Grace Fleming, About.com's Guide to Homework and Study Tips, has a great article on Study Groups.
I don't know about you, but if I had a separate calendar for work, school and life, I'd be a complete mess. When everything in your life is on one calendar, in one planner, you can't double-book anything. You know, like an important test and a dinner with your boss. The test trumps, by the way.
Get a great calendar or planner with enough room for several daily entries. Keep it with you at all times.
One of the best things you can do to improve your entire life, not just school, is meditate. Fifteen minutes a day is all you need to feel calm, centered and confident. If you don't know how, here's an easy way to learn: How to Meditate.
Meditate any time, but 15 minutes before you study, 15 minutes before class, 15 minutes before a test, and you'll be amazed at how well you can perform as a student.