Thought I'd try and give back to the WSO community by sharing "10 Tips" on how to maximize your undergraduate GPA. I've noticed that the phrase "get a high GPA" is mentioned in almost every thread discussing recruitment, getting into banking, how to improve, etc., but there isn't much discussion regarding how to go about getting a high GPA.
Obviously these tips won't be applicable to everyone, and grading metrics/systems differ greatly between schools. Some of you may find these helpful, and some of you may not. That said, I've found the following (in no particular order) to be crucial in helping me maintain a ~3.95 (top 0.5%) at a "Public Ivy" majoring in Accounting with a minor in English. These "tips" don't substitute for working hard, being intelligent, and all that other jazz, but they might help you squeeze an extra 0.1 or 0.2 out of your GPA, which, in today's world, can make all the difference when it comes to getting an interview or getting into a top MBA.
1. Go to office hours, even if you don't need to. Whether you need help or actually want to talk to the professor or not, go to office hours. If you're on the border between two grades, the professor is much more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if he/she knows you personally. There have been classes where, just looking solely at my scores on assignments/tests, I deserved a 3.8, maybe a 3.9, but ended up getting a 4.0. I believe it's because I took the time to get to know the professor. Even though most grading systems are curved, there is usually a bit of discretion for professors to award extra points (or simply a higher grade) to students that show "improvement" or "initiative." You have nothing to lose by going to office hours, so take 10 minutes every other week or so and stop by. You never know - it may get you the grade you want/need (besides the numerous other benefits not related to GPA).
2. Don't take classes in the order everyone else is taking them. At my school, many classes are "suggested" to be taken in a certain order, and it's not surprising that the vast majority of students take classes in this suggested order. If you're on a curved grading system (judged relative to the performance of your peers), you want to make sure you're not in a class with too many gunners. Given that most people take classes in the suggested order, chances are it will be more difficult to differentiate yourself if you do so as well. I've found classes taken in the "off-season" (i.e. out of order) to be, on average, less competitive for those 3.9-4.0 grades.
3. Don't take difficult classes when you have other things going on. This is kind of a given, but it's surprising how many people compartmentalize their academic and extracurricular/personal life and end up taking their most difficult classes during a term where they have a lot of other obligations fighting for their attention. If you know in advance that you're going to have a lot going on (i.e. recruiting season), take some easy classes or get general requirements out of the way.
4. Challenge your grades. At the undergraduate level, most of your assignments and exams are going to be graded by TAs, and the grading will often be inconsistent from TA-to-TA and with the professor's expectations (trust me, I know - I'm a TA). If you feel that the grade you got on an assignment is not indicative of the quality of your work, bring it to the professor's attention. Don't send a lengthy e-mail to the professor; schedule a time to meet with him or her, bring a copy of the work, and attach a written memo detailing your argument so that he/she can reference it after your discussion. It's much more credible and persuasive to point out specific things you believe were mis-graded by the TAs than to simply say "I deserve better than the grade I got."
5. Read the directions. Twice. Yeah, this isn't elementary school, but it's always surprising to me when people miss points on a test or assignment because they misread the directions. Whether you're taking an exam or writing a paper, make sure your answer(s) directly address the question being asked. Having a great answer doesn't matter if you answer the wrong question. Personally, I go through and underline/circle key parts of questions on an exam, then once I've done the problem, I read back through the question to make sure my answer has addressed everything being asked.
6. Use all the time on exams, even if you don't need it. I always stay until the last minute and check my work, even if it means going through the test for a third time. 9/10 times I find something within the last 5-15 minutes that I hadn't caught previously. Don't just skim through your work - literally go through and redo the test in as much detail as you can. If you find one error, it's worth the time. Even if you don't find an error, you can walk out feeling confident in your answers because you had the time to double check them for accuracy.
7. Pick up the slack. If you're in an undergraduate business school, chances are you'll have to do a lot of group projects (yeah, they suck). No matter whether groups are assigned or you get to pick, you're going to eventually be paired with individuals who don't do shit. If that's the case, complaining about it and/or doing nothing isn't going to help you. Suck it up and pick up their slack; literally, just do their work. Chances are you'll do it better than them anyways. The professor isn't going to care that one or two of your group members were lazy when assigning the entire group a grade - they're going to grade based on the quality of the deliverable. If you can make the deliverable better, even if it means doing double duty, do it.
8. Go to class, actually. Yeah, going to class usually sucks, but is there really a better use of that time? Even if you feel like you know the material, just go. I've had countless classes where the professor tells a story or two in class and a question(s) about those stories come up on exams. If you weren't in class, it doesn't matter how well you know the material if you didn't hear the story. Does the story have anything to do with your expertise/education? Probably not. Does it have anything to do with your GPA? Definitely. Besides providing a leg up on those who don't go to class, chances are if you go to office hours (like mentioned in #1) and attend regularly, the professor will notice (or, at least, they'll notice if you continuously don't show up, which could hurt you).
9. Choose professors wisely, and don't rely on RateMyProfessor (RMP). RMP has, for the most part, two types of reviews on it: people who hated or loved the professor. They're two extreme ends, and you're unlikely to get the full story using just RMP. Most universities have you fill out course/professor evaluations, and all that data is available somewhere - go and find it. My school has a course evaluation catalog (CEC) available online that numerically details several aspects of the class/professor based on feedback from everyone. If you don't know how to find your school's CEC, ask around. The data can help you make sure you pick a good professor (which, in turn, should help you get a better grade).
10. Be organized. I'm sure we've all had the occasional hiccup where we forget an assignment is due and end up getting a zero. Unfortunately, that zero can sometimes make a difference in your grade. Stay organized and make sure you don't forget about any assignments or important dates. Personally, I use (and love) the iPhone app "iStudiez Pro." It's specifically for college students and I usually load my assignment/class calendar into it during the first week of classes. Whatever method you choose, stay organized and constantly double check whether something is due to the next day. Nothing is worse than losing points because you simply forgot. Not to mention this is good practice for "the real world."
I hope the above tips are helpful. Please feel free to comment/critique. Hopefully with the input of others this thread can be a valuable resource for students trying to get as high a GPA as possible.