video icon
Videos on how to study with the techniques W. S. Emara used through high school and refined at Columbia University.

Leveraging Your Competitive Edge

by W. Sam Emara

There’s no doubt that there are many great teachers, and that it is the most underpaid profession.  But as a result of the limited resources given to our educators there are certain realities about the profession that being aware of will give you a competitive advantage over your peers.

With thirty students in each class and a number of classes a day, busy teachers may never get to really know all of their students, this combined with pressure to mitigate grade inflation makes it easy for a student to get lost in the crowd’s mediocrity.

This is why I strongly advise being vigilant early on about your scores and missing points, to reinforce in your teacher’s mind that you will not settle for being the 85% student by default, particularly in less quantitative assessments.  I remember getting a nine out of ten on a simple Global History homework assignment where we were asked to answer the End of Chapter questions.  It really just meant scanning the chapter for the emboldened words that were always in the sentence that directly answered one of those questions.  I knew I answered every question correctly, so after class I asked my teacher why I got a nine instead of a ten out of ten.  He said he would look at it, and the next day I got it back with the added ten percent.  The fact is that teachers can develop a preconceived notion of what type of student you are, and they don’t always read 100% of everyone’s assignments.  Being vigilant about every point will trigger in your teacher’s brain a more considerate approach to evaluating an assignment with your name on it.

Every point counts. I recommend using a third-party to advocate on your behalf to avoid looking naggy. Being aware of your scores will drive home the point that you will not settle for being another way to flatten your teacher’s bell curve.  Just as the majority of students tend to fall into the anonymity under the bell curve where there is a preconception of a mediocre grade, there is for a select few students the presumption of a high grade, or at least a more objective approach to grading each assignment.  Taking parent–teacher conference seriously and coming prepared with questions like: “up until this point in the term, where am I grade-wise?” and “what specifically accounts for these missing percentage points?” will put you among those few students.

In a classroom with twenty to thirty students it’s not easy to standout.  But there are ways to rise above average grades.  Use the presentation of your work to brand yourself as the interested committed student.  Start typing up all of your homework, always chose a unique title and cover page for written assignments, I’ve spent half an hour cutting a couple pieces of cardboard and taping them together to form the hardcover of a poetry project for English class.  We did a quick unit on Shakespeare’s Macbeth in high school where the class was divided into small groups to perform sections of the play in front of the rest of the class.  Even though we were allowed to read from the book, I spent an hour the night before and a half an hour on the train to school memorizing my lines.  So, while everyone read directly from the text, I had a group member turn down the lights while I lit a candle to blow out when I got to the line, “out, out brief candle.”  These are all very small investments with very large returns.  And cutting cardboard while watching TV, printing something in color, making an otherwise boring class presentation humorous and memorable are all easy ways to be remembered as an exceptional student.  Showing pride in your work will elevate your standing in the class, and on some level validates your teacher’s efforts, it can even substitute for a degree of subpar content on this or future assignments.

The best case scenario is that you are naturally interested in every aspect of the classes you’re taking and being an 'A' student is just a byproduct of that.  Realistically, that will never be the case.  But, you may find that by implementing some of these tips and really applying yourself, you’ll begin to love watching your scores improve, as evidence of your strategic efforts.

Leverage that in which you have a comparative advantage.  Let’s say you’re not the best math student, but you’re much more comfortable in English class, try to capitalize on your strengths in one class to support your efforts in another.  So when that gung-ho girl in your math class gets to the board before you when your teacher asks someone to “explain” how to solve a problem, and merely writes down a number, I would say something like, “I think what she’s trying to say is…” and then give a brief explanation.  This benefits my peers because I clarified why that was the correct solution in terms everyone could understand, it was good for me in that it demonstrates a command of the subject matter indicative of being able to put it into my own words, as well as because it undercut my classmate’s math skills with my communication skills.  I can tell it resonated with the teacher especially when she uses language like, “could you repeat the last thing you said for the class”.  Another example of enhancing your performance in one subject with the skills of another is a student who is not at ease writing poetry, but is a distinguished artist.  In this case illustrating your poetry for English class could be a good idea for hedging your grade.  Always use what you have an aptitude for to gain a competitive advantage.


NYC Lab School
Chosen by his High School teachers to tutor peers.
W. S. Emara tutors New York City students from K–12 in-person, and online via skype video calls for those outside NYC.
New York University Medical Center Microbiology Research Laboratory
Design and perform experiments in infectious disease as a member of the lab group of Department of Medicine Chairman Martin J. Blaser, MD.
Recieved email:
Accepted into Columbia University
Continued to tutor students and conduct research as a premed biology major.
Publishes article on microbiology research
click to read
Emara Academic Solutions™
Returned to NYC to continue his tutoring practice.
Friedrich-Engels Gymnasium Senftenberg, Deutschland
Taught English to students from grades 9 to 12 in German High School.

Revitalized English department, streamlining the ambitions of the students and the requirements of standardized testing into a contemporary curriculum.
Internship in Building Community
Facilitated the livelihood of students enrolled in Columbia University’s High School Summer Program as a Resident Advisor.

Coordinated and supervised extracurricular activities for students throughout NYC.


Larisa F.
(tutored regularly from September ’05 to June ’08 in Math and Chemistry)
"I walk into a session not even knowing how to start a type of problem, and I leave able to solve any version of it."
Dan B.
(a Writing client in January’09)
"He’s just so good at it… he’s like a machine, you give him a writing prompt and out comes an A paper."
Ben T.
(tutored regularly from August ’06 to June ’07 in Math and then College Admissions Essay Writing)
"[W. S. Emara] was involved and interested in my success. While other tutors I’ve had were impersonal time-watchers, my Emara Academic Solutions sessions wouldn’t even start until after some time talking with the family."
Ina R.
(mother of two students tutored in English in ’07)
“Besides the immediate results of higher English grades, the more striking results were long-term. Both of my children became more engaged students that take pride in their work raising scores in more than just English class.”