good grades without studying?

I’ve never been a person to study a lot, and I’ve never run into problems because of that. Throughout my entire school life I’ve always had people bullying me for having so much free time, as they saw me being online or playing video games whilst they themselves were busy doing their homework or preparing for tests and exam.
I feel like this has a lot to do with our school system as well. For most subjects during middle school, we only had 20 minute long tests every couple of weeks, all of which were asking for you to only repeat what had already been discussed in classes. For maths class as well as all my language courses (I took english, german, latin and french language, and let me just say, I shouldn’t have) we had one to two 45 minute long tests per semester. For language subjects, these tests had a part where you were supposed to write a text, as well as a couple of grammar exercises.
On my way to the A-levels this changed for all subjects to one to two exams for which we had between 90 and 180 minutes of time each, dropping the grammar and multiple choice parts, so we only had to write texts, apart from maths and physics class, obviously.
But still, I didn’t study much, and I was one of the students with the most free time as well as the best grades in exams. Doesn’t sound like that could work out? Let me show you how I did it.

Language subjects always were the easiest for me, even though those probably were the ones I studied for most - otherwise I wouldn’t be fluent in two languages, almost accent-free in both of them. But I didn’t study in the way other people would study - I never learned words by heart, I can’t name most of the rules grammar follows because I simply never looked at those, but I still can articulate myself properly and get my point across.
I learned languages by using them. I was raised bilingual, seeing both languages as equal. That did eventually cause problems as I was having trouble telling both languages apart around age 5, and I also had to see a speech therapist as I was messing around with a few sounds I couldn’t get right, but I got all of those issues sorted out by time. Essentially, growing up with two languages allowed me to have a stable base I could build on. Compared to other students, I had huge advantages for one language and minor disadvantages in the second, but that’s just how it is.
My writing improved heavily as I was writing a lot in both languages. I started bigger projects such as a story that took me about 260,000 words to finish, and that boosted my grades massively for all subjects, since in the end, writing texts was roundabout all we did for exams. But I also started talking to people over the internet. I was messaging people from overseas almost every single day over the course of about a year, talking about a variety of topics, ranging from law over medicine to physics and chemistry, paired with regular small talk. Yes, I had to look up quite some words in the beginning, but they sneaked their way into my brain as I was using them more and more frequently. I wouldn’t consider that studying - as I was talking to friends or writing stories for my own fun, but I still managed to get a much better control over both languages. I developed a feeling for grammar rather than learning rules by heart.

But that doesn’t help if you need to understand phenomenons of physics or if you have to know about a country’s history. This is where my minimum of studying took place, and by minimum I really mean minimum.
My number one priority was to pay attention in classes. Listen to what the teacher says, try to understand their explanations, ask questions, participate. Once you understand the topic you don’t have to learn all of it by heart, you just need to remember a few bits as the rest comes to your mind since you actually understand what you’re thinking or talking about. Understanding what you need to study takes a lot of time out of the studying part of school.
Another thing to help things stay in your head is to after each and every lesson think about what the most important things you learned that day were. Repeat the most important aspects - that’s what I used my breaks for.
Next up is the thing you probably don’t want to hear, but - do your homework! I know it is annoying and seems like a complete waste of time, but it isn’t. It helps you repeat what you learned, thus making it easier for you to remember. Homework is basically training for exams - those calculations you were given are probably very similar to those you will encounter in your next exam, so just do them! Homework usually doesn’t take too much time if you’ve paid attention in classes. I noticed that most teachers already tell you what you need to know for doing your homework, so it’s basically just a repetition of the lesson at home. Sometimes teachers might decide to let you look into a new topic on your own by giving you homework you will have to do some (or a lot of) research for. If you spend that hour of informing yourself, you can use your newly gained knowledge in the next lesson. Raise your hand, tell your teachers what you know - you’re graded for that as well.
Most days I did my homework during the bus ride home or during breaks. If I didn’t have it finished by the time I got home, I sat down and did it immediately. Why so? When you come out of school, there’s still a slight bit of concentration and the studying feeling left, and it’s always hard to motivate yourself to do something in the evenings after procrastinating the entire afternoon. I liked getting my homework out of the way asap so that I had free afternoons I could spend however I wanted to. Playing video games, talking to friends, writing stories, making music - I had quite some time-consuming hobbies, but it all worked out quite nicely in the end.

Just on a side note - playing an instrument is said to help you establish connections between neurons faster, thus helping you learn more quickly. That might have added to my concept as well, though I’m not certain to what degree.

Also, everyone learns differently. I learn most effectively by reading or seeing things. Talking to people about what I have to study, watching videos or just reading essays helped me to keep things in my head, but everyone has their own way, and that’s what you need to find. My way most certainly won’t work for everyone, it’s just here to give you an idea of how you can incorporate studying better into your everyday life without having to cut down on time for hobbies and friends.

Feel free to share your own way of studying in the comments down below! I’d love to know how other people approach their studies. There’s always new things to learn!