Bsc Physics, Sapienza University of Rome
Honestly, I think it depends a lot on what you are studying: I know a lot of people who are studying business at renowned universities where grades are inflated and graduate with a 4.0. Nonetheless at my particular university, in my physics cohort of 400+ students, 100-ish left after the first year, and there was only a guy who achieved a 4.0 for every semester.
I personally achieved a 4.0 in 2 semesters, averaging a 3.8 - 3.7 in the others and I can tell you what I did differently in those 4.0 semesters:
I studied every single day, not even a day out (first day of lessons included), at least from 3 pm to 9 pm.
I did A LOT of practice exercises: I finished all the practice books and wrote down every exercise I struggled with. Every month I would go back doing all those exercises in the list until I could solve them all.
I paid attention to the smallest details: I knew extremely well even those parts of the program the professor didn’t stress too much on.
I always attended lectures: now I’m not such a huge fan of lectures, because I think that for the written part of the exam (the hard core maths / physics exercises) what matters most is how much you practice alone. BUT for the oral part of the exam (we had 2 parts: the written test and the oral part where they asked you about theorems, etc), having attended lectures makes a significant difference, mostly because professors like to hear things in the way they know and/or taught them. And if you study from a book things will be similar, but not necessarily exposed in the same way.
In general I can tell you that to obtain a 4.0 you have to be obsessed with time management and with getting a 4.0. You have to do every thing hunting that 4.0: e.g. you don’t understand something, even a little detail? You don’t skip it: you sit back and dive into it as long as it takes to understand it.
Oh, and those semesters where those when I had a total commitment to university, sacrificing all the extracurriculars (I only kept to go to the gym 3 times a week), studying saturday night too.
One last thing, that mustn’t become an excuse, but that is equally important: LUCK plays a huge role. There were times where I knew everything perfectly but I managed badly my anxiety during the exam or made a mistake out of distraction on some basic algebra and I did poorly, while others I had skipped a whole chapter and I still got an A.
But the main thing that I believe should prevent you from getting to fixated on a 4.0 is that it’s a pursuit that deprives you from the pleasure of learning things for the sake of curiosity: everything becomes something to master just to get a high grade…and I think that college is more than this!
Nonetheless I know, probably because I am myself (or at least I like to think so), that there are people who want something as badly as they want to breathe, they have a goal and they want to get there no matter the obstacles or the competition. They will hunt the 4.0 and you won’t beat them, even if you are more talented, because they (we) will do whatever it takes to be at the top. Some people, those who will reach the top, are fueled by a tremendous desire to succeed: they won’t enjoy the ride, they will just chase the goal, and once there, they will set a higher one. Because it’s how they are born.