Cal Newport – How to Become a Straight-A Student

Study Basics:

  • Productivity system: immediate collection of tasks, transfer to calendar next morning, plan day roughly in time blocks
  • be pessimistic while planning, time block conservatively
  • work progress journal: begin day and write down all important scheduled tasks, end day by marking them completed or with an excuse
  • drink water, low caffeine, choose food with long term energy boosts, not short term, dont skip meals
  • isolate yourself and cripple technology to get hard things done
  • build a study routine, 1 hour per day, every day of the week
  • plan hard days in advance, space them out, plan relaxing activities the day before and after hard days
  • best time to study is between waking up and dinner
  • dont study at night
  • bring study materials with throughout the day to fill any opportune free time
  • avoid dorm room/public places during day
  • study in isolation
  • study for 40 mins, break 5 mins

Quizzes + Tests:

  • take cornell notes with question/evidence/conclusion
  • in technical classes record as many sample problems as possible
  • do technical readings after lectures if clarification needed
  • notetaking priority: sample problems + answers, mark confusing parts, record steps of sample problems
  • work on assignments in small chunks every day
  • collaborate on problem sets, review questions before, mark hard ones, work on those in groups
  • solving problems: schedule time to review all problems, try to solve in the most obvious way, move onto something else if stuck and wait for inspiration
  • record solutions formally the first time around
  • building study guide: find out which lectures and readings are pertinent, print out class notes for those lectures, cluster by general topic and label + fasten
  • building problem set: add problem sets given out, homework questions, sample questions from lecture notes, add technical explanation questions
  • memorization aids: flash cards
  • dont organize + study in same day
  • use quiz + recall, feynman technique to study
  • construct practice quizzes for each section in study guide
  • mark questions which were hard to answer, review after, retry marked questions only, repeat
  • dont leave any question marks from lecture notes unanswered
  • scan entire exam first, time block each question, proceed easy to hard
  • outline essays from three or four mini questions

Essays + Papers:

  • choose an interesting topic
  • start with general sources and them follow referenced to find more targeted ideas
  • seek professor’s opinion before finalizing thesis
  • make personal copies of all sources to annotate
  • make a topic level outline with supporting direct quotes from sources
  • consult others opinions on outline before writing
  • write no more than 3-5 pages per day
  • three passes before final draft: (1) make sure arguments are clear, flow is good, fix obvious errors (2) read out loud to fix any unclear explanations or awkward passages (3) go over printed version to fix any formatting or other errors and check overall flow