How to Become a Straight-A Student

The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less
by Cal Newport | 224 pages

Cal Newport is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Dartmouth who went on to MIT for his Ph.D. and is now a Professor at Georgetown. In this book, Cal shares the top ideas he gleaned from interviews with non-grind Phi Beta Kappa members at elite schools across the country. They had to perform well AND they had to achieve those results without grinding away. Their practices, although discovered independently, reflect the same wisdom shared in the science books. It’s great to see the overlap. Big Ideas: pseudo-work vs. real work (and a secret formula), conquering procrastination, when/where/how long should you study?, #1 way to learn (and #1 trap), the importance of spacing out your work and the power to choose your future via excellent grades.


“While most college students toil arduously through the study and paper-writing processes, there exists an elite group of undergrads who have discovered unconventional strategies for earning much higher grades in much less time. I wanted to share these secrets with other students, and thus the idea for this book was born. …

In the pages that follow, you will discover the details of these often surprising study strategies. I’ve included examples and case studies throughout the book to demonstrate how to apply the advice in many different real-life academic situations. You will learn how to:

  • Manage your time and deal with the urge to procrastinate.
  • Take targeted notes in class.
  • Handle reading assignments and problem sets with ease.
  • Prepare efficiently for exams.
  • Master the art of exam-taking.
  • Write incisive critical analysis essays.
  • Write standout term papers.”

~ Cal Newport from How to Become a Straight-A Student

I read this book as part of my prep for Learning 101.

I love Cal and his work. Check out our Notes on a couple other great books he’s written: So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work.

This one is a great complement to a few other great books on learning: Make It Stick, How We Learn and A Mind for Numbers (of course, check out those Notes).

While those books provide some great perspectives on the learning process from leading cognitive scientists, a journalist, and a math teacher, respectively, this one is all about how top performing college students master the learning (and testing/writing!) process of college.

Cal shares the top ideas he gleaned from interviews with non-grind Phi Beta Kappa members at elite schools across the country. They had to perform well AND they had to achieve those results without grinding away. Their practices, although discovered independently, reflect the same wisdom shared in the science books. It’s great to see the overlap.

Although I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA without grinding, I absolutely wish I had read this book while still in college. If you’re in college/heading to college/have a kid en route/etc., I HIGHLY recommend you check this out. (Get the book here.)

With that, I’m excited to share some of my favorite Ideas so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author

Authors

Cal Newport

Author and Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University.