How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

Category: Success
Author: Cal Newport
This Month Reddit 8


by GrowthMagnified   2019-11-17

by burst200   2019-11-17

I abided by these two books, and had a satisfactory result:

How to be a Straight A Student by Cal Newport. It's not free, so I had to get creative in getting access.

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less). It's a free book by the productivity/college blogger and YouTuber Thomas Frank.

It's just a shame that I discovered this later in college. They would have helped tone down the anxiety associated with wanting to earn good grades. Now I send this to everyone I know who is starting with college.

by robottosama   2019-11-17

It's late, and I kind of skimmed, but here are some thoughts.

  • If you are getting overwhelmed by a backlog, you need to either learn to ignore it (set a daily limit and consider it a success when you finish them), or prevent the backlog from happening by setting appropriate intervals or controlling how many "new" cards you start at a time.

  • I can't imagine typing in vocab items. It's probably slowing you down by a factor of 10, and just isn't worth it.

  • Anki is not ideal for learning facts for the first time, and is not designed for it. It might very well be better to start with paper flashcards or a two column list to familiarize yourself with new words, and only use Anki for getting them into long-term memory. Personally, I don't mind "failing" new cards repeatedly, so I skipped that step sometimes.

  • > Once you get to a certain point (around 100 cards), start filtering well-known, older cards into an "infrequent practice" deck which you only review every three days. Sooner or later the infrequent practice deck will probably spawn a "very infrequent practice" deck, but I haven't gotten to this point yet.

This is spaced repetition. What Anki does is optimizing this process to minimize the number of repetitions per item over the long term, which becomes vital as the size of your deck grows.

  • > Anki ... its biggest advantage is in overcoming the organizational/logistic limits of 3x5s, and you can probably overcome that with sufficient organization.

Nope, no way. You can't keep track of thousands of paper cards. You can't travel with them. You can't search for a card by its content. You can't label them and fish up a set of related cards instantly. You can't reformat them instantly.

Basically, there are good and bad ways to use Anki, and these issues have been discussed to death on the internet. Not only that, but there are probably differences in preferences with things like language learning and SRS, and some things that work well for some people just won't for others. There's enough here to suggest that you are probably causing yourself unnecessary problems with Anki. I can speak from experience that I've had times when Anki worked extremely well for me and times when it didn't, and the distinguishing factor was that in the latter I was over-complicating things or overwhelming myself unnecessarily.

Sidenote: a while back I had a little box from White Rabbit Press with colored dividers. The idea was to use it for simple spaced repetition of small batches of their Kanji flashcards. Another thing some people like are ring-bound mini vocab cards, though those are not good for spaced repetition.

Personally, I'd keep using simple lists if that works for you. In fact, if you create your lists as a spreadsheet, you can print them to learn, and then export as a CSV file to get them into Anki. You can even shuffle and reprint them if you feel like you need an extra "learning" round.

Final thought: I cannot take the paper notes vs laptop thing seriously. This requires a lot of explaining, but the gist of it is:

  1. The phenomenon seems to have to do with attention, so if you take notes in a mindful manner, processing and rewording rather than transcribing, etc., the effect should evaporate. Needless to say, this would be extraordinarily hard to test experimentally.
  2. Electronic notes have numerous advantages, not the least of which is that you can edit and reorganize them after the fact in a way that is completely impractical with paper notes. This alone negates any advantage that paper notes might have.
  3. Taking notes is not the end of the learning process; it's the beginning. For details, read Cal Newport's How to Become a Straight-A Student. If you are doing the things that you need to do to really learn something, whether you took notes on paper or on a computer is not going to matter.
by UWcs   2019-07-21

Notes from my own experience (mostly from CS, not math, but hopefully transferrable):

  • Learn the basics before the quarter starts. Once you know which classes you're taking, get a list of the content to study, any textbooks, past assignments, youtube tutorials, whatever, and learn enough that you can do the most basic problems for each section of the material. Learning takes time, and having the basics of all of the material already mastered will mean you can learn the fine details very quickly. If there are any things that you can't self-teach, make a note and ask about them the moment they come up in the actual lectures.
  • When doing homeworks, make sure you're not working blindly–you should have always solved a similar problem before (with knowledge of the correct answer) if possible. Also, make sure to actually read the assignment requirements, and (if the requirements are long/poorly written) make some sort of requirements-checklist you can go through to make sure you're not missing any easy points. Whenever you're stuck or uncertain about something during homework, make a note of it and run through that list of questions at office hours or after lecture. Try to do the mindless "setup" part for your assignments day-of-release (i.e. filling out as many "obvious" components as possible with TODOs for the hard parts, and testing the naive approach to understand why the remaining parts are hard) so that your brain has as much time as possible to process and work through the difficult parts.
  • For exams, do practice exams, but (while you're doing them) figure out the system for handling each type of question, make sure your system works on the practice exams and has sanity checks built-in, and make sure you can do the system on autopilot without having to think too hard.
  • Also for exams, learn how to memorize factual knowledge (if you don't already). At the very least read; if you have more time watch through or related material. I've found this more useful in non-STEM classes, but in general it's worthwhile to memorize anything that you will need when doing homeworks or exams, since it's much faster than looking stuff up.
  • For studying (both prior to and during the course), don't do anything that is known to be ineffective. See or the associated book for a basic understanding of what works and what doesn't, and (you can find it on libgen) for a list of different techniques that follow those rules (plus some organizational stuff). Basics: get enough sleep, space studying out over time, don't waste time on rote memorization (it's by far the slowest and least reliable method), and instead use some method that forces you to actively produce the material from memory.
  • For organization, use some sort of system that lets you a) not forget stuff entirely and b) be warned of upcoming work before there's a crisis. The Cal Newport book linked above has a pretty good system that uses a central calendar and a sheet of paper per day, but you could also go full GTD if you want.
by monkensteinxstupido   2019-07-21

by beingisdoing   2019-07-21

If you want work in physics, a PhD is usually a prerequisite. Go for it. You can finish your undergrad in 4-5 years and your PhD in 5 if you hustle. Keep in mind that you don't pay for a PhD program in physics. The school actually pays you to teach. That's how it is at major research universities, anyway. And many PhD candidates actually start families during this time. You'll just have to suck it up financially for a bit.

So yes, it is completely possible. However, you mentioned "a wife to support." If she is relying solely on your income, then that won't fly. I'm not here to question your relationship arrangement, but fuck that. lol. She should understand and get a job to help out, if she isn't already. And if she is working, great!

Other than that, I suggest that if you do make the decision to go forth, you do it with a fervent commitment to excellence in the discipline. You need to get after it and not fuck around. I mean, have fun and be lighthearted in your study, but be focused. You also need to aim high. Do not sell yourself short. You aim for a MIT PhD or CalTech, whatever. You do what has to be done. Maintain a disciplined and balanced lifestyle and be honest with yourself. Prioritize sleep, study, and exercise. Have a good diet and social life.

I recommend the following books by Cal Newport:

  • How to Become a Straight-A Student

  • How to Win At College

  • Deep Work

You have a lot of doubt and it shows. You need to erase that, make a commitment, and just get after it. You won't be happy otherwise. The work you do will be work, and it will take patience and perseverance. But you will be pursuing what you really want. Waking up every morning will be easy when that's the case. Don't settle.

by otterpro   2017-08-19
The article was brief and had some good advice, and it sets the issue straight of having priority of school over other activities. School is a full-time job and spending 40 hours/week should be expected. A lot of the advice are also just common sense.

I also strongly recommend Cal Newport's book "How to Become a Straight-A Student" ( I've read a lot of books on studying in college, but I think this one really is one of the best way to study.