How to Become a Straight a Student

Cal Newport

Productivity Studying

About the author: Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who writes about the effect of technology on our daily lives and techniques for getting more work done quickly.

How to Become a Straight-A Student is a short guide about the strategies required to succeed at University. It is divided into 3 parts:

Time Management

Step 1: Use a piece of paper to track your time and to-dos during the day. Every morning, write out you schedule for the day in the left column including blocks of time to complete assignments, exercise, hang out with friends etc.

In the right column, write down anything that comes up during the day that you need to remember.

Example day list:


Today’s Schedule Things to Remember
10:00 to 12:00 Econ class Econ study group, Thur. at 9 P.M.
12:00 to 1:00 Lunch with Rob French quiz moved to Friday
2:00 to 1:45 Government reading Laundry
2:00 to 4:00 Government class Start researching summer internship opportunities
4:00 to 5:30 Finish government reading
5:30 to 6:30 Start French essay

Step 2: Declare war on procrastination. Here are several tips for dealing with procrastination:

  1. Drink water constantly
  2. Avoid unhealthy snacks while working. Eat well
  3. Go somewhere committing to start the worst tasks. You are more likely to do what needs to be done if you bus to a coffee shop
  4. Routines are more power full than willpower
  5. Schedule hard days with lots of work in advance. Tell your friends for accountability. Don’t do too many back-to-back

Step 3: Choose When, Where, and How Long.

Quizzes and Exams

Step 1: Take Smart Notes.

Step 2: Demote Your Assignments

Step 3: Marshall Your Resources:

Step 4: Conquer the Material

Step 5: Invest in “Academic Disaster Insurance”

Step 6: Provide A+ Answers

Essays and Papers

Step 1: Target a Titillating Topic

Step 2: Conduct a Theses-Hunting Expedition

Step 3: Seek a Second Opinion

Step 4: Research like a Machine (Research Papers)

  1. Find both general and specific sources. Use your university’s research databases. Don’t be afraid to ask the librarian.
  2. Make a photocopy or printout of all relevant material. Make sure to label each photocopy with citation information and copy the source’s bibliography.
  3. Annotate the Material. Skim through the material and make brief notes with page numbers. Don’t bother copying the evidence the author uses to justify their arguments.
  4. Decide if you’re done. If you have at least two good sources for critical topics and one good source for nonessential topics, then you’re good to go.

Step 5: Craft a Powerful Story

Step 6: Consult Your Expert Panel

Step 7: Write Without the Agony

Step 8: Fix, Don’t Fixate

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