The Straight-A Method: How to Ace College Courses

Features: Pulling It All TogetherStudy Hacks March 9th. 2009, 5:13pm Last year I introduced The Straight-A Method: a general framework for all of the tactical studying advice that appears in the red book and on this blog. A lot has changed since then, so in this post I describe a new and improved version of this key piece of the Study Hacks canon.

The Straight-A Method The Straight-A Method is supported by four pillars: capture, control, plan, and evolve. Each pillar is associated with a high-level goal you should strive to achieve as a student. Here’s the promise: If you can satisfy these four goals — regardless of what specific strategies or systems you use — you will ace your courses. All of the study advice presented on this blog (i.e., any article in one of the tips categories) and in the red book support one or more of these four pillars. Below I describe each pillar , and provide some sample advice to get you started on the road toward satisfying their goals.

Pillar #1: Capture Y ou must capture, organize, and regularly reviewall of your obligations as a student. This includes both the academic (e.g., test dates and assignment schedules) and the administrative (e.g., application deadlines and demands from extracurricular involvements). Taking stock of everything that’s on your plate can be scary, but it’s also crucial for maintaining control over your life. It provides the foundation needed to build intelligent plans and it eliminates the toxic stress generated by disorganization. Sample advice for accomplishing this goal:
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Getting Things Done for College Students…Made Easy Follow a Sunday Ritual A Time Management System for Students Who Are Terrible at Time Management… How to Stave Off Stress with a Mid-Semester Dash

Pillar #2: Control Control your work schedule. In the short-term: plan each day what hours you’ll dedicate to work and what you will accomplish in these hours. In the long-term: break up large projects into smaller pieces and identify on what days you will work on each. Do not allowany work to exist outside of a carefully considered schedule. There are two types of college students. Those who are battered around by their workload, always jumping from one looming deadline to the next, and those who manhandle their work into smart schedules that allow them to get things done on their own terms. For the sake of your sanity, strive to be one of the latter. Sample advice for accomplishing this goal:
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Don’t Use a Daily To-Do List How to Reduce Stress and Get More Done By Building an Autopilot Schedule Pulverize Large Assignments with the ESS Method The Retreating Deadline Method Choose Y our Hard Days Fixed Schedule Productivity: How I Accomplish a Large Amount of Work in a Small Number of Work Hours How to Use Time Arbitrage to Maximize Your Productivity Profit

Pillar #3: Plan Never “study.” The word is ambiguous and tied up with too many emotional connotations driven by guilt and what you think school work should feel like (e.g., tiring, boring, painful). While you’re at it, never “write a paper” or “do a problem set” or “read an assignment.” These phrases are all too vague! Instead, always follow a concrete plan built around specific actions. When you complete the actions according to the plan you’re done. No more late nights reading and re-reading your notes until you feel like you’ve paid your academic dues. Get specific. Then get it done. Reducing your academic work to a concrete plan made up of concrete actions allows you to streamline and gain efficiency, while avoiding pseudowork and guilt. Sample advice for accomplishing this goal:
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My World Famous Mechanical Exam Prep Process Drizzle Test Preparation Over Many Days Use Technical Explanation Questions When Studying for Technical Classes Use Focused Question Clustes to Study for Multiple Choice Tests Stealth Studying: How to Earn a 4.0 With Only 1.0 Hours of Work How to Ace Calculus How to Solve Hard Problem Sets Without Staying Up All Night

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Rapid Note-Taking with the Morse Code Method How to Use a Flat Outline to Write Outstanding Papers, Fast The Paperback Writer Method

Pillar #4: Evolve No one gets it right the first time. Even the most carefully calibrated set of study habits can quickly strain under the unexpected reality of student life. Embrace this. Constantly reevaluate and tweak your strategies. Keep what works. Throw out what doesn’t. Try something new where an answer is still lacking. After every test, every paper, every major problem set, ask yourself: what worked and what could I do to be better (and faster) the next time around? This Darwinian approach is the structure that makes it all work. In a surprisingly small amount of time you’ll evolve your habits to a place that fits the particular demands of your situation and your personality. This process of evaluation and repair is theonly way to arrive at your perfect system.

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