The best way to become the topper of the class
“A little organization goes a long way”. Becoming a straight-A student or Topper of the class is not so much about study hacks or brutal cramming sessions. The path toward academic success has a lot to do with disciplined time management, organization, and smart study techniques that focus more on comprehension than straightforward memorization. In today’s article, we will be discussing some of the strategies that real-time top-scoring students use to get the best possible grades and which can be found in a book written by Cal Newport titled “How to Become a Straight-A Student”.
Today we will be covering only some of the initial concepts of the book, the so-called study basics. To keep this article relatively short, I kept out parts 2 and 3, which cover the methods to excel in quizzes and exams and papers and essays, respectively. Since the book is rich in advice for college and studying I highly recommended you explore the rest of the book, and if you want to do it for free.
The first thing you need to consider is a simple equation. Work accomplished equals time spent multiplied by the intensity of focus. If you read our previous articles on how to build the perfect study routine, then you’ve already been acquainted with the concept that studying in short bursts of time in a regular pattern is more important to your information retention than trying to compensate for long periods of procrastinating, with study sessions that last hours.
Effective time management
Effective time management can be achieved in five minutes a day, in a system comprised of a calendar, where you should schedule specific-time events and a list of which you should carry with you at all times. The idea is to use five minutes each morning to write down the list of tasks, you have to complete that day and go through the reminders of yesterday to update your calendar each morning. In that way, you create a self-sustaining time management system that relies on simple tools. Basically, as you plan your day, your page or piece of paper should be divided into two columns – a list for your “today’s” schedule” and a list of “things to remember”.
Today’s schedule should be filled with dedicated time slots assigned for specific classes or tasks. “Things to remember” should be a place where you write down new assignments and tasks that are created during that day and which you need to migrate into your calendar the following morning during your daily five minutes of time management.
The type of tools you use to achieve this system should take into account your preferences and lifestyle; you can either go digital or analog, opt for a more complex planner or a simple piece of paper folded in your pocket. While scheduling tasks during the day you should take into account its priority in your overall list.
Most important tasks should be tackled first, in case they’re not time-specific, and less important tasks should be tackled last. If something goes wrong with those less important tasks, you can always migrate them to a later time. Besides that simple hierarchy of importance, it’s also crucial to leave enough buffer time in each one of your time slots to anticipate mistakes or delays. Even if you excel at time management habits, beating procrastination is still key to allowing you to actually do the stuff.
The book discusses five main strategies that can help you with this:
- 1 –Keep a work progress journal, where you record what you worked on or whether you were able to complete all the required tasks. It’s a habit tracker for your work that relies on a streak method to keep you
- 2 – Eating the right food and the correct amount of water
Eating the right food and the correct amount of water boosts your levels of energy and focus.
- 3 – Making an event out of the worst tasks
This means that you can go to a different place to study, breaking your routine and creating a sense of novelty. It also allows you to block some time in your calendar since you’re going to a different, probably more distant place.
- 4 – Building a routine
Building a routine for daily studying by deciding on which days you will work on specific subjects or topics, at what times, and for how long. As work starts transforming into a habit, it will be easier to convince
yourself to start studying.
- 5 – Choosing the hard days.
This means that when all hell breaks loose, designating a couple of days as “hard days” will isolate time of high-intensity work from other regular work. A couple of tips for scheduling hard days are informing your close friends that you will be going through a hard study period as well as scheduling entertaining or relaxing activities right after you finish all of your work.
Furthermore, straight-A students know when, where, and how long they should be studying. Giving a solid answer to these three questions and sticking with them for a long period of time will improve your study routine, and the more consistent your study routine is, the better your results will be.
While Cal Newport uses many top-scoring students’ feedback to say that early morning is the best time to study, I prefer to recommend whatever schedule your energy levels to be at the highest point, be it at night, morning, or afternoon. Regarding the space where you should study, the overall recommendation is to study in isolation, somewhere that improves your focus, eliminates distractions, and separates leisure from work.
Regarding the question about “how long you should study“, we’ve answered that already in our previous article— no more than one hour at a time, depending on your level of motivation and energy. Even when you are on a roll, it’s important to take regular breaks and remember to keep your study sessions short overall.