Study Hacks Blog Posts from March, 2009 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

4 Weeks to a 4.0: Adopt an Autopilot Schedule and a Sunday Ritual

March 30th, 2009 · 29 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 1Time to Change

This is the first post in a new four-part series I’m calling 4 Weeks to a 4.0. Each Monday, for the next month, I’ll be posting a new weekly assignment. I can’t guarantee that you’ll immediately earn a 4.0 if you finish all four assignments, but your grades will definitely improve and your stress will definitely plummet. If you want to overhaul your study habits, but feel overwhelmed by all the changes this requires, then this series is for you. Your first assignment, presented below, covers some scheduling basics.

Week 1 Assignment: Autopilots and Rituals

The goal of this first week’s assignment is to help you reclaim your schedule. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll start small with two easy ideas: starting an autopilot schedule and initiating a Sunday ritual. Your assignment for this week is to adopt these strategies, which I detail below.

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What the Hell is Study Hacks?

March 27th, 2009 · 55 comments

The Study Hacks Philosophy

It occured to me recently that I should write a short post that explains what Study Hacks is all about — something I can point people to when they stumble, for the first time, into our quirky little world of note-taking strategies and rants about focus. So here we go…

The purpose of Study Hacks is clear: to help students succeed without stress.

My philosophy for achieving this goal can be reduced to three simple rules:

  • Do fewer things.
  • Do them better.
  • Know why you’re doing them.

All of the important advice on this site circles back to these same three themes. Folks, I’ve been obsessing over this stuff for years. Trust me, this is what works.

Some Notes…

If you stick around here long enough, you’ll learn that I have an obsession with simplicity. I hate the warped understanding of impressiveness that leads students to try to do many, many things.

I think the happiest, most successful students know why they are at college, and they believe this answer. They also tend to do very little, but the small amount of things they do, they do exceptionally well. They recognize that in the end, the world rewards those who are so good they can’t be ignored. By contrast, we forget about the burnt out triple-major who joined 10 clubs to show leadership and managed to earn a 3.9 without ever once impressing a professor.

I applaud the student who adopts a balanced and reasonable courseload, and leaves enough free time in his schedule that he can saturate himself in the material — letting it get inside his head and stew for a while; the type of student who tolerates a little boredom as the price you pay for doing stuff well.

I think studying is an art and should be taken seriously. (I even wrote a whole book about this.) Most students are terrible at studying. The best students, however, are like scholastic maestros: their methods for note-taking, reviewing, and paperwriting are magical in their efficiency.

I have a weird obsession with reducing e-mail (even though I don’t get much).

I harbor an inexplicable hostility towards business majors.

And I have an extremely low threshold for labelling something a “method.”

These are the ideas that drive Study Hacks. It’s not for everyone. But for some of us, it just seems to make a hell of a lot of sense.

How to Go From College to an Extraordinary Life (and Bank Account)

March 24th, 2009 · 23 comments

Meet RamitRamit Sethi

My friend Ramit Sethi lives an extraordinary life. Like me, he graduated college in 2004. While a student he consulted for big companies, and then, after graduating, co-founded a hot technology start-up and launched a writing career. Today, his full time job is running the web site I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which offers no-bullshit personal finance advice for young people.

His path is a great example of lifestyle-centric planning. He knew what he wanted his life to be like — flexible, financially sound, engaging, based in a big city — and then started making moves to make it happen.

Learn From the Master

I’m telling you about Ramit for two reasons. First, his new book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, was just published. I review it later in this post, but let me give you a spoiler: buy this book if you want to save a lot of stress in your life over the next 10 years.

Second, Ramit and I recorded an hour-long podcast about his story and his advice for students looking to go from college to an extraordinary life. Among other topics, we cover a simple trick for guaranteeing admission to graduate school, cultivating great mentors, picking work that matters, and dominating your peers.

Here’s our offer: if you buy Ramit’s new book within the next 48 hours and forward your Amazon receipt to, he’ll send you a link for downloading this interview.

My full review of his book continues below…

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Do College Students Need Laptops in the Age of Netbooks?

March 17th, 2009 · 29 comments

The Zen LaptopHp Mini

In the current issue of Wired magazine, Clive Thompson gushes over the rapid rise of the netbook: inexpensive, low-powered, small laptops optimized for simple tasks like web surfing. Clive compares the existing PC industry to “a car company selling SUVs,” noting that they have been pushing “absurdly powerful machines” even though most consumers just need something that gets them to the grocery store.

For some people, the full power of a desktop or laptop is crucial. For example, those who edit movies or play high-end games. But for most college students, these needs aren’t relevant. In fact, 99% of what we do is writing, e-mailing, and web-surfing with the occasional romp through the land of Powerpoint: exactly what a netbook is optimized to perform. And unlike a full-powered laptop, a netbook costs only $300 – $400 and has a battery that can last over six hours per charge.

After mulling these facts I began to ask myself an interesting question: Do colleges students need a laptop in the age of netbooks?

I spent the last month putting this question to the test.

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Some Thoughts On Grad School

March 12th, 2009 · 78 comments

The End is Near(ish)Graduate Student Lounge

As my final year as a PhD student continues its unnerving hurtle forward, I thought it would be nice to reflect on my grad school experience. Below are a collection of ideas, warnings, regrets, and assorted lessons I’ve accrued over my time so far at MIT.

Some of this advice I follow. Some I only wish I followed. All of it, I hope, is more or less true.

Thought #1: Research Trumps All

This is the master thought that most of the other thoughts support. The job of a graduate student is to learn how to do professional-quality research. At the end of your grad school experience you will be judged by the quality and quantity of the research. And that’s basically it. Remind yourself of this truth often. If you’re not making progress on your research, then radically rethink your scheduling priorities.

Thought #1.5: Don’t Let Courses and Quals Distract You From Thought #1

Don’t get too caught up in your courses or qualification exams. Study smart. Do good work. But remember, this isn’t college, and doing well academically is merely a prerequisite for being a successful graduate student — it’s far from the ultimate goal. Keep coming back to your research as priority #1.

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The Straight-A Method: How to Ace College Courses

March 9th, 2009 · 46 comments

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

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.

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How NOT to Prepare for the LSAT

March 3rd, 2009 · 19 comments

Hacking Law School AdmissionsSATs

I receive a fair number of e-mails asking me about law school admissions. I’m the first to admit that these queries falls outside of my expertise. With this in mind, I asked my friend Steve Schwartz, who runs the popular LSAT Blog, to offer up his best advice for smart LSAT preparation. Specifically, I got him to list ten common mistakes students make while preparing for this dreaded exam, and then offer tips on what you should do instead.

Without further ado, here are Steve’s ten things not to do while preparing for the LSAT…

10. Take a cookie-cutter LSAT prep course when you’re aiming for a 165+ score.
Many prep courses are taught by instructors who haven’t even scored above 165 on a real LSAT themselves. First pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses through self-study, then seek out an expert to help you perfect your technique.

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