How to Become a Straight a Student

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Contents
Cover Page
Title Page
Introduction

Part 1. Study Basics
Step 1 Manage Your Time in Five Minutes a Day
Step 2 Declare War on Procrastination
Step 3 Choose When, Where, and How Long

Part One Cheat Sheet

Part 2. Quizzes and Exams
Step 1 Take Smart Notes
Step 2 Demote Your Assignments
Step 3 Marshal Your Resources
Step 4 Conquer the Material
Step 5 Invest in “Academic Disaster Insurance”
Step 6 Provide “A+” Answers
The Plan in Action
Part Two Cheat Sheet

Part 3. Essays and Papers
Step 1 Target a Titillating Topic
Step 2 Conduct a Thesis-Hunting Expedition
Step 3 Seek a Second Opinion
Step 4 Research like a Machine
Step 5 Craft a Powerful Story
Step 6 Consult Your Expert Panel
Step 7 Write Without the Agony
Step 8 Fix, Don’t Fixate
The Plan in Action
Part Three Cheat Sheet
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Getting in is just the beginning
Copyright Page

Introduction
“My friends always wondered why I was never in the library, but instead in the student center socializing, or at a party, or at an event. They said I made it ‘all look so easy.’” Anna, a straight-A college student

This is not your average college study guide. Unlike the titles next to it on the shelf, none of the advice presented here was devised by professors or self-proclaimed academic skills experts. I promise that you won’t find any mention of the Cornell note-taking method, mental map diagrams, or any other “optimal learning technique” crafted in an office or laboratory—environments far removed from the realities of typical college life.

Instead, this book reveals—for the first time—the study habits used by real straight-A college

students. All of the advice that follows was distilled from a series of interviews I conducted with a large group of top-scoring undergraduates. These participants were drawn predominantly from the Phi Beta Kappa rolls of some of the country’s most rigorous colleges and universities—including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Amherst, and Skidmore—and they were carefully chosen to represent a wide variety of academic concentrations. In each interview, I asked the student to detail his or her study habits. The questions ranged from the general (“How do you defeat the urge to procrastinate?”) to the specific (“What techniques or systems do you use to locate and organize sources for a research paper?”). If the questionnaire revealed the student to be a grind—someone who earns high grades simply by studying an excessive amount—I discarded the responses. I was interested only in students who improved their grades through smarter, more efficient study skills—not through longer hours and more painful study sessions. How did I know such students existed? I am one of them. When I arrived as a freshman at Dartmouth College, I had no idea how to prepare for exams or write college-level papers. Like most students, I left high school believing that to study meant to reread your class notes and assignments as many times as possible and that paper writing required you to sit down in front of your computer and start typing until you finished. The problem, however, is that college is not high school. The material to be mastered is much more complicated and the professors have higher expectations. In the college environment, simple brute force study methods can end up requiring a lot of time and causing a lot of pain. Nevertheless, most students still rely on them. And this is why they find themselves regularly pulling all-nighters and developing an antagonistic attitude toward their courses. The taxing effects and spotty success of these methods also underlie the common belief that only geniuses and grinds can score top grades.

When I first entered college, I shared in these beliefs. But soon I became dubious. It didn’t take long for me to decide that there had to be a better way to learn the material. The results of my studying using simple techniques varied widely—I’d...
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