How to Become a Straight-A Student: Book Overview

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Become a Straight-A Student" by Cal Newport. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the book How to Become a Straight-A Student about? What are the main takeaways of the book?

In How to Become a Straight-A Student, Cal Newport gives tips for studying as a college student. His techniques can help you ace your tests and pass courses with the best grades possible.

Read below for a brief overview of the book How to Become a Straight-A Student.

How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport

Getting good grades in college opens up your world: It can help you get into better graduate schools and even get better jobs. But how do you do well in college? Most students assume they must study endlessly to do well. However, in the book How to Become a Straight-A Student, professor and productivity expert Cal Newport argues that there’s a better way: With the right study techniques, you can ace your college courses with just a few hours of studying each day.

How is this possible? Newport explains that the key is focusing intently. According to him, most students aren’t intensely focused when they study; rather, their attention wanders towards other things—like the cute girl in the library or the TV in the background. However, if you focus intently on your studies, you get much more done and can finish studying much faster. 

But on a college campus full of distractions, how do you focus on what matters—and what should you do during these focused spurts? In his book, Newport first discusses how to focus by planning your day effectively and actually working when you say you will. Then, he discusses what to focus on; in other words, the step-by-step study systems Newport names for getting good grades on your tests and papers.

How to Take Control of Your Schedule

It’s easy to say you’ll focus; it’s a lot harder to do it when you’re constantly fighting the temptation to not study and play video games instead. Here, Newport explains how to plan your day effectively so you can fit in all your studying. Then, you’ll learn Newport’s tips for overcoming procrastination so you actually study when you say you will.

Newport contends that if you want to do well in college, you must plan your day effectively. Why does this matter? If you don’t have a plan, your brain is constantly distracted by incomplete tasks so you can’t give your assignments your full attention. In contrast, when you have a plan, you forget about these other tasks and can concentrate on the task at hand—whether that’s editing your paper or enjoying lunch with a friend.

How to Ace Your Tests

You’ve learned when to study, but how should you study? Specifically, how do you ensure that you do well on every quiz and test? Here, you’ll learn what to do—both outside of and during exam periods—to get the best grades possible on all your exams.

How to Study Outside of Exam Periods

Newport contends that if you want to get good grades, you must go to all your classes throughout the school year—not just when you have an exam. By doing so, you’ll gain a better understanding of the material and thus spend less time outside of class studying for your tests. (Shortform note: Despite Newport’s contention that attending lectures helps you learn, many students skip class because they don’t think the lectures are helpful.) 

How to Take Tests

With all the preparation you’ve done, you’re now ready to follow Newport’s strategies for taking the test efficiently and acing the exam. Once you receive the exam, first read all the questions to gain an idea of what the exam will be like. Then, subtract 10 minutes from the total exam time and divide the remainder by the number of questions to determine how long you should spend on each question.

How to Write Good Essays

In addition to exams, essays often make up a large portion of your grades in college. So how do you write an essay that’s thoughtful and engaging—without spending days suffering in the library? The last portion of Newport’s book How to Become a Straight-A Student gives strategies for essays that require original research. Then, he discusses how to apply these steps to writing what he calls critical analysis essays.

How to Become a Straight-A Student: Book Overview

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Cal Newport's "How to Become a Straight-A Student" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full How to Become a Straight-A Student summary:

  • How to ace your college courses with just a few hours of studying each day
  • How to combat procrastination and write better papers
  • Study methods to prepare for different types of exams

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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