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A Look Inside the Process of One of the World’s Most Efficient Studiers (calnewport.com)
176 points by ph0rque 1478 days ago | 79 comments



If you're lucky enough to be able to sit in a class taking notes and basically "get" the course material, when it comes to studying the necessary formulas, there's a quick and easy study tactic that requires about a single hour prior to testing. Basically, condense all your notes [formulas only, or concise examples] into a single page front [maybe back] and then read the page--over and over until the class starts. Receive the exam, flip over to the back page or ask for note paper [assuming they provide it] and regurgitate what you read back on to the paper. It takes about ten minutes. Then, take the test, referencing your notes as needed. I like to call it memory dumping, I've known lots of people who do similar but have there own names for it.

The crux of this tactic is that you actually understand how to apply formulas, so it of course presupposes you know the material.

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I made condensed notes for a few courses, but the act of creating them was key, not the resulting few sheets of paper. I wouldn't write any results down until I could derive them myself (within reason). And writing them by hand, rather than typing/latex. Somehow, I can understand something much better if I'm reading my own script than a print-out, even if the content is identical.

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When giving a written test on some theory subject, I sometimes let students take in their own hand-written notes on one side of an A5-sized piece of paper, then hand it in with their test. If students are going to sneak in a piece of paper stuck up their sleeve, then why not let them all?

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The claims that the article documents "one of the world's most efficient studiers" is very bizarre.

He studied 3.5 hrs studying for an exam, not counting any of the time studying the subject in the weeks and months before the exam. That sounds pretty normal. He's not saying he studied 3.5 hrs during the whole semester total and aced the course as a result.

I typically spent 0-15 minutes studying for exams because I was already prepared, always got A or A+ and usually the top score in the class at a renowned program at a top university.

I did well because most the students were not interested in design or engineering and were there because their parents wanted them to study it. These other students (by which I mean asians) would do things like get ahold of the test in advance (cheating) and get together and try to figure out the answers. But they were mostly clueless because they thought cheating would overcome their failure to meaningfully study during the semester. Cheating made their academics much worse because it was a crutch they relied upon rather than bothering to do the necessary work. But the poor results of the cheaters distorted the curve and made it relatively simple for others to get an A: it's not as if I got perfect scores. I remember one class I got something like 20% and that was the highest score in the class. Yeah, it was a difficult test, as it should have been, after all this was engineering school.

Me, I did the projects and read the assignments. Before the exam here are things you should do:

1. Do not study or think about the topic at all.

2. Drink a glass of wine the night before.

3. Go to bed early and get at least 9 hrs sleep.

This assumes you have been keeping up. If you have not been keeping up, cramming won't do squat for you except make you tired and do worse than you would have from just getting some sleep and guessing on the test.

The only studying specifically for a test I would do is to casually flip through my notes a few minutes before the test, where I'd have notes in the margins about things that were easy to get mixed up and such stuff that I had specific problems with. These things I had already spent time mastering in the months or weeks leading up to the exam, I obviously don't bother trying to learn anything for the first time at this point, that's just silly.

One last tip - don't care about grades at all. If you care about grades you'll be motivated to get high grades, which means you'll be drawn to cheat and then you'll end up not actually knowing anything in reality. By not giving a rat's ass what grades you get, you have no motivation whatsoever to get involved in cheating clubs and groups, and will study what you want when you want, and you'll do great.

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These other students (by which I mean asians) would do things like get ahold of the test in advance (cheating) and get together and try to figure out the answers.

Wow, I feel sorry for any honest, hard-working asian who's ever crossed your path.

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I'm asian, and my method of studying is the similar to the one in the article. But a couple of months ago, to my horror, my own father advised me to use that tactic. (trying to figure out the exam answers in advance using previous exams)

I still keep to my method, but I don't think any discrimination was intended from the grandparent post. It's fairly common for non-passionate people to try to achieve good results without putting in effort to learn the subject. It's a question of whether you value time or learning more.

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There is nothing wrong with using previous exams to study for an exam. They are a source of good questions. In fact the article mentions using a test exam! It's the teacher's fault for being lazy about reusing test questions. Many student societies keep a filing cabinet of old exams and I've seen books of old exams published. How about all those SAT prep courses???

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"trying to figure out the exam answers in advance using previous exams"

What is wrong with this? My university provides the last six years worth of final exams for every subject, and sometimes the lecturers give you worked solutions for one or two of them. We will often work in groups to come up with solutions so we can practice with them and make sure we've got methods right.

The questions on the exam you take are often completely new (or altered versions of past questions, depending on the lecturer), so it's not cheating at all. But old exams are great practice to make sure you know enough of the formulas and equations to be able to solve the type of questions you will be asked.

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His description fits what I saw in computer science: Westerners worked as individuals, Chinese and Indian students formed groups that coded as teams, a method which, at the time, was clearly considered cheating by the faculty. Perhaps today it is more acceptable.

A former roommate who graduated from one of the best, if not the best, Indian school opened my eyes to the rampant cheating that goes on in those hallowed halls. His class was apparently legendary for their cheating. Nonetheless he was a charming and extremely competent individual who, in an alien environment, when the chips were down and there were no Indian classmates to "cooperate" with, hit the books hard and earned his Masters degree admirably.

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Great advice. However, it seems like a (false) generalization to say that all Asians cheat.

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You are absolutely correct, I should have phrased it better regarding the cheating. My observation was that the organized cheating groups were populated exclusively by asian students. These were the ones that were highly systematized and had repeatable means of obtaining mid terms and finals in advance of the test. I knew about them because as the highest scorer on most tests, I would routinely get invited to join them since I would be able to find the correct answer to the questions. I always declined. It's not true that all asians were members of these groups, and it's also true that white students cheated, but just not in such organized and efficient ways. One thing I discovered was that the existence of the organized groups was a cultural phenomenon. I learned that western style Lone Wolf models of accomplishment are considered inefficient ways to do things. Cooperating and sharing information with one's group is more desirable. Subterfuge, such as getting ahold of a test before the exam, is not considered dishonest at all. But copying from someone else's paper during the actual test is considered dishonest and not done at all. At my school these were nearly all immigrant students and first generation immigrants who had at least some personal upbringing with schools in China and Korea. (Japan I don't know about, I don't recall any Japanese immigrant students in my program.) Anyway the result would be that they would do better on tests than students who did no studying or reading or projects at all, but not as well as those of us who studied and didn't "cheat". For an engineering, sciences, or maths degree, I do believe you have to put in the time. It's not sufficient just to learn the ways that specific problems are worked out.

This is a really difficult thing to discuss because "the cheaters were all asians" sounds disparaging and is impossible to explain fully without elaborate explanation. Subtleties in particular are that it's not considered cheating by the students that do it, but rather is considered smart studying and efficient use of time. Because of this it doesn't indicate dishonesty. As a parallel, consider the industrialization of Japan and China, much of which has depended on copying western designs, industrial espionage, and then, in the long run, often making the process more efficient by taking in feedback from workers at all levels collaborating to improve the overall system (which is perhaps a strength they have that the west doesn't as much). Westerners first faced with these methods have sometimes exclaimed "they are stealing our designs" and "they are cheating", but in the east, copying things makes more sense than reinventing the wheel. However, there are advantages to reinventing the wheel, as one learns about things on a deeper level when inventing it from scratch or first principles rather than simply copying a preexisting method.

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Amazing. I'm having a flash back to 1987 when I was taking a computing science 150 course at Coquitlam College - predominately Asian students (Hong Kong) at the time and a significant part of the class already had the exam. They, somehow, had determined that our instructor also taught at BCIT, and, had managed to acquire the exam he used their.

Lo and behold, when the exam was presented, I realized that I'd already seen it, and went to the instructor to let him know.

I'd never really thought that this was a cultural thing, but, in hindsight, it was astonishingly well organized...

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It may appear well-organized, but it only takes one clever cookie to figure out the instructor was reusing exams. And that person was just too impressed with himself not to let others know. Let's not underestimate the ingenuity of cmpt students! Perhaps the cultural thing was a hacker thing not an asian thing. Just saying you have to be careful of hindsight. What if the class was not full of Asian students? You wouldn't be mentioning this flashback at all then.

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I don't like to defend what smells of blatant racism, but it makes more sense if you divide the generalisation into the following:

* Students who are taking a course due to societal pressure, rather than genuine interest, are more likely to cheat.

* Asians are more likely to be taking a course due to societal pressure, rather than genuine interest.

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I'm sure neither of you intended to come off as racist here, but I'm not sure this helped...how is assuming that Asians have no genuine interests (read: that they're unmotivated and don't think for themselves) any better than assuming they're cheaters?

I do agree with the rest of the original comment though, this Scott guy sounds like a run-of-the-mill smart person who ended up at a mediocre school, not "one of the world's most efficient studiers." I'm sure 80% of the students at MIT, Stanford, etc would do just as well at his school. Very surprised this made the front page.

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By genuine interest I mean interest in the course. They may have genuine interest in art history, but are taking the computing course because of pressure from parents.

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It's really terrible how now the assumption is that the asian students cheated when it seems they were only practicing with previous exams.

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It's a slippery slope from generalization to prejudice to racism. Each little step "makes sense" and is innocuous enough. We take many little steps and then we wind up far away from where we started off with.

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I've found that this works great when you're sincerely interested in the class but not as well otherwise. I did this for Pattern Recognition, arguably the hardest class I took, with great success. However, for classes like Materials and Fluid Dynamics, which I was much less interested in, it didn't work so well. This is likely due to the fact that I didn't stay as on top of things due to a lack of interest in those classes and had to compensate for it near the end.

I definitely agree with you on the "don't care about grades" issue. The reason you go to school shouldn't be to get a high score but rather to learn and better yourself.

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I've been doing the wine thing with success for years. Always gives me 9 hours of sleep.

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Cal Newport here points to the example of Scott Young, so then I was curious to look up Scott Young and to figure out where he went to university. He writes, "Popular discussion asks whether college is worth the money and time. I can’t say for sure. I went to a mid-tier, public Canadian university, with tuition around $5000 per year and leaving with no student debt, so my experience may be atypical."

http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/tag/university/

I can't say whether or not his study strategies would work as well at a university that is not a "mid-tier, public Canadian university," or whether a student might have to study a lot harder at, say, MIT or the Indian Institute of Technology. Indeed, especially not knowing the exact name of the university from what I have looked up thus far, I have trouble knowing what the admission requirements are at Scott Young's university.

I have to fully agree with Scott Young's advice, "Befriend Exchange Students." That's a great way to learn about the world before accumulating enough money to travel widely.

A question for Cal Newport: how do we know that Scott Young is "one of the world’s most efficient studiers" if we don't know how challenging the courses are at his university? After edit: I see that Young writes, "This is perhaps my only regret in university is that I weighed interest too much over challenge in selecting my major."

http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/tag/university/

Maybe some people who take more challenging majors are studying just as efficiently as Young did even if they take more hours per week to study their major courses.

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Canadian universities don't really have entrance requirements, and they have a very low workload. If you have an 80% average, you can get into most Canadian schools for most programs. The 1st year honors mechanics course at Cornell is more work than an entire semester's work at in 1st year Canadian university. Cornell's 1st year Engineering Chemistry course covered more than 4x the material covered in 1st year chem at Queen's University in Canada (the course has since been removed).

But you'll have to realize that even between top American schools, course load and marking differs. My friend went to Oxford from Cornell, with a bunch of students from other top American schools for some program. I remember him saying how he partied all day while the others were complaining it was so hard. He described it like this: "At Oxford, if you're asked whether you'd rather do a problem set or get beaten by a stick, you'd take the problem set. At Cornell... you'd definitely take a moment to consider." I don't want to get into grade inflations/deflations here though. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to know.

Canadian universities also take 90% as the general A+. When he says he's getting an A+, it means he's getting somewhere between 90 and 100%. I don't think I can emphasize well enough, how easy this is. For one Human Resources exam, I studied 30 minutes the night before after getting drunk, and wrote the exam the next morning hung over. I got a 94%. That's the only reading/studying I ever did for that class. This isn't unique to this university either.

I personally usually just need to read, listen, or work through something once to get it, depending on what the material is. However, his methods make logical sense I guess.

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The "one time" you got a high grade on an exam after a night of drinking isn't reason enough to denigrate the Canadian post secondary system. Undergraduate studies for the reasonably intelligent are easy. Everywhere. There's some variance. But it's not much.

If you don't believe me, take a look at all the free courses available on the web(MIT especially). The courses are not exceptional or exceptionally rigourous. Pretty standard undergrad fare.

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I have no experience with Canadian undergraduate business education, which is what the author of the article appears to be taking, but I don't doubt that it's less challenging than engineering. Canadian engineering programs have higher entrance standards than this, and are accredited by a national authority for engineering education. And we still had to work fairly hard, especially in the fundamental Computer Engineering courses, even though they are less challenging than courses at MIT.

However, Canadian schools are also not generally the elite institutions that the Ivy League+MIT+Stanford are either. The top Canadian universities are public institutions with larger undergraduate populations that to a reasonable extent serve regional demand and need, rather than attracting the best from across the land (with some exceptions). A more reasonable comparison might be agaisnt some of the top 10 to top 30 public schools in the US, instead of MIT or Cornell or Oxford.

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true, but also, these schools are more than adequate to equip a society to function

the top-tier universities of united states cater to the top 1% of the world, have incredible research records, nobels, etc... yet by almost any measure, the US itself as a nation is beginning to fall behind canada on per-capita measures of wealth, education, longevity, and happiness. this isn't that astonishing, the US is also falling behind many scandinavian nations with apparently unknown universities

remember last week's nba final? the "superstars" lost.

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And where is Canada in per-capita measures of wealth when compared to Luxemburg?

In my opinion, the United States is the modern Rome, though , of course, way more powerful and advanced than Rome ever was, and will be so for the foreseeable future.

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You must have went to my University haha.

I had the same Study plan as you (I never once read a book or had to purchase one--hello "Xbox and booze monies!!!")and I did quite well.

I'm interested in hearing how much you actually retained from any of your courses--honestly I remember very little, and it's a testament of how bad the University system has become. I basically strove for a piece of paper and the benefits that came with it. The quest for knowledge seems to have taken a page out of a World of Warcraft quest--Skip over everything you read, do remedial task, then get reward.

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> Canadian universities don't really have entrance requirements, and they have a very low workload

i'm fascinated that all universities in the nation of canada have low workloads, regardless of program, and that you have been able to measure this against other institutions

but you already make it clear that you are extending this generalization from one anecdote about one chem class at two universities

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I didn't mean to offend anyone, and I actually do have more experience in this than I really should. I can compare across several institutions, but I suppose I am not covering all my ground, and spoke a little hastily.

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According to his Linkedin Profile (http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/scott-h-young/1/ab2/867), he attends University of Manitoba.

I imagine UoM isn't as competitive as top universities in Ontario/BC & McGill.

His newsletter still is pretty damn good though, some pretty good content despite the sales pitches for his seminars/programs.

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Totally agree that his strategies are the key to mastering material in some types of course - but, it does suggest you have sufficient IQ in the first place to do things like "Learn it the first time, understand associations, etc..."

It should be noted, though, that there is a large array of course where pattern association and critical thinking aren't going to help you that much.

My Psyc180 Brain and Behavior course was basically identifying and recalling an ungodly number of neuro chemical pathways and elements. Anatomy 101 (which I did not take) enjoyed a week or three of "Let's learn what the 200+ Human bones are. Great, now we move onto muscles." And, I didn't even want to think about what it would be like to subject myself to the ultimate pain that Organic Chemistry is. I would _love_ to hear of a human being that can get through Organic Chemistry courses without the requisite X hours outside of class per hour of lecture. (For a 13 week semester consisting of 3 hours/week, that would typically suggest 80-120 hours of studying for the 39 hours of in-class time) - I've seen that course knock out many a pre-med candidate who decided that maybe this wasn't where they wanted to go in life.

Even more interesting would be to find a human who could simply cram all that information in the week before the final without having studied outside of class.

But - overall, great study suggestions for courses of a particular type.

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My O. Chem I/II wasn't that hard. I do think that in some ways the course parallels CS 101 education.

Students that don't have an intuitive grasp for 3D logic are lost early on and have trouble keeping up. Chirality is something you either "get" or you don't--and that understanding is based on logic that is developed at an early age. Is there really an effective way to teach people how to manipulate stereogenic centers of molecules in their head if they haven't been rotating mental pictures in their mind from a young age? I don't think that stick figures and plastic models help much.

One of the most important investments early on is practicing switching between the various projections of molecules. My professor always tried to trip us up by giving us deceptive encodings of molecules and we had precious little time to convert them.

There are maybe 50 reactions throughout O.Chem I/II that you have to "memorize". Grouping them by functionality helps, but ultimately they all mostly follow the same consistent inner logic--just follow the movement of the electrons. It's all rule-based! Take time to perhaps practice synthesis and retrosynthesis as they require you to mentally traverse chemical space quickly. (Kind of like BFS where the edges are chemical reactions. Heuristic: note substructures to cut down the search space.)

Reading IR, H/C13 NMR, and MS isn't that difficult and takes maybe a weekend to learn all of the intricacies. Once you can read them, just use careful tallying and logic to determine the molecular structures of unknowns from spectra.

I would highly recommend these courses to a CS major looking for an elective or two as a means of really getting to know the chemical makeup of the world. (Maybe they can pull you into doing computational chemistry!) The courses are a fun logical exercise, and the labs are great!

I have yet to take advanced organic, but from what I understand it is much more math-intensive. MO theory, etc.

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I must disagree with the Organic Chemistry bit. I took advanced organic chem as an elective in college and I absolutely loved it. Yes there are a lot of different reactions, and there is some memorization involved, but there is a very beautiful theory unifying so many diverse reactions and the focus was always on understanding the reasoning why and how those particular reactions occur (reaction mechanisms). Once you knew the basic facts, then solving problems involved a lot of deductive reasoning (in positing new mechanisms) and creativity (in building new compounds using known reactions).

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It's possible that your college had a different focus in Organic Chemistry that involved less memorization, and more conceptualization?

Here is one typical text for Organic Chemistry: http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Chemistry-Paula-Yurkanis-Bruic...

Roughly the same as yours?

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i agree. my organic chemistry course in college was great. i attribute it largely to the fact that we used morrison and boyd as a textbook - they take great pains to present organic chemistry as a cohesive whole, with a solid structure built up step by step, rather than a hodgepodge of memorised reactions.

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Reminds me of Feynman's story about "a map of the cat":

http://books.google.com/books?id=7papZR4oVssC&pg=PA72#v=...

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Yeah, the article's method is very close to what I use for my computer science courses, in which I do very well. But I do a lot worse when applying the same technique to my Mandarin classes - despite all the people who've tried creative methods to learning Chinese characters, rote memorization is pretty much the only way to go. (However, using spaced repetition techniques can still help make memorization much more energy-efficient).

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Everybody studies differently.

When I was an undergrad my strategy was as follows:

a) Never do any "study" during the semester. (Go to lectures, take notes, do any required assignments, but that's it.)

b) When stu-vac rolls around (a week before the exams start), write a set of really nice summaries of everything you learned in each course, based on your notes and textbook.

c) Print out these summaries and... well, probably never look at them. It's the act of writing the summary that's useful.

But that's me. It might not work for someone else. I can't possibly comprehend the idea of staying up all night studying before a test -- how can there possibly be twelve hours' worth of material to study?

Also I was studying physics and maths, both of which are mostly about understanding rather than memorization. Put me in an anatomy class and I might well fail horribly.

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"... well, probably never look at them. It's the act of writing the summary that's useful."

Very true. I'd say that writing out by hand works best, as opposed to typing it though.

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To each his own. I personally found that the painful process of typing all my equations into Microsoft Equation Editor caused me to concentrate on them in a way that simply scrawling them down doesn't.

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I don't know anything about Scott Young but this article makes me pretty skeptical that he is "One of the World's Most Efficient Studiers."

His notes on the exam: "draw a timeline", "check the cpp" and comments in section two: "bonds are paid semi annually", EAR > quoted rate etc betray a very easy/ introductory finance class.

Furthermore, according to tokenadult he is at a "mid-tier Canadian university." There are only three or four good business schools in Canada and in my mind there is no way that 50% of the class attending any of them would have failed this exam. In my opinion it was either an easy class that lots of people failed because he's at a mediocre school or he's lying about the failure rate.

I suspect that anyone studying engineering/cs or who has any sort of quantitative ability would have had no trouble attending the classes, doing the readings and then prepping for 90 minutes and doing well on this exam.

Finally, I don't think this is novel at all. The idea that memorization takes longer than understanding a concept in a general form should be no surprise to anyone who's ever crammed for an exam of this sort. And really, he just attended the classes, did the readings, took notes and then reviewed what he'd already learned - theres nothing ultra time efficient about this at all.

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I did an unpublished survey of my med school classmates, got a decent response rate, about 70-80% as a I recall. I asked how much time they spent on about 30 or so study habits, and then some demographics. One of the demographic questions was "which quintile of the class do you think you're in?"

So, not exactly awesome methods, but some promising leads. There was a lot "meh" in the middle, but, in order

1) review and condense your notes the week before the exam is the single best thing you can do

2) go to class, read the book, and make one set of notes (eg: take notes on the reading, then add targeted bits during lecture, or vise versa)

3) Do the assigned homework. Or, in the case of medical school, do a lot of question books and understand the answers (question banks are the staple of medical school, which is a whole 'nother post). Add what you learn to your notes.

3) If you can't go to class, listen to the podcast, but taking notes is critical, and whatever you do,

35) don't take notes on a computer. Perhaps partially due to WiFi access, going to class and typing notes was the worst idea you could have, actually worse than

33) listening to the podcast without taking notes and

34) going to class and not taking notes at all).

I also found there was a skew in the bell curve: completely innocent, one might expect people to evenly distribute among the quintiles, but there seemed to be a skew, which has been repeated in other studies: the top students slightly under-rate themselves, but the bottom students significantly over-rate their abilities, so there's a huge bulge in the middle, but it leans to toward over-confidence.

Applying Bloom's taxonomy(1), there seems to be a tactile-kinetic element to note-taking, and there's critical thinking involved in choosing what to write down, because you can't just transcribe the lecture and the book. There's further synthetic thinking when you try to merge class and book notes, and there is further synthesis when you build those notes into that a pre-test crib sheet.

If I were designing school from the ground up, lectures would be 20 minutes.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blooms_Taxonomy

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the top students slightly under-rate themselves, but the bottom students significantly over-rate their abilities,

Sounds like what you would expect from the Dunning-Kruger effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect)

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Check out the Dunning-Kruger effect on Wikipedia for an interesting explanation which also confirms your observation of students' self-ratings. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Dunning-Kruge...

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I hate to sound like a hopeless optimist, but am I the only one that is a bit disheartened by the focus on studying/acing an exam, rather than actually, I don't know, learning something? As in, a focus on grades distracts students from the real point of an education.

I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't even be at university if you're not foaming at the mouth to acquire the knowledge. Sure, there are classes that you won't enjoy regardless, but tactics to beat them should be an exception, not the rule.

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I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't even be at university if you're not foaming at the mouth to acquire the knowledge.

In principle, I agree. In practice, when a college degree is a de facto requirement for a decent job, you're going to have lots of people there for reasons other than the purity of learning.

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And even those who are in there primarily because they want to learn will be very aware that getting a good grade in the exam will most likely improve their job prospects on graduating.

Learning to ace an exam in the minimum time possible frees up the rest of your time to do some actually useful learning.

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But how would you quantify the amount of learning that you've actually retained? Would it not be through some sort of question-answer based system on the material that you've covered, and using a weighted scale for each question depending on the difficulty of the question and how you applied the concepts?

As much as I enjoy learning about computers and circuits in class, how would I actually know I understood how they all interact with each other something without testing myself?

Acing an exam easily is a pretty good indication that you've learned the subject material fairly well.

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I've aced a fair amount of exams in my lifetime, and knowing what I know now about "knowing", learning and understanding, acing a majority of those exams were in fact a TERRIBLE indication of the amount (and quality) of learning that had taken place. For example, all those A's in my electromagnetism and thermodynamics courses, or calc courses -- completely unwarranted. I would say about 95% of it was mindless memorization of formulas and the application of the formulas mostly through the usage of algebra. Testing/performing on deeper conceptual understanding = virtually non-existant (which I can easily prove to myself by the lack of understanding I have at the moment when I actually try to apply the concepts).

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Agreed, there potentially is a need for some sort of "test" as to whether or not you learned the information. I'm just not sure if the standard question:answer format is really the best solution. Some form of essay or project seems like it would be more effective, to me.

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If it was Quantum Mechanics, or at least Calculus, I'd be somewhat impressed. But Corporate Finance... The 50% pass rate and repeat failures probably evidence the proportion of students who take that class without understanding basic Algebra first.

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This is one of the best articles on the subject of rapid learning that I've seen in years. The point about knowing is being able to teach is particularly important. It's great if you have a patient friend or partner who is willing to listen to your half-baked explanations qua explorations of a new subject; just be willing to honestly answer that you don't know if your listener poses a question that had not occurred to you. Even alone, visualizing yourself teaching or applying an idea is a very powerful technique.

Don't be afraid of moving slowly through dense material, even if that leads to multiple reinventions of the wheel during study. There are few things more satisfying than contemplating an idea, observing a problem or question arising from it, and developing your own solution - followed by finding that same issue examined in a subsequent page or lecture. Sure, you could have just kept reading and had the answer handed to you on a plate, but that's much less memorable.

The practice exam is just as important, though. You're probably familiar with the saying 'an engineer is someone who can do for ten cents what any fool can do for a dollar.' Learning is an enjoyable experience for smart and curious people, but without putting pressure on oneself to reproduce the information learned the practice can be self-indulgent, and in that case the material is not remembered as well as it might be otherwise. If we think of learning as a sort of knowledge engineering, then we can also think of time as the cost constraint that sets the skilled professional apart from the amateur. Constraints force compromises, and learning how to make efficient compromises is extremely important. Perfectionism is a luxury that few of us can afford.

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Am I alone in thinking that -- whatever their merit, generally -- these techniques will be far less effective in mathematics courses? You could write out a one page note compression for, say, calculus, but then still be unable to solve word problems or proofs unless you had also spent a lot of practice solving them.

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I agree, and it's the same for all the engineering courses I have done. I could explain almost all of the concepts for a lot of my courses with hardly any study, but 90% of the exams I do are (essentially) just solving problems, and being prepared for that often takes a lot of practice in my experience.

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To be clear, although only 3.5 hours were spent studying for the test, many hours were spent learning the course.

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The time spent learning the course would still have been spent, had one not used this special method of revision. Still a good point, though. The idea that one can magically learn for an exam in three hours or so is sadly not true...

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> The time spent learning the course would still have been spent, had one not used this special method of revision

Not necessarily true. He specifically lists learning and understanding concepts as they were taught as a part of his strategy (his principle #1). I adopted pretty much the opposite principle - not putting in too much effort during the term and learning it all at the end. So I would presumably have put in far fewer hours during the course than he did. So comparing my total revision time to his would not be a fair comparison.

Incidentally, this wasn't a deliberate strategy of mine, it's just how I liked to do things, but I think maybe having the full content of the course before I started serious learning may have been a benefit.

I also spent a lot less time on revision than many of my peers, so I don't think learning during the course is necessarily a prerequisite for minimising time spend revising.

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This is very good for learning (and then using) knowledge quickly/in a short time frame. This is basically how I worked when at university.

However, my siblings don't work this way... they take a long time and work quite hard when it comes to learning. That is not to say that they are slow or unintelligent. In retrospect I envy them a bit. I can put on the illusion of being brilliant since I can pick something up in a few minutes... but ask me a year from now and I'll probably need to repeat that process. However, they are in medicine, so as ghshephard suggested, the effectiveness of this technique could vary widely by domain. If you take a long time to carefully understand the fundamentals of the human body, you probably won't need to learn too much more about it later. Not to say that you won't need to keep on up current practices, but you also don't need to deal with the "API for kidney function" changing anytime soon.

Also, I agree with the connection/analog process for quick learning and application, but you can only stack so many analogies before you're living in your own self-constructed world.

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The thing he didn't mention is will-power / the ability to focus / capacity for thinking. I think the vast majority of students fail to pay attention in class, but even when they do, they fail to think hard about the concepts being presented. I see it in myself, when trying to grapple with a new concept, it's so easy to say to yourself 'just give up' and turn your attention elsewhere. Especially since you can tell yourself that your diverting your attention to something equally valuable (eg. reading the next page of the book, or listening to the next part of the lecture).

It's easy to mentally pat-yourself-on-the-back for doing X hours of studying, much harder to confront your cognitive limits by trying to integrate a new concept on the spot (as opposed to picking it up gradually through practice and experience).

Another thing to note though is that if you develop the self-discipline to hit the library for hours on end every day, that self-discipline will arguably serve you better in life than the A-A+ average you might have gained with better study techniques.

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I would like to see these methods applied specifically for a CS course.

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This is, in a nutshell, how to be mediocre at stuff.

It's a bit pointless going to college and spending 4 of the best years of your life doing stuff you aren't interested enough in to devote yourself to.

In fact, you could argue college itself isn't the best use of those 4 years.

I'm thankful for people like this because they leave all the outlier spots (best spots that offer the most rewards (financial, satisfaction, recognition, etc.)) to people willing to pick something they love and willing to work hard as hell at it.

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This is very cool.

But, to be honest, I’m not that impressed. I can’t recall ever studying more than 3 hours for a test (usually about 2 hours) and just graduated an Ivy League college with an ~A average.

Now I did usually start studying 2 weeks or so in advance in multiple 20 minute sessions. I did so because last minute cramming doesn't work for me, but it did result in high grades with not so much total time spent.

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Lovely, now try scoring an A average at a top engineering university without studying all day everyday for the duration.

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I did that. Computer Engineering at Purdue. The only classes I ever studied for were the ones that I didn't pay attention to in lecture. I never took notes (this drove my teachers crazy in high school). There were only a few classes in which I got less than an A-, and only one of those was an ECE class (statistics; I couldn't make myself pay attention). All I did was go to lecture and do the assignments.

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Your college? Your major? (Yes, I already checked your HN profile.) I'm curious about how your experience compares to the experience of Scott Young reported in Cal Newport's blog.

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For me:

1. Select the right course. Course with a lot of fact details to remember forget them, for instance, history, business law, biology, geography. Do calculation based course, typical a good foundation in maths is required.

2. Choose the right lecturers. Some lecturers you just wouldn't be scoring an A off of. It's not you, it's them. "These nitwits didn't even comment their code right; there I'm taking 5%". <-- Avoid. You generally look for someone who grade is skewing to the high percentage and is normally distributed[avoid bimodal distribution] . For your cores course you might not be able to avoid such lecturers, but kill your optional courses.

3. Go to every class.

4. Take notes at every class.

5. Clarify anything you don't know right there and then. Think to yourself that if you don't know the rest of the class don't know either, and they are probably too shame to admit it. Never let shame stand between you and an A.

I think the key to the guy technique is simply to learn once. Whether everyone can do this is a little suspect.

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In my experience as both a T.A. and a student, a bimodal distribution of grades wasn't uncommon in courses with a good professor with high standards teaching challenging technical material. What's the rationale for avoiding it?

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I think the people who fall on the bad end of the spectrum will have a different opinion of the professor. I have an axiom to consider yourself average, even though you might be above average and make your decision from that perspective.

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I never bothered with notes. They never seemed to work for me. I think and memorize visually or systematically. Having connected words or flat sheets of paper is no good to me. I also saw tests as of more of a nuisance and a disruption in building an understanding. To spend as little time on them as possible, I would figure out how the lecturer creating the test thinks.

The day before the test I would spend a few hours having an imaginary conversation with the lecturer and made sure my model of him matched all my recollections of him/her (if unknown, I'd just imagine a generic lecturer). The imaginary form would ask me questions that might be in the test and I made sure I could answer them. I usually found the actual test to be predictable and much easier. My GPA in college was among the top 1%.

I've tried to teach this technique to others occasionally, but with limited success. It usually fails on not being able to imagine a honest representation of someone else and only asking yourself questions you want to be asked.

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I found the example complicated. Real learning comes from simplifying. In the case of the provided example, it is trivial to simplify.

$100 is worth $121 after two 10% interest cycles. The PV formula asks the reverse: what is $121 two cycles out, worth today (what is its present value)? In reverse, we can calculate that by dividing $121 with 1.1 twice. That's pretty much what the formula is : FV/(1 + i)^N or $121/((1.1)^2) = $100.

kapish?

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Idd, I was thinking the same thing, he takes an easy formula & creates weird pictures with angles from to, "to make it simple"

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That doesn't seem to be the case but I've met a lot of not-too-bright students that managed to get excellent grades by "optimizing" their study to answer precisely the kind of questions asked more frequently in tests.

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Good grades come from hard work, researching the subject, being active in class,..

Saying you Aced an exam with only 3.5 hours of studying is just retarded..

It's the same as working in a Mc Donalds for 4 months, then taking a test about the contents of the hamburgers. And being able to recall every onion piece that's on a hamburger -- without studying.

Of course you would succeed, you where making hamburgers for 4 months...

Yes the strategies he mentions are good, but he leaves out the most important aspect. The main focus of the article should be on hard (yet efficient) work during the school year.

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It would be helpful to have an actual GPA. I'm really not sure what a GPA between A and A+ even means. At my university there was no +/- distinction.

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I think it differs but A- to A is usually 3.5 to 4.0.

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Very useful article, can use some suggestions myself. But I'm not that impressed, mainly because he's talking about a dead simple finance course.

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I wonder if this approach is any good at mastering technical exams like SCJP etc.

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tl;dr: Pay attention in class and studying is more like organizing and reviewing what you already know, which doesn't take that long. Duh.

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The most important steps he details require the same extraordinary intelligence that makes one an extraordinary student. The most difficult thing for a genius to understand is what it is like not to be quick minded. Most students could stare at the same material for days and not generalize the concepts the way this guy does as he listens to the lecture.

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