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How to Become a Straight A Student (Cal Newport)

I have learnt a lot from this book and I hope to put the strategies to good use during the course of my undergraduate studies.

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This book was recommended by one of my older cousins. He claimed that by following the strategies mentioned in the book, he obtained a lot more A’s during his time as a university student. As an undergraduate myself, I was interested in becoming a "straight A student" and got a copy of the book to read. Here’s my review of the book as well as what I learnt from it:


In the first chapter of the book, Cal mentioned that it is easy to feel like you are in a state of “permanent catch up”, where you feel like you are not making any progress even though you are putting a lot of effort into it. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because people are “pseudo-working” – it looks and feels as if you are working hard, but because of a lack of focus and concentration, you are actually not accomplishing much.

I could relate a lot to this. When I was in junior college, I holed myself up in the school library, and attempted to study, but at the end of the day, I feel that I did not learn much. Cal suggests that rather than spending a longer period of time studying, we can increase the amount of work we accomplish by increasing our intensity of focus. The following chapters list out a number of strategies that straight A students use to improve their focus.

Time Management

The first strategy is targets the way we manage our time. Cal came up with a simple time management system that takes about 5 minutes a day, is flexible, and can be restarted easily after a period of neglect.

I think that this system is very effective for students as it relieves us of the need to remember every single task or deadline, which significantly contributes to higher stress levels and the lack of concentration. By managing your time properly, you will be able to concentrate on what needs to be done, and you will have a lesser chance of forgetting what you deadlines you need to keep to and the small chores you needed to do.

The second strategy is to tackle procrastination. Procrastination is inevitable as we sometimes just feel that the work we need to do sucks. Cal mentions that procrastination is not something we can avoid entirely – but we can take steps to manage the feeling of having to do sucky work.

The third strategy is to figure out when, where, and how long a student should study.

Note Taking and Exam Skills

The second part of Cal’s book shows us how to prepare our notes as well as how to study for our exams and quizzes. Cal lists down two separate strategies for technical and non-technical courses respectively.

Technical courses are heavy on formulas and coding (examples of technical courses include mathematics, science and computing related courses) while non-technical are more idea-based (courses related to the humanities are examples of non-technical courses).

The strategies mentioned in this book will teach you how to take notes that are suited for the course you are taking, as well as how to make use of the notes and other material you have over the duration of the course to prepare for any exam or quiz you might have.

Writing Essays and Papers

The last part of Cal’s book is about how to write an essays or papers. Many students are intimidated by the prospect of coming up with a thesis, having to do research, and writing it all down in an essay. However, an important thing which Cal mentioned is to start on these essays or papers early. Although you might balk at the idea, handling such work at the last moment will not do you any favours.

By following the strategy that Cal laid out in his book, you will spend less time on your papers and essays compared to your peers, and you won’t feel the stress of having to pull all-nighters to complete these tedious assignments.

Being a Straight A Student Is Not As Difficult as It May Seem

The strategies that Cal wrote will be extremely useful in your course of study, and it will also save you a lot of time in the process. You will also have less stress compared to your peers in the same course as these strategies are adequate in preparing you for any assignments, exams or quizzes that you have to handle.

However, one of the things I dislike about the book is the use of quotes of other straight A students to show the effectiveness of his strategies.

Interested in becoming a straight A student yourself? If you want to find out more about the book, click here. You can also follow the author, Cal Newport, by checking out his blog here. If you want to purchase the book, you get a copy of it on Amazon here, but I’m sure you can also find copies of the book in your local library.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Other Book Reviews

If you want to find more reviews on other books, check out my Goodreads profile.