You wouldn't know I graduated in the top 1% of my class at UC Berkeley in the #1 nationally ranked program by following my patterns as a student.
You'd find me pattering away at the computer keyboard in a coffee shop, sure, but my headphones would likely be blaring dubstep, and I'd be frantically trying to finish an essay that was due, uh, three days ago.
Straight A students are not all alike, and I want to tear down the myths that you have to be hyper-organized, great at time management, and study all the time to achieve high grades.
College is a time to find yourself, discover your passions, and test your abilities. It's a time to break down boundaries and expand your understanding of the world.
Pigeon-holing yourself up in your room with textbooks and highlighters strewn about the floor (or very properly lined up on your desk) is not, I strongly believe, a good use of your time.
So what if you could have the best of both worlds? Grades that set you apart, that will advance your career and set you up for success, and an awesome, rich, low-stress extra curricular experience?
I'm sick of seeing all the blogs that tell you to stop procrastinating, study hard, get motivated, and organize, plan, and schedule your life. Because a lot of us read that and go, "oh no, not me! sorry! no can do! (I'm such a mess!)"
I've tried to plan and schedule. I make a million to-do lists that pile up and become lost in the flux. I used one notebook for all my classes, and a day planner I finally caved and bought to keep track or more to-do's for school and my businesses.
I want to show you that it's totally possible to excel in school while maintaining a full social life and Studying far less than others.
In my first year at Berkeley I started an art gallery with my partner that quickly became two (then three...). We garnered the attention of the world-famous artist Marina Abramovic, who approached us to run her performance art institute in San Francisco, which we ran for a year, then moved on to better things, like teaching and writing.
Point is--it's totally possible to be crazy busy, fully disorganized, and have a great time while crushing the competition at school. In fact, most top-performing students at the elite colleges have a similar experience. They study far less than those receiving lower grades, party when they want, and don't try and fight procrastination all the time.
Let's start by cleaning up the myths that perpetuate the false stereotype of the book-absorbed, diligent student. I'm here to tell you about the strategies of real people like me who have graduated top of their classes without spending all their time studying.
And no, you don't have to be naturally "smart" to start earning the best grades now.
5 Myths that are Probably Holding You Back from Exceeding in School
Myth #1: I have to spend 4-6 hours/day studying and who has time for that?
Studying longer is not nearly as effective as studying smarter.
If you have a massive class reading list, try scoring a few of those books on audio to listen to while you're driving or walking.
You can usually get 20-60 minute chunks of listening time in, and your brain absorbs content better if you're mildly stimulated, like you are when you're driving a car.
While at Berkeley, I read the most difficult articles at night so I could "sleep" on the information. In the morning, I'd still have ideas and themes buzzing around my head. In the five minutes before the professor showed up, I'd skim the article for a refresher, mark any questions I had on the paper so I could more easily ask them, and that was that.
Don't waste time studying if it's not "building block material."
That means, unless it's a piece in the greater scheme of what you need to learn, like anatomy for med school, don't spend as much time on it. So often you'll be assigned some reading that will only be useful for that one class, that one day. Identify these on the syllabus and make a point to do the reading just before the class, like while you're waiting for your coffee order and before the prof arrives (this means you should get to class about 10 minutes early).
Learn to prioritize what you need to study, and focus there.
Our brains become overloaded pretty quickly, and you lose the capacity to take in new information when stressed, overwhelmed, or when you're trying to cram too much in.
Myth #2: I have to have a clean desk, become organized with color-coded notebooks and planners, and get on a regular schedule.
When I hear this or see the plethora of pictures on Pinterest (sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration) all I can think about is how NOT for me the whole Martha Stewart "all the pens in their proper places, and I've even knitted little scarves for the highlighters" approach is.
I was way more into the whole scatterbrained genius professor idea anyway. Books piled on every surface, papers fluttering in the breeze from the open window. Ahhh, that's much better. May I borrow a pen? I seem to have lost mine.
I was way more into the whole scatterbrained genius professor idea anyway.
I'm certainly not saying that being organized isn't a wonderful idea, or that it won't help you improve your grades. I very much think it will. But if you're going to spend the majority of your time struggling to master the art of cleanliness, you're wasting it.
Smart note taking is all about learning how to apply the material you're hearing in class to a critical thinking process. Professors ask a lot of questions. Lectures should stimulate your own questioning mind - so write questions in your notebooks to answer later.
This engages you in critical thinking, versus a simple regurgitation of ideas, which is what you get if you copy the words your prof says while they're lecturing.
In lectures you should be listening, not copying copious notes to review later. That's just creating more work for yourself. Properly engage in high-level thought during lecture and that review will become unnecessary or shortened at the very least.
(More on this in Myth #5)
Myth #3: I have to be crazy smart
Of course I love to flatter myself, but in a lot of ways, I'm not smart at all. Like math. Oh math. Can't do simple equations without having a nervous breakdown. But there are things I did to make sure I was learning effectively and efficiently.
Improving your "smarts" in one area is a lot easier than spreading out what you have to know to multiple disciplines. Find help for those areas where you need it, but concentrate your skill-boosting strategies on that one area of focus.
Keep your classes coherent and connected by choosing complimentary disciplines if studying across genres. For example, Literature, Film, Philosophy, History, and Critical Theory, are complimentary. Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, and Anthropology make good matches.
It's great to have an outlier in your schedule, like a math requisite or art class. Keeping your core classes related by either content, discipline, or approach will help you study more effectively and enhance your learning rather than detract from it.
Myth #4: I can't have a social life
The traditional image of the nerdy straight A student--socially awkward, always studying, can't get a date to save his or her life--is a total lie.
Having a rich social life is one of the aspects that helped me get straight A's at Berkeley. Because I made a lot of connections with people who were also out-performing the less sociable students I know it's better to be outgoing than locking yourself up with your books.
Your friends can help you maintain excellent grades, especially if they're also the excelling sort.
Friends in classes are ideal.
They help you with notes if you missed class; you can study with your friends and get social and learning time in. You can even go to office hour together to talk to your professor if you feel like you don't have enough to say on your own (because one thing straight A students do is talk to their professors).
Having an active social life is also important so you're not just studying all the time and burning out.
Introvert/extrovert, it doesn't really matter--but it's definitely easier to get better grades if you're willing to talk to your peers and professors and engage in outside events.
Myth #5: I have to take a lot of notes
I experienced a revolutionary shift in my ability to retain information once I stopped taking notes in class.
In-class notes divide your attention between what the professor is saying and what you're frantically trying to get down on paper.
When I decided to let go of the copy-every-word method I was using, I understood concepts better. What I realized happened was that when I stopped copying, I started thinking. I began connecting what the professor was discussing to other concepts that were kicking around in my head.
I was thinking critically and creatively, therefore assimilated the information much better.
Unless you need to copy something, like a mathematical formula, this method will engage your brain much better and you'll come away with a deeper understanding of the material.
A lot of the information you're writing in your notes can be found online or in your text book.
It's important to be able to see how your professor is connecting ideas and concepts. Test this out by easing up on your note taking. Limit what you put down on the page. As a rule, never write anything you can find online or in your textbook. Just pay attention to lecture and create charts and diagrams later.
BONUS MYTH! It's too overwhelming to get A's and I shouldn't even try
Here's a little secret. I scored straight A's while running three successful businesses. My time and energy was definitely pulled in two directions, yet I still managed it. Was that because I'm some ridiculously smart (and ridiculously good-looking) prodigy? No!
Did I have to work hard to get there? Yes, but not as hard as you might think.
My business demanded so much of my concentration and spare time. And yet, I graduated in the top 1% of my class. So when I say I got stellar grades and you can too--I mean it.
The method that landed me straight A's (and scholarships, and made me feel like a badass on campus) helped reduce the amount of work I had to put in for maximum results.
Of course there were times when overwhelm threatened. Had I known then what I know now, 10 years of collegiate schooling later, I could have prevented a lot of my suffering.
That's why I’ve become a coach to leach student how to over-perform in college and set up for a lifetime of increased opportunities. So you don't have to spend your college years experimenting with study methods, struggling to finish essays on time, and figuring out to do with your degree when you graduate.
Sign up for a coaching session and save $40 on your first hour!
If want to stop stressing and exceed in college, it's time to start NOW.
I can't wait to see you in real life (online)!