[Originally sent to Study Hacks Newsletter on 6/18/07]
I’ve received some recent mail asking me to review the ideas presented
in Part 2 of How to Become a Straight-A Student. This section, as
you know, focuses on preparing for quizzes and tests. Though the main
ideas are simple, I can imagine that it’s easy to get lost amidst the
numerous implementation-focused details. With this is mind, I’ve
dedicated this week’s Monday Master Class to presenting the key
concepts in a clear, concise summary. This should help you both review
and apply the relevant advice from the book.
PART 2 IN 60 SECONDS OR LESS
Think of studying as an industrial process. The input is pieces of
information delivered to you in the form of lectures and reading
assignments. This raw material must be processed into coherent ideas,
which unify the information around themes and explanatory theories.
These ideas must then be ingrained into your mind. Finally, the
ingrained ideas must be recalled and manipulated in the test-taking
The goal of studying is simple: find the most efficient possible
method to complete this process.
The approach proposed in Part 2 gains efficiency through the following
(1) Capture and coalesce information as early possible.
(2) Learn big ideas not small facts.
The first principle means two things. First, don’t save information
gathering until the last moment. Attend every lecture. Do your
important reading. If you skip lectures or avoid readings, you might
gain a small amount of relief at the time, but you will gain a much
larger headache right before the test. Second, never record in your
notes (lecture or reading) only the raw information. If you do this,
you are deferring the coalescing of this info into coherent ideas for
either right before the test, or, worse, during the test itself. Under
these time constraints you will not do a good job. Instead,
immediately transform the information into ideas. One way to do this
is by using the Question/Evidence/Conclusion note-taking formatting
presented in Part 2. The basic idea is to reduce the material in Q/E/C
modules structured as follows: a question, a conclusion that responds
to the question, and a collection of evidence (e.g., raw information)
that connects the two. The question and conclusion force you to corral
the info into bigger units of comprehension. By distributing this
thinking to the margins of the process, you avoid the pain of trying
to do it in one big draining marathon session.
The second principle refers to the act of studying itself. It is
difficult to memorize the sheer volume of raw information delivered to
you. It is easier, however, to learn the much smaller number of big
ideas. For each question recorded in your Q/E/C notes, you should be
able to lecture, out-loud, and without peeking at what you’ve written
down, about the conclusion and a *sampling* of the evidence that
connects the conclusion with the question. You don’t have to remember
every last piece of evidence, just enough to recreate the main idea.
This reduces the time required to study. You are dealing with exactly
the big conceptual units you need to perform well on the test — and
nothing else. You are maximizing the results for time invested.