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The Straight-A Method: A Simple Framework For Conquering College

January 25th, 2008 · 27 comments

Advice, Advice, Everywhere…The Straight-A Method

Students often ask me how they should sift through all the advice on this blog in order to implement a simple system that will work for them. Here’s the truth: Almost all of the strategies I present here, and in my books, are motivated by a simple yet powerful underlying framework I call the Straight-A Method. This framework is based on four central pillars: knowledge, control, strategy, and balance. Each describes a high-level goal you should strive to maintain as a student. If you can satisfy these four goals — regardless of what specific strategies or systems you use — then you’re all set. Your college experience will be outstanding.

In this post I describe the four pillars of the Straight-A Method. As you read, ask yourself what strategies or habits, if any, do you have in place for satisfying each goal.

Pillar #1: Knowledge

You must collect and regularly review all of your obligations as a student. This includes both the academic (e.g., test dates and assignment schedules) and the administrative (e.g., application deadlines and demands from extracurricular involvements). Taking stock of everything that is on your plate can be forbidding, but it is also crucial for maintaining control over your life.

Some past posts relevant to this pillar:

Pillar #2: Control

Control the hours in your day. Do not let them control you. Plan out, in advance, when you are going to work and what you are going to accomplish. Doing so builds an accurate understanding of your time — how much you have and how long things really take. This awareness is the foundation of low-stress, efficient scheduling.

Some past posts relevant to this pillar:

Pillar #3: Strategy

Never “study.” The word is ambiguous and it’s tied up with too many emotional connotations about what school work should feel like (tiring, boring, painful). Instead, think in terms of specific actions. Seek out and squash inefficiencies. Ruthlessly evaluate and tweak your techniques after the fact. Always be improving.

Some past posts relevant to this pillar:

Pillar #4: Balance

Above all else: stay happy. Otherwise, what’s this all for? This means, among other things: Aggressively socialize. When in doubt about whether or not to attend an event: go. Don’t be satisfied with a few good buddies, put in a serious effort to build a cadre of life-long friends. Engage your mind. Crave inspiration. Take on a grand project. Remember: College is a playground for your mind and spirit. Play hard.

Some past posts relevant to this pillar:

27 thoughts on “The Straight-A Method: A Simple Framework For Conquering College

  1. Pete says:

    Great post here. There’s tons of advice that’s needed for a powerful college year, and this basically summarizes it. Thanks!

  2. malcolm says:

    A very timely post. I’ve been flicking backwards and forwards through your blog over the past few weeks trying to get all of the advice into a framework that works for me. This morning I printed this post out and all of the posts that each of the four pillars hyperlink to and it has brought it all together. I am however, surprised that you don’t include a link to your ‘the art of the finish’ post. To me that post is like the icing on top of the cake. The concept of completion centric just brings a real focus to the whole strategy.

  3. Study Hacks says:

    @Malcolm:

    That’s a good point. I guess the “Art of the Finish” could fit under under either knowledge or control. But it’s not a great fit.

    The GTF philosophy that the Finish article espouses is less about college and more about transformation. How to conisently finish those important, but non-urgent projects that have the possibility of really changing your life.

    But a good addendum none-the less!

  4. I’ve been thankfully out of school for a while now, but learning just doesn’t stop there. The same rules apply for making your way through the world of self-employment. I still have the urge to blow off work for pizza and beer, but alas, your pillars still apply…

  5. Study Hacks says:

    @Tea:

    It’s good to hear that this applies to life in general. Maybe these straight-A students are on to something here…

  6. This was a great read! You’ve inspired me to get my act together.

  7. Reid says:

    I, as the bloggers before me, thank you, Study Hacks, for your efforts in trying to help those of us struggling with “conquering college.” However, I am inquiring as to how it is we, the students of your information, are to go about creating a schedule for our daily “to-dos.” I find it confusing that you seem to stress creating a schedule for oneself for each day, but then you have enabled access to a link that is titled, Don’t Use a Daily To-Do List.
    Also, I do recognize that this website consists of strategies for dealing with all the problems that may happen to occur to college students, but I would like to hear your opinion, if you so choose, on motivation. I know that getting a college degree will get me a better job, and hopefully a more enjoyable life, but there are times when I find it difficult to stay focused. It would be much appreciated for your opinion on these dilemmas of mine.
    All else said, I appreciate the article and the strategy that it entails. Thank you and I look forward to more of your works.

  8. Study Hacks says:

    @Reid:

    This article should help clear up your confusion regarding the difference between a schedule and a to-do list.

    Motivation is tricky. Check out the Zen Valedictorian series for some thoughts on how to build a sustainable and meaningful college career that will open up interesting opportunities after graduation.

  9. Samantha says:

    What about year in college? I feel like I used the Sunday ritual without even knowing it for my first two years, but now as a junior, I don’t make much time for friends. They rarely see me. I tell them that I am spending so much time trying to prepare my future (applications, work, school, etc.) and after that I am EXHAUSTED!!
    What to do?

  10. Constantine says:

    The advice on this site is upbeat and positive – a great perspective. However, only half of the advice applies, whereas the other half detracts from performance. I and about 25 of my friends used different advice to advance from a B average at a top 50 college [Boston U] to about an A- minus average.

    Certainly #1 Knowledge is important.
    However #2 often does not apply. You can control your hours if you don’t need to work during school. But if you do work to pay the bills, then you are already losing ground.

    1) My advice is this: major in a field which is in demand. I graudated with a double degree in economics and international affairs, with a minor in accounting. You save an immense amount of time and avoid more stress than applying any of the above methods.

    Good majors: Computer science, engineering, accounting, paralegal studies, ie anything that is a TRADE. Hell I know barbers who make more than at least one college graduate from Yale: a theater alumni/bartender.

    2) If you don’t major/land a good job: be persistent. Don’t give up. Treat each day like a regular work day.

    And if you really don’t care about work: reassess your values. If you can’t stand up for your values, you will just fade away into nothingness.

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