Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

4 Weeks to a 4.0: Create Project Folders

April 20th, 2009 · 8 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 4Time to Change

This is the fourth and final post in our four-part series 4 Weeks to a 4.0.  Let’s do our review. In week one you gained some control over your schedule. In week two you mastered taking notes in class. And in week three you streamlined your assignments. In other words, we’ve covered all regularly occurring academic work. This leaves us only to tackle the big infrequent stuff. I’m talking about studying for exams and writing papers.

Week 4 Assignment: Create Project Folders

Your assignment for this week to adopt the project folder method, which I describe below. This simple method streamlines the process of studying for exams and writing major papers. I used it throughout my time at Dartmouth, and swear by its effectiveness. You can also see aspects of it in action in our ongoing finals diaries series.

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4 Weeks to a 4.0: Master Your Assignments

April 13th, 2009 · 20 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 3Time to Change

This is the third post in our four-part series 4 Weeks to a 4.0. In week one, I asked you to take control of your schedule, and in week two we overhauled your classroom notetaking. This week we advance to a crucial topic: your assignments. Nothing requires more time for an undergraduate than suffering through long readings or tackling impossible problem sets. Let’s learn how to dispatch them with maximum effectiveness.

Week 3 Assignment: Efficient Assignments

There are two major types of assignments: readings and problem sets. Below I’ve described a streamlined strategy for dealing with each. Your task this week is to adopt these approaches for dispatching your regular work.

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4 Weeks to a 4.0: Streamline Your Notes

April 6th, 2009 · 35 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 2Time to Change

This is the second post in our four-part series 4 Weeks to a 4.0. Last week, I asked you to start an autopilot schedule and adopt a Sunday ritual. If you’re like me, you’re probably having some trouble making this schedule work. That’s okay! Just keep adjusting; it takes some practice to work out the kinks. This week I want to move from the big picture issue of scheduling to something more tactical: notetaking in class.

Week 2 Assignment: Smart Notes

This week we’re focusing on taking notes in class. To better target my advice, I’ve identified three major types of classes: non-technical (history, english, etc.); technical without math (biology, psychology, etc.); and technical with math (calculus, macroeconomics, etc.). Below, I’ve provided a specific notetaking strategy for each of these three types. This week, I want you to adopt the appropriate strategy for each of your courses.

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4 Weeks to a 4.0: Adopt an Autopilot Schedule and a Sunday Ritual

March 30th, 2009 · 27 comments

4 Weeks to a 4.0 is a four-part series to help you transform into an efficient student. Each Monday between 3/30 and 4/20 I’ll post a new weekly assignment to aid your transformation.

Welcome to Week 1Time to Change

This is the first post in a new four-part series I’m calling 4 Weeks to a 4.0. Each Monday, for the next month, I’ll be posting a new weekly assignment. I can’t guarantee that you’ll immediately earn a 4.0 if you finish all four assignments, but your grades will definitely improve and your stress will definitely plummet. If you want to overhaul your study habits, but feel overwhelmed by all the changes this requires, then this series is for you. Your first assignment, presented below, covers some scheduling basics.

Week 1 Assignment: Autopilots and Rituals

The goal of this first week’s assignment is to help you reclaim your schedule. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll start small with two easy ideas: starting an autopilot schedule and initiating a Sunday ritual. Your assignment for this week is to adopt these strategies, which I detail below.

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Learning to Love Your AP History Assignments: How to Hack the Psychology of Student Motivation

December 13th, 2010 · 45 comments

The War Against Extrinsic Motivation

In 1999, Alfie Kohn, an education writer described by Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades,” published an article in High School Magazine titled “From Degrading to De-Grading.” It listed many arguments against grades, but its first is the most repeated: “Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself.” As Kohn explained: “One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest.”

Kohn is referring to the voluminous research on the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. The former describes motivation that comes from rewards or punishments outside the task, like studying to achieve a good grade. The latter describes motivation for the task itself, like practicing the guitar simply because you enjoy practicing the guitar. The popular understanding of these motivations, as demonstrated by Kohn’s conclusions about grades and learning, is that when you do something for an extrinsic reward, you lose your interest for the subject.

And this presents a problem for students…

It would be great, of course, if students could find intrinsic motivation for all academic work, but this is a pipe dream. As you move through high school and into college, work becomes demanding. Few can summon an intrinsic interest in reviewing 200 pages of AP history notes or memorizing organic chemistry equations: these are hard tasks, which require the unpleasant mental strain of hard focus. In other words, a large percentage of student work will remain extrinsically motivated — we do it to for the grade and the interesting options a good GPA attracts, or to build the expertise needed for a remarkable life.

If the fears of Kohn are true, then this spells disaster for our Romantic Scholar project. How can we make school the foundation of an interesting life if the work required is destined to become something we lose interest in?

Fortunately, this popular understanding of motivation is woefully dated. The past thirty years of social psychology research has identified many different types of extrinsic motivation, and it clearly shows that doing something for an external reward does not necessarily doom you to losing interest.

In this post, I want to draw from this research to hack the psychology of student motivation: providing you with concrete strategies for embracing even the most demanding academic challenges.

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I’m Off to Brazil

April 17th, 2009 · 6 comments

A Southern Journey

I’m leaving tomorrow for a one week computer science conference in Brazil. I will almost definitely have Internet access, but my time will be limited, so please excuse the fact that I will be slow to moderate comments and respond to e-mails for the next week.

Fear not, however, I have the last 4 Weeks to a 4.0 post ready to go live on Monday and a backlog of finals diaries and other exciting posts that will go up soon after I return.

Stay tuned…

Finals Diaries: Travis Prepares to Battle Calculus

April 16th, 2009 · 8 comments

Caltech CalculusQuiet Study

This is the first post in the finals diaries series, which follows a group of students through their quest to improve their study habits in time for spring exams. We start with Travis, a freshman physics major from Caltech. In May, he faces a brutal multivariate calculus exam. This leaves him a little less than a month to toss out his existing habits, which he candidly describes as “less than stellar,” and embrace a more efficient academic lifestyle.

Plan A

As with all of my volunteers, I asked Travis to describe his current plan for preparing for this test. He replied:

It will boil down to taking a couple of weeks before finals and figuring out what I don’t know, trying to brush up on what I may have forgotten, and doing some example problems.

This, of course, is exactly the type of vagueness that drives students to last minute scrambles and incomplete preparation. Luckily, Travis still has time to change his ways.

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