Anatomy of an A+: A Look Inside the Process of One of the World’s Most Efficient Studiers

In this post, Cal Newport has another blogger, Scott Young, document his study strategies for a tough exam. The post can be found at the following link:

Scott Young is like Cal Newport in that he is a star student because of his technique.  He actually focused a great deal on rapid learning while in college and his blog can be found at

It will come as no surprise that if anyone can ace a tough Corporate Finance Exam with only 3.5 hours of studying it would be Young.  This post was useful as it walked through his process piece by piece.

It is apparent that Young and Newport agree that memorizing is an extremely inefficient way to study for an exam.  They focus  on understanding the concepts as opposed to just aimlessly reading over the textbook repeatedly.  I completely agree with this idea.  I believe learning has to be an active experience and the way to truly remember something is by interacting with the material.  This provides a great deal of opportunity for students as interacting can be done by explaining things out loud or doing practice tests.  To paraphrase Newport, this strategy also provides a tangible stopping point because once you reach the point where you can explain everything out loud or ace your practice test you know you are ready for your exam.   Young captures this concept with his statement that, “if you can’t teach it you don’t truly understand if completely.”

Another important concept Young brings up is that it is important to truly learn the material the first time you come across it.  Procrastination is a really big problem for many college students and I believe that settling for not understanding the course material at the time it is taught is a form of procrastination.  Many students go to class, read the book, and take notes but don’t put any time into actually understanding the material or concepts they don’t know until the night before the exam.  Thinking is hard.  Therefore, it is understandable that students put it off.  However, by forcing one to think about what you don’t understand and really seeking to fill the knowledge gaps you force yourself to interact with the material the first time.  This interaction leads to you remembering the concepts better and reduces study time right before the exam.  To be fair, this time isn’t really included in the 3.5 hours Young counts as studying although you are doing what most students may consider studying.  However, you can’t ignore that this concept really helps one reduce the time needed to study right before the exam.

I really like Young’s metaphor idea to help gauge one’s understanding of concepts.  Typically what I really focus on is how the concepts link together.  Things you learn in a course are not independent from one another and students can really excel when they account for this.  I think that the key behind both techniques is that you are looking for the “why?” behind the concept.  There are many different ways to do this but answering that one simple question really forces one to think critically.  This deep thinking will set one apart from most students.

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