How to Become a Straight-A Student

19th September 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less, Cal Newport.  Oliver from Switzerland (see his inspiring email below) recommended Cal Newport’s book on studying—this book launched Cal’s authorial career.  We’ve actually read Cal’s book twice over the years. It’s a sound, common-sensical guide not only on how to study, but how to avoid some of the common pitfalls of study advice from well-intentioned “experts” who don’t think things through, such as giving a detailed 12-step process for reading a chapter (including coming up with 20 questions) and studying till 10pm every night, including on the biggest party nights of them all: Friday. In fact, one of the points we most appreciated about Cal’s book is his advice to set a strict quitting time each day. We’ve tried to keep to the approach each day, although we suppose it also depends on what’s meant by “quitting.” For us, that usually means diving into a book!  Also, don’t miss Cal’s Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.

An Inspiring Letter of Learning Success

Oliver from Switzerland writes: “I took your course, learning how to learn two years ago. I just wanted to say thank you for this excellent course and that it was available free of charge.

I dropped out of middle school almost 17 years ago. But I finally decided that I want to try to get my high school diploma at age 30 here in Switzerland. I had to start from zero at pretty much every subject and even learn a new required language (French). Though I quit my job 18 months ago and started studying full time, it seemed like a long shot, because unlike others I didn’t have the finances to attend a night school or get tutoring help. During the whole time I was worried, but for nothing. Thanks to you and some others, I officially passed all of my exams with flying colors.  Your book helped cement the strategies as well, and now I get to study at one of the best higher learning institutions in the world (ETHZ). For me, it was also more useful to stay on each subject for 3 to 4 Pomodoro’s (about two hours), and then switch subjects. It helped me a lot with scheduling my Pomodoros. For your newsletter, I would also like to to recommend Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight-A Student. 

Your Coursera course helped me a lot in more ways than just learning. Because I found out how important sleep and exercise are, I even live much healthier nowadays. I started exercising only because I found out through learning how to learn, how important it is for memory. I changed my night owl schedule to sleep better, and this lead to me eating better and even quitting smoking (about 18 months too now). Best regards and with eternal gratitude.

Binaural Beats

One topic that trendy learners are often fascinated by is that of “binaural beats.”  In this unusual phenomenon, one frequency, say, 300 Hz, is fed into one ear, while another frequency, say, 325 Hz, is fed into the other ear.  Surprisingly, due to the intervening neural circuitry, a person only detects the frequency difference—in this case, 25 Hz. The binaural beat seems to entrain brain waves to go with the flow of the frequencies. Higher frequencies of 16-24 Hz appear to enhance focus , while lower frequencies of 8-13 Hz appear to promote relaxation.  Yes, the science is real—although this doesn’t appear to be a major effect. (Here’s a small study of the effects on long-term memory—20 Hz helps, while 5 Hz hinders. And here’s another study related to focus.) Binaural beats can be monotonous or even grating on their own, so they are often embedded in music or “pink” noise.  Does this perhaps mean that for learners with lower working memory capacity, the tradeoff of any potential increase in focus from binaural beats might be lost due to the effects of the music? Feel free to comment in the discussion forum here if you have any experience or recommended websites related to binaural beats.

Apprendre comment apprendre (ACA)

The French version of Learning How to Learn, Apprendre comment apprendre (ACA), will be launched later this fall.  Dr. Nicole Charest, French lead for ACA, and her team are currently looking for French speaking people who might be interested in participating in its beta-testing in October.  For more information please see the following communiqué

Guide the Founding of a Non-for-profit Organization to Encourage People to Read More Books

The father of a 16-year old boy, Steven Wang is doing a project to encourage teenagers and young adults to read books. With his encouragement, his son has read about 45 books within one year in Grade 10, including Learning How to Learn, Mindshift and A Mind for Numbers.  Steven says: “Most people seem to be spending too much time on social media, video games and screens. I am planning to co-found a non-for-profit organization to encourage people to read more great books.”  Steven asks if LHTLers might have any suggestions and ideas to startup the project.  If you might have any suggestions for Steven, please post in the discussion forum here.

Young people need to understand technical subjects in today’s world

Here’s an interview by Caroline Smrstik Gentner in BOLD (the Blog on Learning and Development). Key grafs:

“Clearly society believes learning is important, because so many countries devote 12 to 16 years to giving people an education. But there are never any courses in how to learn effectively. It’s like: we’re going to throw all this information at you and see what sticks. And if nothing sticks, that’s too bad for you.

“Worse yet, we put the onus on teachers to teach the kids, with some help from parents. But how can we expect children to learn effectively if we don’t teach them how?

“Children who are lucky enough to be in a strong family, with access to good schools, can pick up effective learning by example or, to some degree, on their own. But what about the others? Their lives are predetermined by the first six to eight years of education. If they get a bad education—especially a bad math education—it can’t just be fixed with a simple remedial course later.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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