How to Become a Straight-A Student

Cal Newport’s book, How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less changed my life. It still amazes me how well Newport identifies and describes the critical thinking tasks at the heart of an excellent education without ever once using that contested phrase!

While aimed at undergraduates (and attracting a growing fan-base of high school students), I think every academic could benefit from reading Part 1, “Study Basics,” which covers time management, procrastination, and work habits. After implementing the ideas new to me, my own productivity skyrocketed.

For faculty, the sections on “Quizzes and Exams” and “Essays and Papers” can be profitably mined in reverse to design assignments (and assessments) that focus student efforts towards the learning tasks that really matter.

Newport’s research methodology–interviewing other highly successful students to find out about their study strategies–and emphasis on effectiveness (eliminating time-intensive approaches) makes this my all-time favorite academic productivity book.

This is my go-to book for students in distress. I keep two copies at home: one to lend out, and one for me. Read it!!!


“Straight-A students…know all about pseudo-work. They fear it, and for good reason. It not only wastes time, but it’s also mentally draining. There is just no way to be well-balanced, happy, and academically successful if you’re regularly burning through your free hours in long, painful stretches of inefficient studying.”

Cal Newport (2007) How To Become a Straight-A Student, p. 15.