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Book Review: How To Become A Straight-A Student

Juvaughn Mahabeer
Juvaughn MahabeerPublished on May 24, 2022
“A smart, concise, fun, and above all informative guide on how to ace college by being smarter about how to work…This book is a must-have for anyone who wants to do well at college and enjoy it too.” -M. Cecilia Gaposchkin

1. The Author’s Backstory.

Cal Newport received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, among the top 30 students with the highest GPAs in that graduating class.

During the last three years at Dartmouth College, he received 26 perfect As.

Cal Newport later received his Ph.D. from MIT.

He is currently a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and he runs the popular blog Study Hacks.

2. Why did the Author write the Book?

The author wrote this book in response to the revelation that he received that most straight-A students are non-grind students who actually study less than everyone else.

This revelation came when he attended an award ceremony for high achievers at his University. At this ceremony, he noticed that most of the attendees were well-balanced students who were engaged in other areas of University life, aside from academics.

This observation shocked the author and decided to send his fellow Phi Beta Kappa recipients a questionnaire, seeking information on their study strategies.

He then realized that many of their strategies were similar overall and similar to his; he then knew that he was on to something great. Thus the idea of this book came into being.

3. What is the Author’s Thesis?

The unconventional strategies real college students use to score high while studying less.

4. What is the Author’s Purpose?

The author’s purpose is to give you the specific ‘How to’ strategies to score high grades in various subject areas while studying less.

There were three basic categories to the arguments, these were:

Part 1. Study Basic (Page 11)

Part 2. Quizzes and Exams (Page 59)

Part 3. Essays and Papers (Page 141)

Each part was broken down into steps, and these steps are what made up the chapters. There were 3 to 8 steps/arguments per Part.

In this way, the book can be seen as a step-by-step guide to achieving better grades.

5. What were three arguments the Author used in defense of his thesis?


Step 1 of the first section is entitled ‘Manage your time in five minutes a day.’

He talked about planning and time management as critical skills to become a successful student who gets straight-As.

The formula he suggested included a calendar to hold all necessary dates and a piece of paper to carry around, including a to-do list of the day’s tasks.

Remember, to-dos and deadlines that exist only in your mind drain your energy, distract your attention, create stress, and are more likely to be forgotten. (Page 27)

The Calendar would be viewed twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. During this time, you would update your to-do list and record new dates to the Calendar.

He shared a very detailed case study of how this system can be applied on page 29.


Step 2 in the first section of the book is entitled Declare War on Procrastination.

I found the insights that he provided in this chapter to be very informative on fighting and overcoming the urge to procrastinate.

He shared five battle plan strategies on how to do this. They were:

1. Keep a work progress journal.

2. Feed the machine.

3. Make an event out of the worst tasks.

4. Build a routine

5. Choose your hard days


Step 5 in the second section of the book is entitled Invest in “Academic Disaster Insurance.”

The author first defined Academic disaster as the inability of a student during a major exam to not answer a question that holds a significant percentage of their exam grade.

The author then went on to say that straight-A students have a knack for avoiding these rogue questions.

The method that he shared which gave straight-A students insurance against these types of rouge questions was called ‘Eliminate Your Question Marks.’

He shared that when students take notes in class; they should put a question mark next to any topic they didn’t fully understand.

Then they would review their notes and research each topic that has a question mark; doing this frequently enabled the student to understand each point.

Throughout the exercise, the student should be able to formulate a conclusion for each point.

This way the student fills the gaps in their understanding as they eliminate their question marks one by one.

6. What was the Author’s Conclusion?

He concluded by stating two points he most wanted his readers to take away, these were:

1. Brute force study habits are incredibly inefficient. 2. It is possible to come up with techniques that work much better and require much less time.

The content of this book was based primarily on questionnaires, interviews, and case studies from various Straight-A students across American schools like Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth.

Cal Newport did an excellent job finding the similarities between all the students and presenting the findings in a simple, compact fashion.

His focus was geared towards strategies that entailed studying less. If the strategy entailed grinding long hours to get good results, he would discard it.

7. What is my Conclusion about the Book?


A strength was that all of the information in the chapters was taken from real straight-A students from top universities and not from scientific research.

This made the content a lot more relatable, realistic, and straightforward to apply.

Another strength I found was his use of case studies. He used them throughout the book to elaborate his points further.

For Example

In Step one, he talked about planning, why it was important and how it can be done effectively.

He then shared a case study of a student applying the planning methods throughout a typical day at University.

In this way, you will understand more clearly how the planning method works and possible pitfalls that you might encounter.


This book’s contents were comprised primarily of the experiences of students living on campus with meal plans. Thus the advice would be most helpful for these types of students.

I believe this is a weakness because to some people; it is not as relatable.

For Example

A single mother with kids, enrolled in night classes, who also works, would not be able to relate to the contents and a student living on campus.


This book is geared specifically to students living on campus with meal plans that don’t work more than 25 hours per week.

But I believe anyone who is currently enrolled in school, regardless of the situation or planning to attend soon, would still benefit immensely from its contents.


This book was very effective in giving me clear-cut advice through its step-by-step format.

He would share a strategy, then follow it up with a case study illustrating how it can be implemented.

I found this way of writing very effective in helping me understand and visualize how I can apply the information.


The overall readability was good. His writing style was straightforward to understand.

Part 1 was very entertaining to read as he talked about planning techniques and how to overcome procrastination.

Part 2 and Part 3 of the book were harder to read because they were back-to-back strategies. It was nice to get the ‘How to,’ but more stories or humor might have made them more interesting.


You should expect to receive invaluable advice on planning, productivity, avoiding procrastination, and how to navigate through your university classes effectively.

I have reread Part 1 of the book many times to remind myself how to plan and avoid procrastination effectively. I believe Part 1 alone is worth having the book.

The other parts will give you all the details you need to transform yourself into a straight-A superstar.

I would give this book a rating of 4.5/5.

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