Students’ 5 Steps to Perfect Grades: Step 1 (Patricio Peak Performance Exclusive)

7 04 2010

Okay, here we go. This is the start of these new series, focused on a study strategy I use for studying to maximize my grades.

First of all, you would expect me to demonstrate some authority. How do you know this works? How do you know I’m not flunking every subject in my student life and having fun making stuff up? Good point. Well, I have to be honest with you – I don’t have a way to demonstrate my grades. You can consider this system as an alternative to what you use, or you can take some pieces and complement yours. You don’t have to trust me on this. Just try it yourself, and judge by results. You will be astounded with what you will achieve, trust me.

Onwards to the subject itself. This is the first part of the strategy, and it’s about identifying and splitting the subjects and matters you have to study.

You start with a book, a list of documents, online resources, or others you have to study. How do you go from here?

Categorizing by importance

First of all, categorize by importance. Many people love categorizing things for study. You have 50 things to study, so you group 10 in a category, 10 more in another category, and so on. Right? Almost right, but lacking a small twist that makes it wrong. When you do this, just like stated, you’re considering every subject, every matter of equal importance. The optimal way to categorize is to prioritize first.

You have 2 books to study, one essential and a support one, and 4 documents. 2 of the documents support the main subject, so they’re important, and 2 of the documents are just support material.

Ignoring importance you would categorize the material as: 2 books, 2 book documents, 2 support documents, and you’d proceed to split them into timeframes. You will take x time to study the 2 books, then y time to study the book documents, and so on.

However, recognizing the importance of the material changes it totally. If one of the books is essential and the other one is not, you should change your priorities. So, you’d do something as: Group the essential book and the 2 book documents into a main group. A second group would be the support book, and a third group would be the support documents. You take what’s important first and tackle it, and leave the less important materials for later.

Why is this important? First of all, because many times you won’t have time for everything. Maybe you have a problem in your schedule and boom, suddenly four hours of study you planned are not happening. If you categorized without establishing priorities, you don’t really know what you’re cutting off. You might be leaving out something not important or very important at all. If you prioritize, you can choose the least important stuff and cut it off.

You might ask, isn’t it what students actually do automatically? Study the hardest problems first, the most important ones, and leave the least important ones for later? Sometimes it is. However, there are some differences between a normal approach and the method I’m explaining here.

Most people don’t identify the subjects right. So you might think “I’m tackling the most valuable problem first, then the least valuable one”, but did you really take time to analyze each of the subjects, and index them, or did you just on reflex think “Oh, this is more important, so this is first”, and didn’t actually compare it to the other ones?

You need to have various factors in consideration. Most students just value problems by what they’re worth. You have an exam worth 100 points, 50 points problem A, and 25 for problems B and C. Obviously problem A is the highest priority. Right? Wrong. You’re missing the other factors.

If you can solve A in 20 minutes, B and C that are worth half should take 10 minutes. What if B relies on a subject you know so well you can solve it faster than 10 minutes? It might have higher priority than A.

There are countless other factors. How much the subject or problem is worth, the time you take to solve it, your special knowledge in the area. So, simply, identify the factors and establish priorities. The only problem when students do this naturally is they tend to use intuition instead of exhausting all the factors.

In sum, you should choose the highest priority. But we naturally only look at the best choice, and we choose it. What you should do is look at ALL choices, and then choose the best one. If you only look at what looks best at first sight you don’t know if it’s really the best because you didn’t analyze other problems. If you analyze all options you can identify the best one, the second best one, and all others.

In a concrete example, you have 3 subjects. Subject #1 looks best at first sight. If you prioritize naturally, you look at it and comment “Oh, subject #1 looks the most important, so I’ll make it the highest priority”. If you analyze them, you might realize subject #1 is not the most important.

Even if it is of the same importance, you know the importance of others. So, imagine you have those three subjects. If you prioritize naturally, you just know that you have a high priority, and two unknowns. If you analyze them all, you know you have a high priority, say, a medium priority and a low priority subject.

Just one last tip: Use multiple levels. Most students just consider “Is this a high, medium or low priority subject?”. Considering priorities as subcategories. I like to use the tree analogy. Core subjects are the big branches. From each of those branches you have smaller branches, which are smaller priority subjects.

So, when you compare the priorities, don’t just think “Is this high, medium or low priority?”. Think: If this was a branch in the tree, would it be bigger than this other subject? Would it be a branch growing from a branch I already know? Is it a subcategory of a subject?


How are you going to tackle the subjects, now you know their priorities? Let’s analyze some principles first.

Depending on your style, you might want to tackle the big problems first and then move on to the small problems. Or you might want to solve small problems first and build up successively. How do you know which method is best for you? If you already know it, good. If you don’t, don’t worry. You will have to solve small problems and big problems so many times in work and study that the order doesn’t matter that much.

I would recommend that you choose the way that makes you do it. What do I mean? Look. At least in my perspective, what matters are results. It doesn’t matter if you have the potential to know all the subjects. Did you physically do it? That’s what counts. You can run for 20 miles straight. Will you do it? That’s a totally different thing. What we can do and what we will do, as Anthony Robbins would say, are very different things.

So, choose the method that leads you to doing it. For example, if you think “If I tackle the big problems I will lose motivation, if I start by the small problems I’ll do it”, then start by the small problems. If you like big challenges and feel more motivated by that, do that. Whatever you think is right is probably right. It only matters if you’re going to do it or not, so choose the path that leads you to results.

Stretch and compress

Many times, the books and documents don’t have quantity of material proportional to its importance. What do I mean? Important things should take 3 pages to explain, while smaller things should take 1 page or less, for example. In books, that doesn’t always happen. You could have an historical introduction, or support material, or non-important subjects that take as much as the important subject. You have to be the one to guess the importance of the subject, and stretch or compress it accordingly.

For example, imagine there’s an important subject A that takes 10 pages. Then subject B which is clearly less important, that takes 10 pages too. Instead of, for example, you scheduling 30 minutes for subject A and subject B, schedule 30 minutes for A and 15 for B, let’s say. And you read B’s pages faster, you skim a little.

The thing is, don’t take me wrong. I’m not telling you to study more or less of what YOU consider important. Study more or less of what you are completely sure and certified is more important or not. Something you have proof of, either because the teacher stated it, or other kind of proof. This is obvious but should be stated.

On the other hand, you might have to stretch it. Has it ever happened you having to study a very important subject about which there is only half page written about in a book? In that case, either you choose a new resource, like an additional book, online search for the subject, or such, or you just practice it more, so you know more about it.




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