While getting my Bachelor’s degree, I’ve tried every mode of study you can imagine. Go to all the classes, go to some classes, go to no classes. Self-study, group study, teaching, being taught, you name it, I’ve tried it.
All I ever got was Bs.
So when I decided to go back to school, I thought why stress myself. I’ve been hacking college since the day I got here.
1. Hacking classes.
In Germany, most classes aren’t mandatory. Since all we have is one final exam for most subjects, you can stay home all year, study for yourself and then ace the class.
Here in Munich, most classes are even recorded to watch at your own leisure, yet most of my fellow students still go for one reason: they’re lazy and they feel bad if they don’t.
Last semester, many of them went to all the lectures, did not pay attention, watched the replays, did not pay attention again, and then tried to study the slides.
What I did was to go to every class once, see if the professor does nothing more than read off the slides (most of them did), and then summarized the slides myself instead.
For every single slide, I wrote down what it meant in one sentence. This way, I’d end up with 6–12 dense pages of notes for each class. All I had to do then, was study them.
You’ll do a lot better by knowing 80% of the material in detail, rather than having an idea of 100% of it, but not really knowing what you’re talking about.
When I was all done with my summary, I would try to create a tree structure of the material on one or two pages, so I could have the entire class on one piece of paper.
Minimize the number of classes you take by going for those with the highest credits on average.
In my program, 6 credits per class is solid. 3 aren’t worth your time, 5 fall one credit short when adding up to modules (you need 12, 18, 24, etc.), and 8 are usually a ridiculous amount of extra work.
2. Hacking exams.
Everyone I know struggles with studying for several exams in parallel. So whenever you have three in a week, shit hits the fan. You spend way too much time studying for the first and are only left with the time between exam 1 and 2 to study for the latter, and so on.
So the first thing I did was to pick classes based on exam dates, which were spread far apart.
Only two of my exams fell in one week, and those classes were mandatory. The earlier in the semester an exam, the better. Classes started in October, my first exam was in December. This not only meant it was far away from all the others, but also that there was less material to study.
The second thing I did was to improve my exam schedule as I went along. That December exam I only found out about in November, so I adjusted.
Same thing with a required law class. It was scheduled right between the two mandatory exams, but then the professor opened another slot for it three weeks earlier.
Was it a hassle to study the material in one week rather than three? Sure, but this way, I probably spent more time focused on law than I would have, if I’d had to study in parallel.
Every minute you spend in a hasty state of worry is a minute of studying lost, so optimize your schedule as best as you can.
3. Hacking assignments.
In one statistics class, we were eligible to get an additional 20% of the exams points as a bonus for completing a report. Had I known this would turn into a 50-page paper about energy drink consumption, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but oh well.
We started from scratch and went all the way from designing our own questionnaire, to surveying a sample of people to analyzing the data with SPSS.
However, nowhere does it say you have to do assignments like this the hardest way possible.
- Instead of designing our survey in Word, we used Google Forms, to make collecting data easier.
- Instead of annoying 10 of our fellow students to complete the thing, I sent it to my email list and we collected 100 answers in 24 hours. You could also use a service like Pollfish and just pay for people to fill out your survey.
- Instead of formatting the 2,000 data points in Excel to let us import them to SPSS, I hired someone to do it for $20 on Freelancer.com.
You might think outsourcing work as a student is ridiculous, but consider this:
Not including the stress from fretting about the tasks and delays you encounter. Sometimes, your time really is worth more than the return of a menial task. Even, if you’re a student.
Of course, there is one big disclaimer to all the above: none of these hacks work if you don’t.
Ultimately, I put in just as much, if not more time into studying than I did during my Bachelor’s. But thanks to these hacks, it was a lot more fun to do so, because I could focus on the parts that mattered.
And I did it all while writing articles like this one, every single day. If I can find the time, why not you?