How to Learn Really Hard Courses

Some of the newer readers might not be aware that I’ve been keeping a semi-weekly video blog for the MIT Challenge. Along with providing more detailed updates of my progress, I also try to share the methods I’m using to learn faster, not procrastinate and stay motivated.

Here are just a few of the recent updates:

Why You Don’t Need a Perfect Memory (and What Matters Instead)

My most recent update, I explain why most students mistakenly focus on memory as being the most critical component and neglect two other skills which matter far more.

How to Learn Really Hard Courses

My first read through of 6.013 (an advanced electrical engineering class) was painful–I felt like I didn’t understand anything! Normally I can usually get the gist of an idea in the first read-through, but this class seemed way too hard. Here I share the method I used to manage to learn the material within the tight deadline enough to pass the exam, even though the class seemed impossibly hard at first.

How to Build Good Studying Habits

Procrastinating too much? Wish you had the motivation and focus without the stress? Here I give a breakdown of the method I use to build good studying habits, and why it works.

These are just a few of the recent videos. The MIT Challenge YouTube channel has 25+ videos sharing my progress at the challenge, success strategies and even my failures. Visit the channel page to check them out.

  • Max

    Yea….. videos are better…… I would rather watch a five minute video than read a article…… sometimes but not all the time…… or even both…..

  • Yld

    thx You Scott 🙂

  • Harry @ GoalsOnTrack


    These are wonderful advice.

    I am particularly interested in your weekly and daily goals productivity idea. When you say you create list of things to do for the whole week and then also for the each day, does your weekly list have things defined as more generalized task, or are they the same as daily tasks, but just assigned to different days of the week?

    Or in other words, are your weekly goals just a collection of daily goals, or is it that daily goals are breakdown of the weekly goals?

  • Samuel

    Hi Scott,

    Great thinking you have there about how to learn better and faster! I particularly liked your video on How to learn really hard courses as it is very relevant to me as a soon-to-be undergraduate.

    I have a thought for you to consider: The techniques you describe seem to work quite well for the undergraduate level – understanding and mastering material of a different order of complexity from what you have encountered so far. But is there any sort of “techniques” or strategy for working at the postdoctoral level, where you are at the cutting edge of your field and you are expected not just to keep up but to break new ground? I’m curious for your insights on this.

  • Keri Peardon

    This makes me want to go back to school.

    College is wasted on the young.

  • Scott Young


    It’s interesting you bring that up. As I’m not a postdoc, I can’t really speak from experience. My initial assumption was that postdoc work was more about deliberate practice since you are creating knowledge instead of just learning it.

    However, I had a lengthy conversation with Cal Newport in his computer science research and he seemed to indicate that excellence was as much learning new techniques and methods as simply mastering old ones, so perhaps these methods of aggressive learning or dissection of hard ideas are still applicable even as you get further up the tree of knowledge.


  • johny

    hello Scott, can u share your daily routine through this MIT challenge?
    I mean, how many times did u rest & how long does each rest will take?
    What exactly u did during your rest time?

  • Carol Zeng

    Omg Scott I luv you so much! Hope you are not married yet. Jk. But thanks a lot for this video!

  • Carol Zeng

    Omg Scott I luv you so much! Hope you are not married yet. Jk. But thanks a lot for this video!