Update on The Secrets of Top Students: First Translation!

I’m excited to announce that my book, The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College, is now available in Chinese!  It’s being sold in Taiwan and you can find it here.  According to Google Translate, the title is “Gifted students do not stay up late! To get into elite precision Learning: time management, note and sit secret.”  I’m sure in Chinese it sounds a little more elegant.

The Secrets of Top Students in Chinese!

The Secrets of Top Students in Chinese!

In other news, my book is now available on the Staples website.

I’d also like to thank The Study Dude for highlighting my book in The Voice Magazine.

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Summer 2013 Update

A lot of my articles have been popping up on the internet recently, and I wanted to share some of them here.

1. What Motivates Top Students? Getting Into the Heads of High Achievers, HackCollege.
What I learned about academic success, from my own experience as well as from my survey of forty-five of the best students in the country.

2. Struggling to be heard: What it’s like to be a student who stutters, USA Today College.
An account of my struggle with stuttering in high school and college, how I overcame it, and what to do if you stutter or meet a person who stutters.

3. I Got the Highest GPA at an Ivy, But Not Because I’m Smarter Than Everyone Else, Your Teen for Parents.
Some surprising facts about top students and how they got that way.

My book, The Secrets of Top Students, has also received some great reviews lately. I was especially thrilled with this one from the School Library Journal: “…the book is a must-read for students in middle school and up, teachers, parents, and guidance counselors as 21st-century students learn to excel in the new educational landscape in which they find themselves.”

On a completely separate note, a funny article I wrote a few months ago, The Top 6 Reasons You Should Date a Pilot, has been Liked over 14,000 times on Facebook!

A book review that warmed an author’s heart

Every once in a while, someone says something about my book that makes all the hard work I put into it worthwhile, and makes me feel like I truly accomplished something. I received such a review today, from someone called Stew Mulligan. I was so excited about it, I had to reprint it on my blog. The original review can be found here. Thank you Stew Mulligan, wherever you are!

The author and her book

The author and her book

“The Secrets of Top Students, by Stefanie Weisman, is a great book!

As a Stuyvesant High School alumnus, I know what it means to be that school’s valedictorian. Stuyvesant is not just any high school. It is a school that if you become a doctor you are considered an underachiever. They expect you to at least become head of a department in a major hospital or medical school. Stuyvesant graduate David Axelrod, is ONLY an advisor to the President; Stuyvesantian Eric Holder, is US Attorney General: not bad, but not a Supreme Court Justice. It’s where if you get 800 on your math SAT nobody lifts an eye. But in all seriousness, this is a school of really, really smart kids and, as such, I am awed by Stefanie’s academic accomplishments — not only the Stuyvesant valedictorian but she also graduated with the highest GPA from Columbia College. That’s like being the baseball Rookie of the Year and then following up by winning the MVP and Triple Crown. Stefanie knows how to hit academia’s fast ball, curve and knuckleball, and all for homeruns.

As a rule, if you want to learn something well, it is a good idea to learn from the best, and Stefanie Weisman’s Secrets of Top Students is now THE SOURCE on how to maneuver through the obstacle course of higher education. I guarantee that this book will not disappoint.

If school, in general, and tests, term papers and the like, in particular, give you anxiety attacks, then this book is definitely the relaxant. By all rights, Stefanie should never have become valedictorian. In fact, she probably should have been mediocre at best, since she has a certain learning disability. But by putting excuses aside, she learned how to use her strengths to overcome her weaknesses, by developing a relatively simple system of studying. In Secrets of Top Students she conveys her system, no longer secrets, in a clear and concise manner. And, I might add, with a particularly droll and somewhat self-effacing sense of humor. In other words, she explains how to walk the walk, how to traverse through the killing fields of the classrooms with the least possible pain and suffering. She explains how to avoid being an academic casualty or also-ran and to get through it all, knowing you did the best you can, while actualizing your potential.

This is not a textbook. But it tells how to penetrate the textbooks. This is not a lecture, but it tells how to absorb and retain what the lecturer is “trying” to expound. Being smart is not enough. You have to know how to learn. This book shows how to do it in an efficient and intelligent manner. Stefanie’s prose is concise and easy to follow and the book develops in a logical manner. (It ends with a chapter on “How to Take a Test”, by the way, since test taking is where the rubber meets the road.) The use of well placed bullet points and bold font help to highlight the most important concepts. At the same time, the book makes clear that there are individual differences, and that students have to make adjustments in their own studying methods that work best for them. Nevertheless, these basic concepts are still applicable, to different degrees and with different emphasis, to all types of learners.

Nor does the book sugar-coat the reality. It tells it like it is, which is to say that the most important thing in becoming a good, or a great student, is commitment and a willingness to work hard, damn hard. There is no easy way. There is only a EASIER WAY, a SMARTER WAY. This book is the roadmap.

I guess my only complaint, after reading this book, is that it was published 40 odd years too late. If only there had been a Stefanie Weisman to write such a book for us baby boomers, to help us get through the morass known as education, like a machete in a rain forest, who knows what grades I would have gotten. But today, 2013, if you are a young person wanting to maximize your potential in school, or if you are a parent of a student and would like to see your child rise to the top, take my advice and go out and purchase this book ASAP.”

Taking a DNA genetic ethnicity test: Are you who you think you are?

I decided to try Ancestry.com’s DNA test recently, mainly out of curiosity and because I don’t know much about my ancestors. The test costs $100 and is super easy – you just send away for a test kit, spit into a tube, send it to the company, and a few weeks later you get the results online. Here are my results:

A graphical representation of my DNA!

A graphical representation of my DNA!

It says I’m 81% European Jewish (no surprise there), 8% Persian/Turkish/Caucasus, and 6% Finnish/Volga-Ural. I had no idea about the last two. My main complaint is that “European Jewish” is such a broad group – according to the results, it includes Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and other Jewish populations – although if you go by the map representation, it looks mostly Ashkenazi (Eastern European). That’s a little confusing. I was hoping the results would be more specific. It also provides a list of people who are possible DNA matches and may be long-lost cousins, which is interesting, but I’m not really sure how that works. I also thought it was funny that the first line in their “European Jewish” page is, “The bagel was brought to and popularized in the United States by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants.” Really? Is that the most interesting factoid they could come up with?

In any event, the test was worth doing and has definitely made me think more about my ancestry. I’ve started creating a family tree, also through Ancestry.com, and I’m planning on asking my relatives to help me fill in the branches.


Going to college?  Give yourself the gift of good grades with The Secrets of Top Students!

Education News: Recommended Articles

From college rankings to kids sticking themselves with IVs to study longer, here are some education stories you might enjoy:

NPR story about How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. I love his name, by the way – very appropriate. This book sounds great and it speaks to all the things I’ve been saying recently. Academic achievement (and achievement in life) depends on hard work and perseverance, not talent and luck.

The College Rankings Racket, by Joe Nocera. Are college rankings really a racket? I think that’s going a little too far. Mr. Nocera’s article links to U.S. News‘s description of how they rank schools, and it sounds pretty legit to me. Sure, some kids place too much pressure on themselves to go to certain schools, but that doesn’t mean the rankings are pointless. What do you think?

Chinese students use IV amino acids to study for high-stakes tests, by Valerie Strauss. Apparently some high school students in China receive IV drips of amino acids so they can better prepare for the high-stakes college entrance exams. I feel sorry for these kids.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Major. This is a great article for all you college students out there. The last question may be the most important: Is this what I want or what someone else wants?


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Thinking outside the box on education: 4 great books with a fresh new perspective

Some of the books with the most original, thought-provoking ideas about education these days aren’t even on education. They’re on subjects such as sociology, psychology, technology, and self-help, among others, but they challenge what’s going on in schools today. Here are some books that don’t fall into the category of education, but which have a lot to say about the way we learn.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Crown, 2012). This book is ammunition against a school system that increasingly views classroom education as an endless stream of group projects. While it’s important for kids to learn teamwork, all too often we forget the importance of solitude, concentration, and deep thought in the learning process. I know that when I was in school, I did my best work alone. As Ms. Cain writes:

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally. Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class – you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.” [page 81]

Another book about deliberate practice is Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin (Portfolio Trade, 2010).

2. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), by Mark Bauerlein. (New York: Penguin/Tarcher, 2008). The title says it all. Technology may be causing untold damage to the brains of young people. I’ve written two articles about avoiding the pitfalls of technology in education (see my piece in USA Today and the follow-up post on my blog). In this passage, Mr. Bauerlein paints a disturbing picture of this country’s rising generation of scholars:

Most young Americans possess little of the knowledge that makes for an informed citizen, and too few of them master the skills needed to negotiate an information-heavy, communication-based society and economy. Furthermore, they avoid the resources and media that might enlighten them and boost their talents. An anti-intellectual outlook prevails in their leisure lives, squashing the lessons of school, and instead of producing a knowledgeable and querulous young mind, the youth culture of American society yields an adolescent consumer enmeshed in juvenile matters and secluded from adult realities. [page 16]

There’s a book on a similar topic, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), which I hope to read soon.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008). In addition to talking about the 10,000 hour rule (the theory that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice for someone to become an expert in something), Mr. Gladwell also discusses why Asian students often outperform their American peers, especially in science and math:

We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work. So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kinds of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away at the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” [pages 247-49]

4. The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss (Crown Archetype, 2009). This one may be a bit of a surprise. Am I suggesting that you can get great grades by working four hours a week? Not at all. Nor am I encouraging you to outsource your schoolwork to India. But Mr. Ferriss does present some useful advice on how to work more efficiently and effectively, whether you’re a student or an entrepreneur. Here’s an example:

Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials. If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. . . . The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus. . . . . There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of each other:

  1. Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
  2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law). [page 75]

What are some of your book recommendations?


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Introverts Unite!

I love the article “The Upside of Being an Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated)” by Bryan Walsh in Time magazine. I’m glad that people are finally starting to give introverts their due. I am an introvert to the extreme – I got the highest possible score for introversion on the Myers-Briggs personality test. Ten times out of ten, I would rather stay home with a good book than go to a party. That’s not to say that I’m a social outcast or don’t know how to behave around people. I just find it hard to be around large groups of people for long periods of time. I can force myself, but it’s not pleasant. I suspect that there’s a connection between introversion and academic performance. Introverts like solitude, and solitude leads to mastery of skills. As Mr. Walsh writes:

Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson believes that deliberate practice — training conducted in solitude, with no partner or teammate — is key to achieving transcendent skill, whether in a sport, in a vocation or with a musical instrument. In one study, Ericsson and some of his colleagues asked professors at the Music Academy in Berlin to divide violinists into three groups, ranging from those who would likely go on to professional careers to those who would become teachers instead of performers. The researchers asked the violinists to keep diaries and found that all three groups spent about the same amount of time — more than 50 hours a week — on musical activities. But the two groups whose skill levels made them likelier to play well enough to perform publicly spent most of their time practicing in solitude.

Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to escape the distractions of group work. This is true in school and even more so in the workplace. I hope that writers like Mr. Walsh and Malcolm Gladwell (who wrote about a similar subject in Outliers) will convince people of the power of being alone.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!