Mastering Linear Algebra in 10 Days: Astounding Experiments in Ultra-Learning The MIT Challenge My friend Scott Young recently finished an astounding feat: he completed all 33 courses inSee Scott’s FAQ page for the details of how he ran this challenge.) That works out to around 1 course every 1.5 weeks. As you know, I’m convinced that the ability to master complicated information quickly is crucial for building a remarkable career (see down to 12 months. This strategy was honed over 33 classes, figuring out what worked and what didn’t in the method for learning faster. Why Cramming Doesn’t Work Many student might scoff at the idea of learning a 4-year program in a quarter of the time. After all, couldn’t you just cram for every exam and pass without understanding anything? Unfortunately this strategy doesn’t work. First, MITs exams rely heavily on problem solving, often with unseen problem types. Second, MIT courses are highly cumulative, even if you could sneak by one exam through memorization, the seventh class in a series would be impossible to follow. Instead of memorizing, I had to find a way to speed up the process of understanding itself. Can You Speed Up Understanding? We’ve all had those, “Aha!” moments when we finally get an idea. The problem is most of us don’t have a systematic way of finding them. The typical process a student goes through in learning is to follow a lectures, read a book and, failing that, grind out practice questions or reread notes. Without a system, understanding faster seems impossible. After all, the mental mechanisms for generating insights are completely hidden. Worse, understanding is hardly an on/off switch. It’s like layers of an onion, from very superficial insights to the deep understandings that underpin scientific revolutions. Peeling that onion is often a poorly understood process. The first step is to demystify the process. Getting insights to deepen your understanding largely amounts to two things: Making connections Debugging errors Connections are important because they provide an access point for understanding an idea. I struggled with the Fourier transform until I realized it was turning pressure to pitch or radiation to color. Insights like these are often making connections between something you do understand and the material you don’t. Debugging errors is also important because often you make mistakes because you’re missing knowledge or have an incorrect picture. A poor understanding is like a buggy software program. If you can debug yourself in an efficient way, you can greatly accelerate the learning process. Doing these two things, forming accurate connections and debugging errors, is most of creating a deep understanding. Mechanical skill and memorized facts also help, but generally only when they sit upon the foundation of a solid intuition about the subject. The Drilldown Method: A Strategy for Learning Faster During the yearlong pursuit, I perfected a method for peeling those layers of deep understanding faster. I’ve since used it on topics in math, biology, physics, economics and engineering. With just a few modifications, it also works well for practical skills such as programming, design or languages. Here’s the basic structure of the method: Coverage Practice Insight I’ll explain each stage and how you can go through them as efficiently as possible, while giving detailed examples of how I used them in actual classes. Stage One: Coverage You can’t plan an attack if you don’t have a map of the terrain. Therefore the first step in learning anything deeply, is to get a general sense of what you need to learn. For a class, this means watching lectures or reading textbooks. For self-learning it might mean reading several books on the topic and doing research. A mistake students often make is believing this stage is the most important. In many ways this is the least efficient stage because the amount you can learn per unit of time invested is much lower. I often found it useful to speed up this part so that I would have more time to spend on the latter two steps. If you’re watching video lectures, a great way to do this is to watch them at 1.5x or 2x the speed. This can be done easily by downloading the video and then using the speed-up feature on a player like get a free copy of his rapid learning ebook (and a set of detailed case studies of how other learners have used these techniques).