Ultralearning Book Summary by Scott Young: Master Hard Skills, Accelerate Your Career, Outsmart the Competition


Note: I just moved this post from Improveism, my old website. Some links and pictures might be broken.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a professional guitarist, a fluent N1 Nihongo speaker, a 5-star-dish-cooking chef, or even an internationally known writer?

Or perhaps you just realized that you have to learn high-paying skills ASAP so that you won’t be replaced by robots in the future?

Well, come to think of it… nowadays, you can make money out of ANY skill as long as you’re good at it. Just look at YouTubers!

The tuition fees for learning these skills with formal schooling, however, are incredibly high!

And to top it all off, the time required to learn these in school is just insane!

In addition, after finishing the “formal education”, you realize that you’re still not good enough.

Well, it even took these professionals 10 years to master their craft.

But worry not, my friend.

Scott Young is here to save the day.

“Who the heck is Scott Young? Why are you telling me random names?”

Scott Young is actually famous for finishing a 4-year CS course at MIT in just 12 months. Without going to school.

About Scott, Author of Ultralearning

This was his very first Ultralearning project.

He also used Ultralearning to develop incredible drawing skills in just 30 days!

Take a look at his improvement in the drawing below:

Ultralearning Drawing by Scott Young


But there’s more than that.

Scott is also a freaking amazing language learner.

His secret? Total immersion.

He spent an ENTIRE YEAR without speaking English (even in writing!) to effectively FORCE himself to learn a new language fast.

James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits, even testified to this feat of learning that Scott did.

According to him (in the Foreword), he was the one adjusting to Scott for speaking different languages!

Now, why is Scott doing this?

Is he, deep inside, a masochist for pushing himself this hard?

Does he hate himself?

Well, no. It’s because he has a passion for understanding how we learn, and how to do it faster than a freaking jet.

He writes about it in his blog, and now, another incredible work of art was born–his book, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. (Amazon afflink)

Cover photo of Ultralearning book

In Ultralearning, you will discover…

  • The 9 Principles That Accelerate Your Learning
  • Using LinkedIn to Learn Faster?!
  • How to create an Ultralearning roadmap that’s better than your school’s curriculum
  • An amazing way to start focusing EVEN when you don’t feel like it
  • What Scott used to remember EVERYTHING despite learning a TON of things in a short amount of time
  • And many more!

I won’t reveal everything in this post (that defeats the purpose of a summary, lol) so you gotta check out the book yourself to learn more.

What is Ultralearning?

Here’s Scott:

Ultralearning is a strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.

  • Strategy = it’s more suited for certain situations. 
  • Self-directed = you decide your path. You gain a sense of control because you’re not learning by default, but rather by design.
  • Intense = since you’re the one deciding your path, it’s your choice how to approach your learning to maximize your effectiveness.

This is the ultimate beauty in Ultralearning, in my opinion.

Instead of doing mindless homework like “Submit your report tomorrow”, you only do what’s essential for your learning.

It’s freaking gorgeous.

Imagine that school you’ve always dreamed of–Learning with purpose, learning things that actually give you satisfaction and the freedom of learning HOW you want.

Now, you don’t have to imagine it anymore.

Ultralearning gives you that experience once and for all. (This is my way to tell you that Scott is freaking amazing. Not fanboying, but can’t help it)

Okay, so let’s move on to the best ideas that I’ve learned from Ultralearning.

The 9 Ultralearning Principles: The SHORTCUT to Mastering Anything

Ultralearning Principle #1: Metalearning

First off, you gotta find out absolutely everything about your Ultralearning project.

The “What”, “Why”, “How” of your project.

And then, once you know them, you’ll realize that they are actually the core of your Ultralearning project.

They will be the “guides”, or simply the “essentials” that create the learning roadmap for you as you go along with your journey.

In the book, Scott teaches everything you have to do in this step.

It’s actually a pretty comprehensive one, so I can’t state them here as that might create some miscommunication. You know what I mean?

It’s surprising that you could actually use LinkedIn for this purpose.

Ultralearning Principle #2: Focus

You can’t expect to learn fast when you’re constantly distracted.

And that’s a fact.

Let me ask you a question. Have you said any of these things before?

  • I’m always procrastinating, I couldn’t even start working.
  • I keep getting distracted, that’s why I can’t focus.
  • I’m focused enough, but I don’t seem to make progress.

If so, you’ll love this section of the book. Scott tells the solutions to those EXACT 3 problems that you’re facing. But as a summary:

  • If you’re failing to start focusing…acknowledge the urges that make you procrastinate, find out what triggers it, and then convince yourself that you’ll just perform the Ultralearning session for 5 minutes.

    Now, once you get started, you can easily do the Pomodoro Technique to increase your productivity and focus!
  • If you’re failing to sustain focus… spend time finding sources of distraction: your environment, your task, or your mind. It’s easy to eliminate environmental distractions, but when it comes to task-related distractions or internal thoughts, it gets kinda problematic.

    What you can do is try to make the task more “focus-able” by adding elements such as writing down notes/doodling. For internal distractions, just externalize them into a notepad and then go back to them later; Lastly…
  • If you’re failing to create the right kind of focus… it may help for you to take a walk outside for a mental break, and work in an undistracted environment without external stimuli.

    By the way, I think in-ear earphones or simple earplugs do the trick! They’re absolutely amazing.

I felt like I have to put in this information because even those without Ultralearning projects can definitely benefit from this.

Ultralearning Principle #3: Directness

Your goal is to DIRECTLY learn toward what you want to be able to do after the project.

Learning what’s actually needed, not what’s easy.

For instance, in my case (I’m learning copywriting right now), it’s actually better for me to start analyzing sales copies rather than just read about copywriting. Sure, reading ABOUT copy helps, but directness works better.

Ultralearning Principle #4: Drill

This is actually “deliberate practice”, in Anders Ericsson’s words.

You have to IMMEDIATELY know what’s stopping you from making progress.

Is it that you’re always stuck dealing with adverbs? Then start learning about adverbs ASAP.

You’re always stuck when there are Partial Fraction Decompositions? Then learn how to do it ASAP.

Why spend time improving your strengths when your weaknesses are what’s holding you back?

Now, this shouldn’t be confused with strengthening everything.

For instance, you shouldn’t be learning every single word in the Japanese vocabulary if your goal is just to speak conversational Japanese.

You can just learn, say, 3000 most commonly used words.

Again, your Metalearning will guide you on this.

Ultralearning Principle #5: Retrieval 

How do you know when a piece of information is already in your brain?

When you can retrieve it.

When you can retrieve it out of nowhere, or if given questions.

In Ultralearning, we don’t want to waste time dealing with illusions of knowing. 

Just because you read something doesn’t mean it’s going to stick.

Stop it with the “I already know it”. Kill your ego.

The solution for this is to perform self-testing, aka retrieval practice. I talk a lot about this in my study tips section of the blog.

You can either do flashcards, create your own questions, summarize what you have learned (without peeking), and basically answer the end-chapter questions.

Scott even recommends in his blog that you create questions on the margins of your books, this is the method he calls “Question Book method”.

Ultralearning Principle #6: Feedback

Now, just asking yourself questions isn’t enough.

You have to know what the RIGHT answers are immediately after you recall them.

This is where most schools fail.

On most exams, you wouldn’t even know how to correct your mistakes, and you wouldn’t even be tested on that same subject again in the future.

That’s why students actually forget a lot of the things they’ve learned in high school, or in the previous years of their academic career, to say the least.

In his TED Talk, Scott recommends that you set out a tight feedback loop for all of your learning.

It’s basically a shortcut to correcting every mistake and spotting every weakness that you may have as you go along with your Ultralearning project.

Ultralearning Principle #7: Retention

But hey, if you can’t remember anything you’ve learned/corrected in the past, then your Ultralearning means nothing, right?

After all, you’re learning so fast that new information may have already “clogged up” previously learned ideas, right?? Not necessarily.

I’ll tell you the greatest method ever invented to retain information forever and stop forgetting. It’s called Spaced Repetition/Spaced Testing.

Basically, when you do Retrieval at the time when you’re just about to forget the material you’re learning, you strengthen that memory and make yourself retain it much longer than before.

In this blog, I’ve discussed revision strategies that helped me and a ton of other readers do just that.

I recommend that you sign up for my email list to get the FREE course to remembering anything, studying less, and accomplishing more.

Ultralearning Principle #8: Intuition

Based on the other books I’ve read, this relates with “Chunks” as I’ve already discussed in my other book summary of A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley. 

When you get deep into learning a subject matter, or have already practiced a lot of your Ultralearned skill, only then will you develop the intuition on how to “solve” the obstacles that you’re facing. 

To develop this as quickly as possible, Scott recommends that you do the Feynman Technique.

It’s a method of condensing information, and explain it to yourself/someone else in layman’s terms or by using analogies.

I’ll put a video here if you want to learn it:

YouTube video

It’s also pretty cool to explain complex stuff to kids, ya know.

Ultralearning Principle #9: Experimentation

This is where you start personalizing your Ultralearning journey.

For instance, when I started using Anki for school, I felt that a ton of guides solves every problem that I’m facing.

But eventually, I got stuck.

If you’ve read this far, you just know that “stuck” is the enemy of Ultralearning.

So what do you do? You start to consult your creativity.

You’ve learned a lot, haven’t you? 

So I started experimenting on “hacks”–basically how to make everything more efficient, how I can incorporate learning concepts into a flashcard system, how I can use memory techniques in conjunction with flashcards.

Basically, experimentation refers to deriving your own methods to accomplish your Ultralearning journey.

So you want to start learning high-paying skills faster, accelerate your career, and outsmart your competition?

You’ll discover how in Scott’s book!

Scott will be your mentor for the next few days as you read the book, and he’ll help you start your very own Ultralearning project.

It’s time you do something out of the traditional, boring, and outdated ways of learning.

This is THE best skill you can invest in.

You can check the price on Amazon if you’re interested, I’ll leave the link here below.

Link to Ultralearning on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2L3Xzv6

Other than that, let me know if you want more book summaries like this!

Now, let’s talk down in the comments about YOUR Ultralearning journey 🙂