OK, for whatever reason I forgot to add these to the last post. BAD Khatzumoto! Here we go:
Oh, wait, before we start, wanna here a sad story? I wrote this post out in one go like 3 days ago, and then a mis-directed click caused me to lose it. All of it, son. Desk-slamming pain. And pain from slamming the desk. OK, for real now, here we go:
0) If you take only one piece of advice I have offered in these past two posts, take this one: use an SRS. In any class that requires you to memorize something, which should be just about everything except those P.E. classes, you should use-an-SRS. How? What you do is, you make yourself exam questions during and after each class. That’s right, you make them up. And of course make answers. And of course make sure your answers are correct. While your at it, enter all your homework questions and correct answers/solutions into the SRS as well. You will be surprised how easy it is to make up questions when the material is fresh in your mind…and grateful when you see rather similar questions on the exam your instructor makes.
Why do this? So that you don’t need to cram. Cramming sucks. It sometimes works, but rarely, and it’s a huge cause of stress. What if I told you that you would never need to cram again? That’s what the SRS can do for you — make it so you never need to cram, or even do special studying for exams (other than your daily SRS reps).
You see, what most people call pre-exam “revision” or “reviewing” isn’t revision or review at all. It’s straight up re-learning forgotten material, from scratch, like a Martha Stewart cake. The Germans have a word for this: wastingyourfreakingtimedude. If you’re going to learn something, learn it once, and never forget it again. An SRS can help you with that.
If it’s so easy, why don’t more people do this already? Because it requires forward planning. Don’t try to SRS things up for an exam at T-10 seconds to launch; it won’t work. You need to start this SRS thing, to sow your seeds, well in advance of the harvest, I mean, err, exam. Sow. Then reap. Sow. Then reap. Sowing comes first. Pay a little in terms of work each day, maybe get a buddy to keep you kosher, make up your questions during or after each class, and practice them every day, and then reap the benefits come exam time. As Jim Rohn says, the things that are easy to do are easy not to do. Say you make up 20 questions per class session and have 3 class sessions a week…That’s 60 questions per week, or 900 per 15-week semester. Try making up 900 good questions the day before the final. It probably won’t work.
Sidenote: another good thing to focus on is anything where the instructor says “this will be on the exam” or “this is important”; that’s most of what going to class is for.
1) Use mind maps heavily where they work. Generally this is in classes that require you to memorize, organize and reproduce large amounts of disparate information. Mind maps give you that gestalt view that linear notes do not and cannot. It would not be an exaggeration to say I aced my college history classes (and by “ace”, I mean doing things like earning all points possible in the class) because of mind maps. Tony Buzan, the number one dude-above-all-dudes of mind-mapping recommends them for almost everything, and he’s not wrong as such; however, there is one field where I have found mind maps more or less useless: that would be in classes that require the memorization and application of Al Gore Rhythms: methods of calculation. So, most mathematics-type classes. There aren’t that many ideas or concepts to arrange in a typical mathematics class, you simply need to know efficient methods for solving problems and checking your solutions. So, don’t bother as much with mind maps in these classes. Try to follow the guidelines for making good mind maps, but don’t get too hung up on it, and don’t be like me and worry about “what color to use next”. Just for kicks, here a couple of my own mind maps from the aforementioned history class:
2) Quendidil was right. Adam Robinson’s What Smart Students Know (WSSK) is a great book, it really is, but those 12 questions that Adam makes up are just too complex. Part of being a smart student is actively choosing what NOT to do, and what to IGNORE, so Mr. Robinson probably won’t be offended if I tell you that you only need, like, 5 questions to get you through school, and you don’t even need them all in every class. Four of those five questions are your old favorites: who? what? where? and how? The fifth, greatest and most neglected of them all is: what if? Whatif is your new best friend. Get to know her. For one thing, she’ll help you in making cool SRS questions (1), and when I say cool, I mean both “fun” and “the kind of stuff that will be on the exam”. Asking what if not only gets you engaged with the material, no matter how boring or stupidly presented, but also encourages you to truly, meaningfully deepen your knowledge of said material. They say that you don’t know how good something is until it’s gone. Perhaps they should also say that you don’t know the significance of something until you consider its radical alteration or even its absence. What if water molecules weren’t shaped like Mickey Mouse heads? What if you changed just one physical constant? What if this variable were given a negative value? What if…What if…What if…
[Note: Why? doesn’t seem as important a question in terms of schoolwork…but the curious might also include it in the list of essential questions, to make six.
Now that I think about it, if enough of us asked “why?”, we could help school suck less, or maybe even just realize that we don’t particularly need school…But why be radical when we can just let the next generation waste 12+ years of their lives, too, right? Oh, I’m sorry, that was out loud 😀] Now that I think about it, I guess “why” does matter in school, but only in the limited, how-teacher-says sense, not in the true sense of asking “why”. Most teachers don’t want to hear what you think, they want to hear what they think repeated back to them; in this sense they’re not bad people, just vain, like many of us.
3) Class summary sheet. This is another golden Adam Robinson idea. Too many of us live on an intellectual hand-to-mouth basis. Heck, too many of us live on a financial hand-to-mouth basis, but that’s another story. Just dragging our feet to class, day in day out. Sitting in there…trying to chew gum while the teacher isn’t watching. No idea what the dude is talking about. Only the vaguest idea of what we covered last class, and no idea of how today’s class fits in the whole. Playing with our pens, pretending that they’re aeroplanes. Or maybe that was just me. But, regardless of how stoopid certain things about school are [and there are a lot of things stoopid about school, any frank teacher will admit this to you, and he will admit that the primary reason that things are being done the way they are is to make them as easy as possible to grade]…
Dude, we need gestalt [am I even using this word right?]. We need whole. We need the overview. Don’t wait for someone to give it to you — no one can give it to you in a way that suits you, but you. The way to give yourself the overview is by having a single sheet of paper that contains a summary everything that has been covered in the class up to the present time. You update this sheet after every class, shrinking and abbreviating as time goes on. In my math classes, particularly calculus, I made this sheet linear — it contained nothing but calculation methods — but for everything else, I used some kind of mind-map structure, because things tended to interconnect more.
4) Exploit “state”. Do work during and after class, when the material is fresh in your mind. Strike the iron while hot. Wait till later to goof around (don’t wait too long, though 😉 ). When the project or class “state” — all the data and nuances and ins and outs of some project or class — is all fresh in your mind, USE it. Reloading wastes time/self. What this means is practice is: try to get as much work as possible done during class or shortly thereafter.
5) OK, so textbooks suck, yes, they were made by war criminals and sadists in their spare time. But forget about whining. MINE the suckers! MINE them for exam questions, and put those questions and answers into your SRS (0). On second thought, do be a bit picky — you only need mine the parts that are important to the instructor.
5.5) Get other books — supplementary books, books outside of the set framework. If you wanted to learn about something in real life, you wouldn’t get only one book, would you? And you wouldn’t get only the book or books that one person told you too, would you? I didn’t think so. But for some reason, we tend to this at school. We tend to only use the assigned textbooks. Big mistake. First of all, remember this — at present, textbooks aren’t written for students, they’re written to impress the people who are in charge of buying them for, or assigning them to, students. Secondly, even if textbooks were actually written for students, it is statistically unlikely that a single human being or small group thereof would have the combination of willing, ability, and clairvoyance to explain everything to you in just such a way that you would understand it perfectly just from the one text. So you need other books, just like you need a second or even third medical opinion. Hearing things from another perspective may be just what you need to make something click. I remember how some physics books would simply assume that I knew how to do something that I did not necessarily know how to do, so I went and got other physics books that actually showed the simple details and basic assumptions of certain calculations. Also, this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but my algebra sucked before I really actually had to use it, which was in calculus class, and I had to teach myself algebra using a book called, funnily enough, Algebra: A Self-Teaching Guide, and on top of that, I got another book called How To Ace Calculus (a math book that’ll have you laughing more than like 90% of the shows on Comedy Central…oh was that out loud?), and, yes, I did ace calculus.
6) Schoolwork is a product, not a work of art. It just needs to get done. You only get rewarded for producing it in a timely fashion. “Timely” is medieval Swahili for “long before lateness is even an issue, or otherwise ASAP”. There is no reward for worrying about it, nor for hating it, nor for putting your soul into it. So produce. Quickly, efficiently, and yeah, maybe you can find your joy in your speed and efficiency. All you perfectionists out there: get it done. Remember: you have other stuff to do that you actually care about — like Japanese. Lots of anime to watch, manga to read, senbei(煎餅) to eat, Pocari Sweat to drink. So get the schoolwork done and out of the way, and don’t let it eat any more time that it needs to. Remember Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion — use the law against itself; shrink the time through timeboxing (see previous article) and get work done quickly.
OK, that’s all I’d really like to say about schoolwork at this point. I kind of feel unqualified talking about school because of the failures that I previously discussed, but, having said that, I have also had pretty massive scholastic success, and that success was basically always accompanied by a good, systematic method. I have sometimes been too lazy or too perfection-obsessed to apply good methods, but when I just applied them, I did really well. Use these methods, make them work for you, keep your common sense set to “on”, and I imagine you should do really well, too. Especially with the SRS thing.