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Faults in our Schooling System • Study Smart Not Hard

Where the Problem Lies…

Note that schooling institutions are not created equally. There is a lot of disparity between:

  • The level of material taught to the student
  • The quality of the instructor
  • Whether the student is prepared for a class or not
  • Whether a students custom learning requirements are met (ie. ADHD)
  • The pace that the instructor sets for the class
  • The amount of time given for flexibility (ie. if a student needs to catch up on something)
  • The size of the classroom dictates how much attention & care a teacher can give to each student

Whether by school, teacher, parent, peer, or by any other means, the students need to be taught certain skills in order to be successful in education. Such as:

  • Time management
  • Learning “How to Learn”

And sometimes factors like a student’s health has major affect on their capacity to study. Just as an example, let’s say that a student got exposed to toxic levels of mercury from silver amalgam teeth fillings, playing with liquid mercury as a kid (maybe swallowing some too), etc. Such exposure from Mercury can have a drastic effect on a human being’s ability to learn. That’s because mercury blocks the energy pathways that fuel the brain. That means the student may experience impaired focus and concentration, loss of memory & insomnia, and many other cognitive impairments. The point is that bad health leads to bad cognition, and therefore health is a major factor  that can affect a student’s education.

I too faced quite a bit of difficulty in school & college, to the extent that I grew opinionated, believing that:

School is kill or be killed. Don’t let it beat you down. School doesn’t teach you to learn. So we have to teach ourselves to learn and fight back. We have to learn to help ourselves. School is an obstacle, a test, a hardship that either defeats you or makes you stronger.

School is against the student; it doesn’t promote learning except to act as an obstacle that forces us to become better students or metaphorically “die”. We need to think like the cheater does and utilize shortcuts in order to beat the system. One such shortcut is speed-learning; meaning to memorize the bare minimum to pass the class. The problem is that a deep understanding of what we are being taught is required to digest more advanced study material.

We have a schooling system where good grades are what people are after, not necessarily comprehension and skill. It’s just that the educational system tries to tie the two; In order to have good grades, you must have comprehension and skill. But it’s not as simple as that. There are many other factors that students may not consider for obtaining a good grade. We are graded by our teacher; a human being. So one of the unsaid rules of getting a good grade is appeasing or making our instructor happy. We must follow his rules or fail; even if the instructor is wrong. Schooling puts discipline first over the pursuit of knowledge; if we don’t abide by the teacher’s rules, we get a bad grade. So in some instances, it does not matter how much knowledge we have on the subject but rather how well we know our teachers.

There may be a trace of truth in my opinion, but I suppose my rant stems from the fact that I didn’t learn how to manage my time properly and proper study methodology early on. If you want me to attribute blame to something, I would elect video games. Not that they are bad per se; but rather a double edge sword that can cause a person to choose bad prioritization. Video games are made to be addictive, and in my experience I really enjoyed playing video games a lot more over studying. If you ask me what the best way of learning is, it would be natural learning; where you put your child in a situation where he wants to learn from his own volition. Following our inclinations, our desires requires very little persuasion; I would even go do say that creativity or our ability to learn comes from pursuing our desires.

I asked around on Quora why students felt bored or apathetic towards learning in school. One fine fellow answered:

The folks who ran Hawthorne found out that when kids are bored, the work is not hard enough. Make it 10 times harder, and the kids will call it a challenge. Hawthorne helped many young men and women discover that they were a lot more intelligent than they thought they were.

Here are some causes for boredom:

  • The work is not enough of a challenge.
  • The subject seems irrelevant or pointless. It seems like something the kid has to learn, not something the kid has any reason to learn.
  • The child is repeating received messages about not being bright, or being bright (but so what), or guilt, should, and have to.
  • The learning method is either not clear to the child, or not appropriate to the child’s learning style.
  • The child is not supported in discovering that hard work is fun.

All of these problems can be solved with one solution: Support the child in taking the work on as a challenge. Help the child see the relevance of the learning and the excitement of mastering the subject. [Source]

Study Smart, not Hard

In this part, I will simply describe methods that a student, myself too, can employ in order to find success in future education.

Before Class

When taking on a subject, the first thing you should do as a student is prep work, or learn the (pre)-requisite material before taking the class. This practice of forethought is especially helpful when it comes to college-level classes & beyond. This allows you to experience less of a burden when taking more classes, and actually understand the material being taught in class because you are already familiar with it.

In Class

Once class has started for the semester, you should:

  1. Ready the Syllabus, understand the requirements
  2. Add the deadlines to 1 calendar that you use universally, I would recommend Google Calendar.
  3. “Scout the Terrain” of your textbook
  4. Employ Active, not Passive Learning
  5. Take “highly usable” notes

The Syllabus

Perhaps one of the most important tasks you can do as a student is to read the syllabus thoroughly so you know what to expect. Many times I skim over the syllabus to get an idea about what the class is about. But I regret not taking a step further and carefully taking note of the deadlines that the teacher outlined in the syllabus.

Calendars Are Kind of Useful…

To make sure that I am prepared for each deadline, I plan to utilize a universal calendar to keep on schedule for all my tasks. That way I am not caught unprepared for any “surprise” exams due to my unawareness.

Scouting the Terrain of your Text

Another important idea that I picked up is to become familiar with what the textbook has to offer. You can do this by simply reading through the table of contents to make a mental outline of what is in your textbook. That way you can search for something in your text book, because you know of its existence.

Now you can start reading in depth each chapter of your text, word for word. But when you don’t understand something, don’t just keep reading. Just jotting down what you don’t understand to look it up for later isn’t enough either. I mean, we have the power of the internet at our fingertips!

Employ Active Learning, not Passive Learning

With the power of the internet, one very cool shortcut I’ve learned is to literally load a my whole browser with google search pages and fill it with questions while I read my text. So instead of staring at the text without comprehension and drool dripping from corner of my mouth, I am actively engaging in battle with my text book, encouraging myself to learn, to retain, to remember, to understand the text. We should study our texts books like we are having a 1 on 1 duel; where a passive approach will cause us to lose. When we don’t understand something, we have to immediately seek out the answer and accelerate; the alternative is stagnation and boredom.

Multiple Tabs open to speed learn

I realize after a while that although Google has evolved into a beast of a search engine for finding information, it can only decide what to show you by the keywords that you enter, your search history, and website SEO. That means that the Google Search Engine is not designed for the student. What I recommend you do is search for all the subjects, technical terms, and other things that you don’t understand from your text from a designated place for newbies like us. For example, StackOverflow. There is an upvote – downvote system that promotes the easiest and most well explained answer to the top instead of SEO hacks of a typical website. Additionally, the people on StackOverflow write answers with the intention to explain a subject to a student who has no background or is still new to the subject. And in this way you will find the easiest to understand information that will help you overcome the gaps in your knowledge.

The majority of people at StackOverflow are students. So that means the majority of upvotes / downvotes are made by students such that only answers that are designed to help the students understand a subject are upvoted to the top.

You should also consult your peers & your teachers on material you are learning. The internet can’t know what you don’t understand, but your peers and teachers can see what you don’t understand and point it out.

Use Different Medium for Study

As students, we learn by example. We learn by application. The more actively we engage in learning, the better we are able to understand and retain the material. A way of actively engaging in learning is to use various different mediums to study from, like:

  • Text books
  • Videos
  • Asking on forums
  • Consulting your peers
  • And the Teacher’s Lecture

Only reading the book is not enough, you want to engage in as many different senses and through processes in order to make as many neuronal connections in your brain about the subject you are learning. So if one method doesn’t sufficiently help you understand, you’ll be able to understand the topic through another medium

For example, video tutorials while following along writing or typing notes engages your sight, hearing, and the touch senses. But only reading the textbook alone engages only your sense of sight. The more actively you participate in learning, the more you will be able to learn.

Consulting your peers on the study material is very important. You not only fulfill your socializing needs as a human being, but also the ability to verbalize the subject by teaching it to others. By teacher other peers, you can also identify gaps in your understanding that you can later improve on. You can also be taught by your peers in their language that is easy to understand vs. the technical language a teacher may employ. I would recommend forming or joining a study group to acquire these benefits.

Another way you can study is to break apart a problem into smaller chunks, and solve those smaller chunks one at a time. That will give a bigger & more in-depth picture of the details of the problem, and help you understand what you don’t understand so you can search for/research what you don’t understand in order to learn the knowledge you need to understand.

Take Highly Usable Notes

A problem in my early days as a student is that I would take notes that I would never use again… which totally defeated the point of taking notes in the first place. Now, I take notes via my blog. This allows me to easily organize, archive, and quickly find notes on anything that I need to review. (My Java notes, for example). Another benefit is that I can easily share the notes with any other peer so that they can benefit from it and return their feedback for future improvements.

So my point is to take digital notes over paper-and-pen notes. I mean the technology exists, you as well take advantage of that! In my opinion, digital notes are the best types of notes to take because the technology exists that allows the notes to be easily organized, archives, and retrieved. The advantages of digital note over physical ones are many:

  • Digital Notes are highly searchable ie. you can find the section of notes you are looking for conveniently by a keyword search. You can’t do this with physical notes.
  • Easily share notes with your peers for mutual benefit. You peers get free study material, and in return they can tell you if the notes makes sense and if there are any gaps.
  • Digital Notes are highly editable. With pen and paper, you can only edit so much until you have to start with a fresh piece of paper. But Digital notes never deteriorate, easily expandable, and easy to re-organize
  • Digital Notes are highly readable. You may have experience your own or a peer’s notes handwriting to be soo bad that it is unreadable. Not so with digital notes :)

Notes should be treated like a repository or library of your own, so that while you perform your homework you have something to refer to. As a student programmer, I just discovered a trick that helped me quickly go through my coding. I store fully functioning code in an organized fashion, named in a way that reveals what the program does. Then when I am assigned a task, I refer back to my library of working code and pull parts of them like building blocks to help me rapidly develop code, requiring only a few tweaks here and there instead of coding from scratch.

Being a student is all about being able to solve problems. So with this in mind you & I should take utmost preparation; all that is required is the eagerness to learn.

The Revisionist

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