Studying for What's On the Test

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - 10:51am

At a higher-educational institution, there is a rite of initiation into a select group. Every year, a small group of students embarks on a contest, held in secret to all but members of the group. The winner of the contest gets a coveted award, given out once per year, and all the bragging rights that go along with it.

The premise is simple. From a list of classes dropped into a hat, each student randomly draws a class, and enrolls. No two students in the same class. Each one vows to capture the highest grade in the class, and the winner is the one with the highest grade, no cheating. In the event of a tie in grades, other criteria are used for the victor, such as quiz scores, grades on the final, etc., until a winner is selected. It is a purely objective measure.

So, after the summer break, classes start. The students fan out to their various classes and begin their studies. One student furiously studies and reads ALL of the materials, laboring day and night in his effort to get the highest grade. He does all that is asked, masters the subject, and feels confident after the class ends that his grade will be the highest.

Another student, elects a different strategy. Hopelessly confounded by the arcane subtleties of the vexing subject matter at hand, the student recognizes that mastery of the subject matter of the class is impossible in such a short time. Instead, this student realizes that the contest rewards the highest grade, which is not necessarily the same as mastery of the subject matter of the class.

So, this student approaches the contest with a plan: instead of studying what the professor recommends, reading, all the homework, etc., this student embarks on a quest to talk to other students who have previously taken the class and gain insights as to what is likely to be found on the final exam, the quizzes, etc. After researching and finding some students who have previously taken the class, the student interviews some of them, and pays careful attention.

The student learns that the professor rewards issue spotting, that is, application of the subject matter, as opposed to regurgitation of rote memorization. This student learns that the entire grade is based on a single final exam, which is a single essay question, based on a set of facts followed by the simple instruction: “Discuss.”

But, the student worriedly asks, how does the professor grade such an exam? The previous student says “oh, that’s easy.” He says: “The professor is always giving clues during class. The professor always tips his hand as to what is likely to be on the test, and this is what you write down in your notes, and basically expect it to show up on the essay question on the final exam.”

The student, puzzled, asks: “can you give me an example?” The other student says: “Sure. When something is testable, the professor says something like “you may want to remember this,” or “this is good to know,” or “you may want to write this down,” things like that.” And, the previous student continues, the professor is ALWAYS telling you WAY MORE than you really need to know for the test. He cannot help it, it is just the way it is. But every now and then, the professor drops a little clue that the day’s lecture is not testable, because he says something like: “this is just cultural enrichment,” or “sorry to digress,” or “I was going to have you read chapter ___, but we did not have time today to discuss that.” The previous student says: “See, get it?”

The now wide-eyed student says: “Thanks, I get it.” He then dramatically alters his studying method. In class, the student pays careful attention to the professor’s subtle clues. As he hears the phrase: “this is important,” he furiously writes notes. He realizes that only about 10 percent of the time is the professor actually relaying testable information.

The student prepares for the final exam by distilling his notes into an outline, and as if by magic, a pattern emerges. It turns out, that the professor has highlighted several words that have huge significance, leading to discussions of key concepts. The student realizes that writing the “buzz-word” from the notes triggers an easy discussion of the concept.

So, the student ignores all of the reading. The student ignores all of the material mentioned outside of the professor’s tell. Instead, the student focuses upon mastery of only a few “buzz-words” and their concepts. Studying time is minimal, but focused.

In responding to the final exam essay question, the student spots the issues from the essay question, and discusses the issues he spots by mentioning the “buzz-words” in context, using the buzz-words as an outline method on his essay.

When grades came out, which student won the contest?


About the Author

Does Feb19 Comex gold close above $1250 on Friday?
Total votes: 183


Darth Smoker · Aug 15, 2013 - 10:55am



Darth Smoker · Aug 15, 2013 - 10:57am

First! Yah, need something smart to say

Gold to $10,000 Dow to 5,000

iceman321 · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:01am
Zoltan · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:03am

Who Wins?

The student who masters the test. My experience (after three university degrees) is that university is very good at identifying people who are good at writing tests and essays. Beyond that, mehhhh.


treefrog · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:04am



RationalMind · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:10am

Appying the fable to Precious Metals

CAL Lawyer,

Very interesting fable.

If we try to apply to the PM market, it would seem that 'past students' that we should get insights from would be figures who have been through steeped in this market for many years. In addition, 'past students' would be playing different roles, be it PM traders/experts, mining buffs/experts, monetary buffs, etc. Hmmm......who could be the 'professor', who's setting and grading the final test? One possibility is the 'market/economy' itself. The cues that have been dropped throughout time before the final test, would be the various un-varnished indicators. There would be other aspiring professors, like the Bernank, but these would be false prophets. Following them will not lead to salvation!

Hawkman · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:25am

Well done CL, and highly applicable...

...not just to the world today but to life in general. Spot on description of academia. Received my sheepskin in '84 and by the time I walked across the stage I was an expert at taking tests - but not much else. Seek cultural enrichment for its own sake - but study what's on the test to survive.

Anyone else feel like the dam is about to break in the PMs?

1. The 10yr just broke 2.8.....2.8!!!

2. The Morgue is now net long and stacking Au and Ag like no tomorrow.

3. Middle East is a damned tinderbox.

4. Miners shutting down, reducing supply after months of selling below the cost of production.

Jack - Who'd be overjoyed, if he wasn't so depressed.

AlienEyes · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:31am

Top Ten Again

Top Ten Again smiley

tmosley · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:38am

Who wins?  No way to know.

Who wins? No way to know. They are in different classes...

¤ · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:39am


Thanks CA yes

My short answer is that there is nothing wrong with either methodology employed by the students. Learning as much relevant material as possible on any given subject is never a bad thing.

The ability to observe and make efficient adjustments on a deadline of sorts (exam) is smart and somewhat lazy at the same time. 

I used to have a boss who liked to bust the guys chops (all pipefitters and welders) and say on occassion..."We're not building a Swiss watch fella's."

And he was right....we wanted to know as much as possible about certain aspects of jobs but our task was actually more narrowly involved and it was usually just a matter of attacking the situation and getting it done efficiently and moving onto the next task.

I see the example above as the same situation that's based on efficiency while cutting out the extraneous and unnecessary steps to get the task accomplished.

If I were a boss, I'd want the person who saved time and used their foresight to accomplish the same thing without dwelling on possibly irrelevant minutae that didn't need to be considered.

Time is money.

However, if we're talking about a doctor or lawyer etc. then I want person who knows as much as possible who has a wealth of important background knowledge....just in case something unexpected pops up.

I guess the scenario above depends on the stated goal and the occupation of the individual and what they're actually required to know.

The old saying, which I just made up (I think) is..." The student of many things is never the master of the what's needed right now"

Prioritization, efficiency and keen powers of observation go a long way in this world....and with bosses also.

Patrancus · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:52am

Studying for

what's on the test, Obozo would rather play cards and leave the testing to the experts in the situation room.

Daedalus Mugged · Aug 15, 2013 - 11:52am


Contest of the best grade: Study to the test

Contest of 'get ahead in life': The one who mastered the material

Contest of a good life: The one who would consciously and deliberately chooses what one studies and skills one develops determines what is important, and would never participate in such a contest. 

Hello Turdville. :)

· Aug 15, 2013 - 12:05pm

Btw everyone

How's that for an old-fashioned FUBM?!? Very nice!

treefrog · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:10pm

the real winner terms of receiving benefit from the educational process, is the student who does both - tries to anticipate what's going to be on the exam, AND tries to master the material as best he can.

real life is not binary.

lakedweller2 · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:13pm

Reality Answer

The professor has too many tests to grade so he writes out notes, with buzz words and extractions from his notes. He can't remember in which class he digressed and which he didn't, so he tries to stick to the major points of his outline which he is sure he covered. 

Then he takes those notes which are to be used for grading and gives them to the graduate intern who relies completely on the notes for grading the test. Anything outside the scope of the notes is not given credit and the guy that takes the shortcut wins. The student who has the expanded knowledge does not get credit because the professor's notes could not anticipate all the possibilities and the grad student didn't know the subject that well nor had he/she attended the class/es.

· Aug 15, 2013 - 12:14pm

The discussion of "mastery"

The discussion of "mastery" is interesting. You've described how people with a passable knowledge of "the system" but lacking in-depth knowledge, find it possible to move up in organizations while people competing with them who are technically more expert may not.

The whole concept depends on the system itself either (A) not caring which type of student moves up within it's ranks, or (B) vetting thoroughly but looking for for the wrong skills. 

A banker friend once said to me that he was working either with dobernanns in suits or politicians, but the professional bankers he once worked with were all gone. The bank in question has been sold twice since. 

erewenguy · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:17pm

Teaching and markets

When I taught I was guilty of coaching students with similar prompts that CL describes. However, I taught while moonlighting and because of my full-time job I did not have a lot of time to grade essay type exams. There is too much subjectivity in grading essays, and I preferred exams that clearly demonstrated knowledge of a correct answer (or lucky guess).

I suspect this is more similar to algorithm-driven positions, as compared to the greater complexity of the totality of human thought and emotion involved in taking a position in the markets. Emotions are the killer in making a wrong decision.

How many positions were sold when silver broke $22 on the way down. Who bought at the depths of despair? Shorts, what do you do now? Does this have legs?

Reason and rationalize to your heart's content, but make a decision and give your answer.

modi · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:18pm

Note to editor/writer: please use paragraphs!

Please learn to use paragraphs, this is unreadable and ruins the article.

Kerbouchard · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:23pm

Two Students

I would liken the two students learning methods to precious metals' investors different approaches.

Those who "get it" are the ones who've held on for a long time. They learned the key points of why gold and silver are actual money by distilling all the knowledge and commentaries into a simple formula -- thereby making it relatively easy to hang on through all the noise and confusion.

The other type of "investors" are those who read copiously every article in the mainstream media, and thus become perplexed by all the details. Yes, they have a pretty wide view, but they become hobbled by information overload and are thus easily thrown off the precious metals' bandwagon.

Simplicity is the key. Just listen to Professor Gold!

¤ · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:24pm


I would agree except I think the text editor after posting sometimes isn't working correctly.

CA has exceptional writing skills and I'm sure how that post formatted isn't what he intended for us.

Unless he's testing us. devil

Patrancus · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:26pm

The discussion of " mastery" @ argentus maximus

you are more than on to something, in my case having retired nearly 20 years ago from the street and having a spouse continuing in the business ever since then, I see things that most will never see or understand. Those professional investment bankers too which you are referring and that I worked with are indeed gone.

lakedweller2 · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:29pm

Geology Answer

Had a geology professor once say that it doesn't matter what you make in my course. What matters is what you do with your life after graduation. Ten years from now, whether you made an A or an F, it won't matter. Ten years later I was in the USAF because the Army wanted to draft me during Viet Nam. My grade in Geology did not matter.

Taught me about governments and free choice.

erewenguy · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:29pm


I can say the same thing. In my professional career I used perhaps less than 10% of what I learned in graduate school. Problem is, there was no way to predict in advance WHICH 10% I was going to need.

Strawboss · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:48pm

Ouch!  It hurt trying to read

Ouch! It hurt trying to read that without paragraphs...

erewenguy · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:53pm

WTF - meant in the best way possible

About time G&S were MANIPULATED!!!!!!!! to the upside

TreeTop Dweller · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:55pm

CA Lawyer

To think I could have done so much better just by showing up to class!

Never even considered that option.

Reminds me of the guy dating three women. Pressure was mounting to marry.

He decided he would give $5000 to each and see how they would manage this gift.

The brunette spent the $5000 on lavish, unique gifts for him. "honey, you are the most special man in my life. I have taken your gift and bought you these luxuries."

The blonde spent the $5000 on her herself, upgrading her wardrobe..."sweetie, thanks for the gift. I spent it on myself so I would look great for you!"

The red head took $100 and bought a year subscription to some blog by the name of Turd Ferguson, she then read all the material going back to the watchtower days. She acquired 1 Gold buffalo, spent $3000 on Junk Silver and gambled the rest on out of the money Gold& Silver Miner Options. By the middle of Dec 2013 she had transformed the initial $5000 to $12,500. "Darling, thanks for the seed fiat I now have some real money for our future"

Which women did he marry? "discuss"

He picked the one with the big breast!

agNau · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:56pm



hai · Aug 15, 2013 - 12:56pm
11IMIX · Aug 15, 2013 - 1:05pm

Nice pop...

Now that was a nice pop in the price. Good golly Miss Molly !

AlienEyes · Aug 15, 2013 - 1:06pm

G & S both just took a big

G & S both just took a big hike to the upside. cool smiley

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