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


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

Aug 15, 2013 - 11:01am
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.


Aug 15, 2013 - 11:04am



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!

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.

Aug 15, 2013 - 11:31am

Top Ten Again

Top Ten Again

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

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.

Key Economic Events Week of 10/14

10/15 8:30 ET Empire State Fed MI
10/16 8:30 ET Retail Sales
10/16 10:00 ET Business Inventories
10/17 8:30 ET Housing Starts and Bldg Perms
10/17 8:30 ET Philly Fed MI
10/17 9:15 ET Cap Ute and Ind Prod
10/18 10:00 ET LEIII
10/18 Speeches from Goons Kaplan, George and Chlamydia

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Key Economic Events Week of 10/14

10/15 8:30 ET Empire State Fed MI
10/16 8:30 ET Retail Sales
10/16 10:00 ET Business Inventories
10/17 8:30 ET Housing Starts and Bldg Perms
10/17 8:30 ET Philly Fed MI
10/17 9:15 ET Cap Ute and Ind Prod
10/18 10:00 ET LEIII
10/18 Speeches from Goons Kaplan, George and Chlamydia

Key Economic Events Week of 10/7

10/8 8:30 ET Producer Price Index
10/9 10:00 ET Job Openings
10/9 10:00 ET Wholesale Inventories
10/9 2:00 ET September FOMC minutes
10/10 8:30 ET Consumer Price Index
10/11 10:00 ET Consumer Sentiment

Key Economic Events Week of 9/30

9/30 9:45 ET Chicago PMI
10/1 9:45 ET Markit Manu PMI
10/1 10:00 ET ISM Manu PMI
10/1 10:00 ET Construction Spending
10/2 China Golden Week Begins
10/2 8:15 ET ADP jobs report
10/3 9:45 ET Markit Service PMI
10/3 10:00 ET ISM Service PMI
10/3 10:00 ET Factory Orders
10/4 8:30 ET BLSBS
10/4 8:30 ET US Trade Deficit

Key Economic Events Week of 9/23

9/23 9:45 ET Markit flash PMIs
9/24 10:00 ET Consumer Confidence
9/26 8:30 ET Q2 GDP third guess
9/27 8:30 ET Durable Goods
9/27 8:30 ET Pers Inc and Cons Spend
9/27 8:30 ET Core Inflation

Key Economic Events Week of 9/16

9/17 9:15 ET Cap Ute & Ind Prod
9/18 8:30 ET Housing Starts & Bldg Perm.
9/18 2:00 ET Fedlines
9/18 2:30 ET CGP presser
9/19 8:30 ET Philly Fed
9/19 10:00 ET Existing Home Sales

Key Economic Events Week of 9/9

9/10 10:00 ET Job openings
9/11 8:30 ET PPI
9/11 10:00 ET Wholesale Inv.
9/12 8:30 ET CPI
9/13 8:30 ET Retail Sales
9/13 10:00 ET Consumer Sentiment
9/13 10:00 ET Business Inv.

Key Economic Events Week of 9/3

9/3 9:45 ET Markit Manu PMI
9/3 10:00 ET ISM Manu PMI
9/3 10:00 ET Construction Spending
9/4 8:30 ET Foreign Trade Deficit
9/5 9:45 ET Markit Svc PMI
9/5 10:00 ET ISM Svc PMI
9/5 10:00 ET Factory Orders
9/6 8:30 ET BLSBS

Key Economic Events Week of 8/26

8/26 8:30 ET Durable Goods
8/27 9:00 ET Case-Shiller Home Price Idx
8/27 10:00 ET Consumer Confidence
8/29 8:30 ET Q2 GDP 2nd guess
8/29 8:30 ET Advance Trade in Goods
8/30 8:30 ET Pers. Inc. and Cons. Spend.
8/30 8:30 ET Core Inflation
8/30 9:45 ET Chicago PMI

Key Economic Events Week of 8/19

8/21 10:00 ET Existing home sales
8/21 2:00 ET July FOMC minutes
8/22 9:45 ET Markit Manu and Svc PMIs
8/22 Jackson Holedown begins
8/23 10:00 ET Chief Goon Powell speaks

Key Economic Events Week of 8/12

8/13 8:30 ET Consumer Price Index
8/14 8:30 ET Retail Sales
8/14 8:30 ET Productivity & Labor Costs
8/14 8:30 ET Philly Fed
8/14 9:15 ET Ind Prod and Cap Ute
8/14 10:00 ET Business Inventories
8/15 8:30 ET Housing Starts & Bldg Permits

Forum Discussion

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