Studying for What's On the Test
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?