Case Study: How Tyler Aced a Difficult CourseDecember 31st, 2008 · 11 comments
Tyler Gets Nervous
Our friend Tyler, whose quest for student simplicity I profiled last April, recently sent me a message. He was nervous about a course he was taking for his linguistics minor. The grade was based on bluebook essay exams. As he recalled: “The last time I took a bluebook course I almost failed it.”
We traded some e-mails. I gave him some advice and he sent back some updates. The final result: he aced the course.
In this post, I explain how…
Become a Bluebook Master
When Tyler wrote me, he wasn’t happy with the results of his first exam. The course was getting the better of him and he needed shiny new strategies. I gave him some advice, but more importantly he agreed to start actively experimenting and adapting his study strategies to the challenges of the specific course.
“I didn’t take detailed notes for my readings, however, and that’s what scared me on the first exam. From now on, I’m going to do the readings in a few sittings (as some of them are very difficult) and place more emphasis on recording Q/E/C [Question/Evidence/Conclusion] answers for the key readings.”
When we next spoke, his reading plan had adapted more:
“I think the key is doing the readings early in the morning and well before the exam,” he said.
“Skimming the reading before the lecture and then reading in depth only after the relevant lecture really made the whole process easier,” he later added.
A Moment of Appreciation
Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate this adaptation under fire. The readings were killing Tyler. On his first exam, he felt like he was under-prepared. He vowed to take better notes on the readings, but, because they were difficult, this was proving a hopeless task.
Then he innovated.
By our next conversation he had exiled the readings to the early morning, when his energy was high. He also broke them up into multiple sessions, making detailed note-taking less painful. Most importantly he realized that by skimming before class, then conducting detailed read after, he significantly reduced the time required to capture good notes.
Back to the Action
When Tyler next wrote, he had more good news to report.
“I learned from my post-exam post-mortems that giving definitions/real-life examples of concepts mentioned in lecture got one points. Mentioning material from the readings to prove that you did them did not help”
“Though, the professor did reveal what he wanted you to get out of the readings, he lectured too fast for most students to record anything but a brief bullet point summary of his words. He wanted us to spend time with the assignments to fill in what we couldn’t capture in class”
“I had a secret weapon in my study arsenal ready for that: my laptop computer. By being able to type quickly, I was able to really flesh out many of his arguments in class and thus not have to read 90% of the readings for the final exam!”
Finally, he also found success deploying the three-minute rule.
From Impossible to Easy
Tyler’s story provides an excellent case study for tackling a college-level course. He started with an impossible situation — a course with a huge amount of difficult readings, essay exams that seemed to be graded randomly, and a lecturer who flew through the material. This probably sounds familiar.
Instead of giving up, however, he payed careful attention to what was really required to do well and what wasn’t. (An idea fleshed out here.) He experimented and adapted, and by the end he was doing less work and understanding much more than most of his classmates. The ‘A’ came easy.
Next time you feel overwhelmed by a course, consider Tyler’s example, and instead of assuming the class is impossible ask yourself: What could I be doing differently to make this easier?