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The Grade Whisperer: Rapid-Fire Advice

October 13th, 2009 · 10 comments

The Grade Whisperer is an occasional feature in which I use the Study Hacks philosophy of do less, do better, and know why, to help students overcome their academic problems.

The Return of Q & AAdvice

After spending a nice evening yesterday working through my backlog of Study Hacks e-mail, I felt inspired to do an old fashioned Q & A style post. I like these posts because they allow me to cover a lot of ground quickly and reinforce some of the Study Hacks basics. If you’re amenable, I’ll try to work more of these Q & A dashes into my regular rotation.

And as always, feel free to e-mail me with your own student questions.

From the reader mailbag:

While most of your site deals with college and some grad school advice, I haven’t seen anything for med students.  Have you talked to any successful students in med school?

Cal responds:

I have. The consistent message I hear from med students is that there’s a unique best way to study for each course/professor combo. If you can find this best way, then the task isn’t too bad. By contrast, if you don’t, you can end up spending endless hours and still not score as high as you hoped. With this in mind, these students recommend that for every class talk to both the professor, and older students who already took the class, about the best way to study.

From the reader mailbag:

I’m currently very sick (sniffles, fever, coughing, sore throat etc.)… but I also have five very scary midterms coming up very soon. What’s your advice for dealing with sickness when deadlines loom?

Cal responds:

Assuming your sickness is merely tiring (like a cold) and not debilitating (like the flu), then I recommend that you adjust your detailed date/action style midterm study plan (you do have a detailed study plan, right?) so that over the next few days you’re only doing 1 – 3 hours of work on your test preparation. Do this work early in the morning and afternoon, and then spend your after-dinner hours relaxing until sleep.

Once you start to rebound, review the study tasks that remain and then make the best schedule possible for completing them. (This will likely include a few hard days.)

From the reader mailbag:

What are your thoughts on rewriting lecture notes?

Cal responds:

It’s a waste of time. The best students learn how to process the information as its presented and then record good notes, in their own words, on the fly.

From the reader mailbag:

I read your article about grand projects.  I’m really interested in business, economics, and travel, so I want to start an travel abroad program that takes students to China to study China’s different economic policies. Do you have any ideas for a more feasible grand project that involves econ and business?

Cal responds:

As I explain in this article about innovation, it can be difficult to think up feasible grand projects from scratch. For example, to start a travel abroad program out of the blue will almost definitely fail. (The logistics and experience required for such a venture are staggering!)

This is why I recommend the following three step path: (1) join a community related to your interest; (2) pay your dues; (3) complete small projects to gain access to larger, more impressive projects.

The support and resources of an existing community will enable you to accomplish much more than if you were working on your own.

From the reader mailbag:

I just found out my final exam schedule and it’s not pretty.  I have 4 final exams in 3 days!  I am extremely worried now and I just do not know what to do or how to go about studying for these exams!

Cal responds:

The dates of your exams couldn’t matter less! If you have a detailed date/action style exam study plan (sense a recurring theme to today’s post?) then you should have no trouble completing all the necessary preparation work. Whether the exams all fall on the same day, or are well-separated, this should have no effect on a study process that spans 2 – 3 weeks.

10 thoughts on “The Grade Whisperer: Rapid-Fire Advice

  1. Two grade whisperers in a row!

  2. Mitangi says:

    I actually love the idea of these Q&As. You should definitely work them into a regular routine, if you’re considering that option. That being said, thanks for the great advice–some of which I was wondering myself 🙂

  3. I like the Q&A posts, and would be happy to see a few more.

  4. Vincent says:

    Cal, on rewriting notes, how much has your opinion changed since you wrote your article on Dave Hirsch’s advice?

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/02/27/the-art-of-taking-science-notes/

    I agree it’s a waste of time to rewrite notes for easy classes like psychology. But the equations and proofs for continuum mechanics and medical imaging may need some second-hand kinetic engraving into the mind. This helps one answer Q+R questions more easily, and develops the “insight” you hold high for technical courses. Additionally, to gain insight, I think you said you rewrote proofs for a course like abstract algebra. How would just writing and quizzing w/ Q+R questions be different from Q+R plus rewriting some of your important notes beforehand?

  5. Ilham says:

    “It’s a waste of time. The best students learn how to process the information as its presented and then record good notes, in their own words, on the fly”

    I also think some courses just weren’t meant to be processed. Example are biology courses with their huge amounts of bare fact that just has to be memorized. You can’t go ahead and add in your own ideas at times, although it is possible to re-write the notes in your own words during class.

  6. On the topic of rewriting lecture notes, I also think it can be a waste of time. However, I’ve found that it’s helpful when your professor is going through information faster than you can write all the important details in full. When this first happened, I reviewed my notes a few days later and couldn’t remember the significance of some of my abbreviated version of the information. For days like this, I started rewriting my notes as soon as I could after the lecture so the information was still fresh in my mind and I could fill in the gaps. In that particular occasion, rewriting notes was really helpful to me.

    I enjoyed the Q & A– It helped me skim the questions and find the ones relevant to me. Thanks!

  7. Maureen says:

    I, too, thought you were a proponent of rewriting notes.
    I use to do this a lot but takes a lot of time.
    Also, what’s your opinion of writing notes copied from the text book? Do you think this assists in remembering the material?

  8. Jamal says:

    Yeah, I thought you were all about rewriting Discrete Math notes!!!

  9. Study Hacks says:

    Yeah, I thought you were all about rewriting Discrete Math notes!!!

    I implicitly referring to non-technical courses in that question. But I should have been more clear!

  10. Study Hacks says:

    For days like this, I started rewriting my notes as soon as I could after the lecture so the information was still fresh in my mind and I could fill in the gaps.

    This is a great technique. I actually have a post about it from early in the Study Hacks Canon (I think it’s called “an instant replay booth method,”or some such.) I think of cleaning up holes in your knowledge right after lecture as part of the original notetaking, not a rewriting from scratch that happens later.

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