- Computational Linguistics
- Creative Writing
- Essays and Literary Analyses
- Foreign Languages
- Guest Posts
- Introductory Remarks
- My Projects
- On Humanity: Ethics, Politics, and Opinion
- On Life
- Standardized Testing
- University Admissions and Professional Life
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- September 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
Those who read yesterday’s brief ramble will know that I’m mid-mid-term season; it’s Reading Week, and over the course of the past few days, I’ve been running group cram sessions and organizing my thoughts where my upcoming eight assessments are concerned. Through all of this preparation (most of which I don’t typically effect, though I should – I’m putting pressure on myself this time around because all of these assessments are occurring near-consecutively), I’ve begun thinking about the assortment of ways in which one can work to prepare for tests both standarized and course-specific.
The below, then, is a brief list of things that I and those people I occasionally help out have found useful during prep. time; it isn’t at all extravagant, but some individuals I know claim that these suggestions have worked for them, so I figured I’d post.
N.b.: Some of these may appear to cater to less-than-praiseworthy modes of thought. It may seem that I’m encouraging you to objectify your learning by suggesting that you study with material rewards in mind. As someone deeply in love with academia, I understand that this is not optimal. However, I think we all have those days on which, for one reason or another, we just don’t want to keep going. At those times, which so often occur when pressure starts building around us, the short-term goal lies not in reshaping our thoughts, but in building enough motivation, however we may come by it, to execute useful actions. This list is designed to help you do that.
- Log on to Studentawards.com, and get a realistic glimpse of the rewards you could gain if you do well. Set your profile information to include your current average, and do a scholarship search. Then, set it to include the average you want to achieve, and search again. Note the difference, and you should feel some excess incentive to continue studying.
- Picture yourself on stage, winning a high distinction in your field. Allow yourself to daydream: think about what you’d say in your acceptance speech, whom you’d thank, whom you’d want to see in the audience. This should grant you some form of a rush; then, convince yourself that the first step lies in completing what’s in front of you.
- If you’re a performer (e.g., an actor, a vocalist, an instrumentalist), or if you participate in athletics, draw the necessary parallels! How nervous would you be if you began rehearsing your lines the night before a performance, first touched your RCM pieces a week before you needed to perform them, or started training two days before a game after a month-long pause? Though these things and exams aren’t entirely interchangeable in terms of prep. time, the idea holds.
- Make chains of opportunity, and identify individual links. Write out your long-term or short-term goals, research them, and draw out flowchart-esque diagrams showing you what you’ll need to do to attain them. For example, do you really want to go into software engineering? If so, perhaps a Microsoft scholarship would be of use to you. But you need a 3.0/4.0 cGPA to even be considered. So, maybe scoring high on your seemingly unrelated, rapidly-approaching thirty-percent midterm really is worth the study time. Want to do genetics research? Networking and prior experience are certainly helpful, but they sometimes may not suffice: you may, for example, be told that you nevertheless need at least a B+ in a relevant lab course, and an A- cGPA.
- If you know that you need to review, but you understand most of your material so well that you’re severely disinterested in going through the details, teach a friend! This person will profit from your knowledge, and you’ll be manipulating the material in a new way that demands your focus.
- Every time you see something you don’t understand, learn it! People often avoid the segment on the lecture slide that they can’t comprehend, marking it down for “later review”. Don’t! Browse the Internet, go through your textbook, or ask a friend, but do so right away.
- Look for puns, make your own mnemonics, and create bad jokes. Since I wrote that strange summation of Renaissance-period love poetry to the tune of Haddaway’s “What is Love”, I haven’t been able to forget those references. The entirety of our third-year physiology class laughed at Janice’s saying that “Rh- doesn’t want the D”, in reference to RhD hemolytic disease of the newborn, and far fewer people have forgotten the nature of the alloimmune condition since she posted the meme-esque joke.
- Make a project of your studies – write an informative blog post, make sample question sets, create a test review guide and send it to friends, or organize a group study session. All this things will, assuming that you announce your intent to create them ahead of time, keep you engaging in detailed review of your material well in advance of your tests.
- Familiar with higher-level material (e.g., related research), and quick to go on tangents? Allow yourself to browse interesting, slightly-material-relevant tidbits. Going through your physiology notes, you see that angiotensin II is of relevance to vasoconstriction. Bored of reading about its effects on a healthy cardiovascular system? If you’re a neuroscience person, go on Wikipedia and compare angiotensin’s neural effects to the ones you just learnt about. More into the biochemistry of things? Look through your textbook for the mechanisms behind cardiac cell growth stimulation’s activating a renin-angiotensin system in the cardiac myocyte. Really into developmental physiology? Find papers comparing maternal and fetal systems! Though this may seem counter-productive, it may be useful if you’re the kind of person who likes making broad connections, and who is willing to spend several hours interacting with the material. If this is you, you might just remember that angiotensin II does something where cardio is concerned because you know it does something else in the nervous system. And you may even find that your “tangents” aid you in understanding phenomena in the pages ahead of you.
- Struggling to finish reading something boring? Go through different, harder material. CS person, but stuck taking an intermediate course that you could pass without really studying? If you feel you want some review that you just can’t force yourself to do, and you’ve always effortlessly excelled where computer science is concerned, ask yourself – how’s your Latin? Go through those declensions you’ve never touched, spend a few minutes translating a piece of writing, or try getting through a linguistics puzzle. It’s quite possible that you’ll end up being grateful that C++ is the only thing you have to write in for marks.
- Write down a particularly complicated paragraph’s main point after just one read-through. You’ll figure out what you’re forgetting; often, the fact that you see you haven’t noted down something vital once prompts you to recall it when the same subject comes up later.
- Make connections – every time you see an allusion to a previous lecture’s contents, go back and find the reference, then try to see if the two instances of the concept are at all related. This can help you prepare for short- or long-answer tests, which frequently demand that you use all kinds of knowledge and connect it fluidly.
- Always prone to want to study for the exam after this one? Tempted to review that “worthless” lecture you know so well? Do so! Understandably, if you’re a day away from the mid-term for which you should be studying, this is a bad call. Stimulating your thought process is, though, better than logging on to Facebook when you feel yourself giving in to distraction. Spend a few minutes reviewing for your easy linguistics exam if you really feel like doing so, or look through that first easy lecture in your fourth-year continuum mechanics course, and then jump back to the sixth. You’ll at least have continued problem-solving of some sort in the time you took to divert yourself.
Though you may well already use these, I thought I’d note them down. And with this being done, I’m off to examine more PSL470!
Several years after having firmly convinced myself that love for one’s subject is the only important thing where studying is concerned, that I’ve no fascination with competition, and that I’m no longer a gamer, I sit here with an unusually elevated heart rate and a familiar form of highly motivational hunger.
For the first time in so long, purely because of a conveniently-placed piece of advertising, I can kinaesthetically image the competitive edge – that rush that comes with, in video games, beating a level after learning precisely how to take advantage of that hidden spot implemented by the game’s developer; the superficial satisfaction that comes with striding out of an examination several minutes early, knowing that almost every answer you’ve given is indisputably correct; the command of and race against your mind that is calmly, confidently, flawlessly memorizing, manipulating, and reproducing every piece of content that can possibly present itself on an assessment.
Performance on tests doesn’t indicate intelligence, understanding of material, or practical capability, necessarily, but it takes a particular, knowledge-based, carefully cultivated precision to consistently obtain near-perfect scores on difficult examinations. You can only acquire this through being truly, diligently, unconditionally ready for whatever comes. Preparing yourself in this manner may take hours, to be sure. But those hours pass quickly, because you’re not struggling through your fourth PSL470 lecture, hoping it’ll end – you’re rapidly scribbling down every single detail of this blasted placental physiology so you can hundred-percent that thing! When you don’t understand a concept, you’re not Googling so that you can barely, maybe pass your mid-term by just half-grasping the main idea – you’re browsing so that you can recite the function of the last, “never-going-to-be-on-the-test” factor on that lecture slide – so that you can easily, intelligently spew things you’re not even required to know, and use them to supplement that last short-answer question! Going through practice questions becomes less and less painless, not because you’re getting lucky after a couple of hours of last-minute cramming at three in the morning, but because it’s a week before your test, you’ve already covered everything, and you’ve all the time in the world – well, almost – to adapt to the testing style that you’ll be facing next week.
And after the first hour of that three-hour exam, when you’re one question away from having confidently finished the test, having written non-stop, and you know exactly what to put down in that last, three-word blank, know precisely what you want to say in response to a question that others won’t even touch for another two hours? You feel like you’re flying.
With mid-terms looming, and eight assessments awaiting me, I had begun to feel thoroughly fearful earlier tonight.
It was then that I was seized with the sudden will to deposit every aspect of my remaining energy not only into writing my PSL470 mid-term, but into writing it as no one has written any such test before. In learning everything for it a week prior so that complex, time-sensitive questions will look like the fundamentals of some long-ago-mastered grammar on test day. Suddenly, everything is a game – every minute of sleep seems like it’s preventing me from the satisfaction of visibly nearing that last deliciously tricky end segment. Other work is an unwelcome distraction, because if I’m doing it, I’m not puzzling through a detail that could mean the difference between euphorically sprinting past a final intellectual obstacle and tripping over something stupid.
Life-long learning is a dedicated, laborious love, to be sure – not to be pursued for this kind of a rush. But mid-term season? That’s just a game. And every assessment undertaken? Just another one-trick boss: impenetrable if you’ve no clue what you’re doing, but easily reducible if you’ve got the skills and knowledge to defeat it.
Only here, there are no demos, and this is p2p.
So first, RTFM. Then, hone your tacs, expand your bases, build your strat. If it works for you, join a clan.
Whatever you do, don’t be a n00b. Be a ninja. Rush that thing, and pwn hard!
In other words, for those familiar with デスノート: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrpdFmb0EMc#t=49s/
Looking for a readily understood, greatly simplified paraphrase of love-related ideas present in Renaissance poetry? Set the period to the tune of “What is Love?”, and modify a few words!
“What is love?” (Dante to Virgil, Canto XVIII, Inferno)
“Oh baby you’ve hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.” (Cavalcanti, Voi che per gli occhi mi passaste il core)
“Oh, I don’t know why you’re not there.” (da Pistoia, Come non è con voi a questa festa)
“I give you my love, but you don’t care.” (Cavalcanti, Sonnet IX)
“So what is right and what is wrong?” (Dante, Canto XVIII, Inferno)
“I’ve been given three signs!” (Dante in essentially all of Vita nuova)
This is what I shamelessly produce when I’m sick, tired, and mid-Developmental Cardiology review. That can’t mean anything good.
As I mentioned in my New Year’s post, I’m running about seven U. of T. study groups this semester. Each of these has multiple in-person meet-up sessions weekly; most communication within them occurs via Facebook. All of them are rapidly gaining members; I’ve over 200 in one, and considerably fewer in all of the others, but expect minimally forty or fifty people in most of them.
Some of the people within these groups have previously been tutored by me, or are seeking guidance; some of these people are strangers; I know some, and am aware that they are very highly motivated and qualified. Many of these groups are, not surprisingly, science study groups. Regrettably, through sitting in on several life science courses, I’ve noticed that some people present don’t try to actively interact with their material: they simply swallow, regurgitate, and do their best to sit tests well. I haven’t seen too many people answering peers’ questions, or aiding one another, or even learning related content in advance. It’s the “pre-med keener” phenomenon that a lot of people describe, and it is not something I like witnessing, as a person with bio-related experience and, possibly, med-relevant future plans. Whilst I’m certain this form of thought is not as widely spread as it appears, I’d like to encourage people to avoid some aspects of this mentality – those that make you think your grade and not your level of understanding is the only important thing. At least within the confines of these groups, all of which I’m leading on my own, I’d like to promote interaction, understanding, and enjoyment.
Thus far, here are the ways in which – loosely – I intend to do this:
- Getting people to introduce themselves via some amusing medium (e.g., a not-too-serious questionnaire)
- Having people alternate in posting readings. A friend suggested this, and I think having a different person summarize each chapter of a given text will be very useful. This will, hopefully, encourage each person to flex his or her reading skills at least once; it will also ensure that if my presentation style doesn’t work for most of those present, we can find one that does.
- Occasionally polling people for their opinions on the group, themselves, the course, and everything in between.
- Setting up presentation schedules: Having a certain person present a certain lecture, for example. Of course, no one will be forced to do this, but if anyone’s interested, the option will be made available.
- Text-message-based question answering: I’ll provide my telephone number for quick course-related consultation; people who prefer texting can contact me via this medium.
- Mailing list: Some people don’t utilize Facebook. I will use course mailing lists to contact them, and will thereafter text them weekly to inform them of upcoming study group events.
- Scheduling in-person review events at least twice weekly at our university’s libraries
- Routinely recording and posting lecture audio (for those classes in which the instructors allow such things)
- Writing lecture notes for every lecture, but comparatively crazy ones. I firmly believe in the validity of productive distractions, example-rich text, and learning through asking questions. I would aim to include all of this within each set of notes:
- Interesting facts and examples: I’ve always found it easiest to internalize information that presented itself alongside captivated little facts. How pleasant it is to learn about the origins of the Roaring Forties when one can simultaneously read about Diomedea exulans’ unbelievable journeys!
- In-depth ecological or molecular explanations (for biology courses): When I study molecular physiology, I often find myself beginning to drift towards the “Why?” questions ecology so readily answers. Conversely, when I’m observing natural phenomena via ecology, I often find myself asking how certain interactions come about – by what molecular basis they are driven. Making connections between molecular, ecological, and developmental situations can prove very useful to acquiring multifaceted understanding within bio.
- Chapter summaries in question form: I find that seeking to create and answer my own questions prior to a test drastically aids me in comprehending course material. I will be summarizing readings in question form – in other words, I’ll create sets of questions encompassing the content of each chapter. My fellow students can then read these, attempt to answer them, and compare their answers with mine (which will be provided). This, I think, will encourage active review.
- A whole lot of Latin and Greek: I’ve always used etymology to explain concepts. I find it’s a lot easier to know what Methanothermobacter does if you can break down its name.
- Bad puns: I tend to make dreadful content-related jokes; these usually disgust people sufficiently to foster memorization, haha.
- Visual aids (e.g., mind maps, intricate diagrams): Some people greatly enjoy these.
- Inserting notes under corresponding lecture slides: I find that affixing notes to slides aids my tutoring students in understand what’s going on, so I will seek to apply this here, too.
- Making unit summations in essay or paragraph form: Some people learn better by reading material in a format that just flows. I’ll try to condense important concepts into brief short-answer responses. These could also prove useful should anyone have to resort to heavy cramming (which is typically detail-light and core-concept-heavy)
- Study tips (e.g., natural ways of staying awake, exam tips that have worked for me)
- Offering free, personalized tutoring via Top Tutors.
- Course Question of the Day: Recommended by a friend! A daily question summarizing course content currently being explored. Though I’d previously realized how effective this is, I never thought to implement it.
- Notes from office hours and review meet-ups: If we as a group have some form of question at a review meet-up, I’ll later post my response to it, doing added research if necessary; if our professors discuss something useful during office hours, I will also summarize it via the group.
- Explanations of multimedia presented in class: Sometimes, an interesting video is shown, but it progresses so rapidly that we can’t understand it. I’ll try to narrate some media, or otherwise break it down.
- Assignment, test, and lab solutions and explanations (again, only when permitted by professors): Often times, midterms, assignments, and labs come back to students without clarification. I would like to try to explain confusing solutions, if I can.
- Peer editing: I’ve edited people’s work for many years, so I will offer this free – albeit not particularly useful – service to my classmates, too.
- Bio-, physics-, literature-, linguistics-, or cognitive science-related news and ideas (e.g., the progress of assorted biotech groups, information in certain journals). Introducing contemporary connections to the material we examine can foster interest.
- Summations of debates that routinely occur in some of these fields (e.g., assorted issues in mental health care, the compassion-ration debate in medicine, major theories in Shakespeare studies). Dealing with higher-level, highly thought-provoking content may encourage people to really take in other facets of the field.
- Information about conferences and events: All too frequently, people miss out on captivating discussion and idea-sharing because they aren’t informed. I run several other informational initiatives.
- Inviting people with previous experience to discuss opportunities with the group, and aid in course assessment preparation: I’ve the good fortune of knowing many senior students and researchers; perhaps having some of them discuss their work or present their thoughts about last year’s midterm examination could benefit current students.
- MCAT, LSAT, and GRE training sessions, for those relevantly aimed: I’ve sat the LSAT, and will soon having finished the other two. Older friends could also provide assistance.
- Leading career-related discussions: Perhaps encouraging people to jointly explore a career a month or something to that effect, and having successful individuals come in to discuss their progress.
- Introducing students to research and shadowing, and aiding them in working towards placements. As a relatively young student who has gotten the opportunity to function in both of these situations, I would like to help others figure out how to claim and succeed within placements.
- Interesting problem sets that relate to course content (e.g., Olympiad linguistics puzzles for LIN100): For those who want excess challenges.
That’s all I can think of, for the moment. I’m uncertain as to how effective most of these attempts will be, but I want to try my best to foster enthusiastic, useful group learning. Doing so will be quite the project, and I’m not sure how successful I will be in promoting what I’ve described above, but I’m more than minutely excited for the moment.
What would you seek to include in the structure of a university study group?
When I was younger, I read Wikipedia daily for several hours to acquire assorted knowledge and procure ideas for later, more detailed research. Although I’m not quite as good at making time for this anymore, I continue to get my routine tidbit of information by keeping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random my home page. This link can be used to access a random article; understandably, every time you visit it, you should see something new.
This has really kept me grasping at interesting pieces of information. The idea, as could be expected, is Cyril’s.