Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jan. 29: late on Sunday evening....

This isn't directly about the Moncton Times and Transcript. It is, though, a followup of sorts to a column that appeared in it on Jan. 28.  Aurelie Pare, a university student and columnist in the Saturday Whatever section, wrote a very useful article about the importance of study habits. I just thought I might be able to add something useful to it.

As a  high school student, I became an expert in not studying at all. Elementary school had been a breeze. I was one of the golden boys all the way. But high school wasn't so easy. And, coming from a working class background in which nobody ever expected to finish high school, anyway,  I just ignored study. By grade ten, I was often absent - though always with a note (supposedly) signed by my mother.

(The other trick was to tell the teacher that I had to go to the principal's office. It always worked. In fact, one day when Mr. McGarry caught me reading a cowboy story in class, he said, "Decarie. Go to the office right now and........No. You've been in the principal's office so often that if I send  you now he'll expel you.  So just put that cowboy book away, And listen.")

So I failed grade ten. Passed it in a breeze the second time around - but was soon failing grade eleven. Just before Easter, the principal really did call me to his office. "Let's face it, Decarie. You have no brains at all. It's time to go find a job." So I did.

A few years later, I began taking university courses at night. I still didn't study. But I got passes (mostly), even if they were rock bottom Ds. At last, I even got a BA (no major, though. My grades were too low for a major.)

Then I got the idea of going for an MA. Acadia very reluctantly decided to give me a chance - if I did another undergrauate year and did really, really, really well. Even somebody as lazy as me could understand that I had to make this one work. But how?

Here's how.

The basic principle is that the first time you study something, you will remember it only a short time - no matter how much you study it. The second time, you will remember it longer, - and so on. Obviously, I had to organize my study time to get maximum results.
1. I bought a set of index cards. Each one had four dates on it as, for example, Sept. 10, 13, 20, Oct. 20.

2. At each lecture, I put the date on my page (s) of notes. So, on Sept. 10, I would read over the notes for classes taken on Sept. 10. Three days later, on Sept. 13, I would read them over a few more times. Seven days after that, I'd read them again, then, a month after that, I'd read them again.
In the week or ten days before exams, I would go over all notes for the term.
The day before the exam, I would just relax.

3. It was very efficient. Each reading took only minutes (okay. maybe a  half hour if I had several classes in a day.) But at the end, you could start me off at any page of my notes - and I could finish the whole term's notes for you almost word for word.

4. Two, strict rules.
a) study every day, including weekends. In total, you'll study less. But with the regularity and the spacing, you'll rembember more.
b) In that same study period, use extra time to work on assignments, readings etc.

I rarely studied as much as an hour a day. But at the end of that undergraduate year, I had straight As. I did the same for my MA courses; and that got me into a doctoral programme with a scholarship.

It worked for this miserable wretch of a high school dropout. Think of how well somebody smarter like you could do with it.

Confession - memorizing is not a good way, really, to learn. Most of the information I memorized in that last undergraduate year and in the MA was forgotten within a short time after the exams. But the reality is that most undergrauate education is taught as memory work. Most professors don't know any better. Most have never studied teaching. Many see the teaching just as a nuisance. But memorizing is most of how you will be taught. So you will either memorize your way through a bachelor's degree - or never get a chance to learn anything at all. ( Much of the same is true of graduate studies - though at that level you also have to make yourself as much like the professor as possible.)

Trust me. The method is easy. And it works.


  1. Lots to think about here. Truth is fascinating!

  2. two years pf straight As. And all I remember is that that throwing somebody out a window is called defenestration.
    Universities need to take a break for some serious thinking about what it is they do.
    But they won't.