Here’s a few things you should know about my life as a UOL student. While studying, I was building a business, worked 2 part-time jobs, hit the gym thrice a week, Thai Boxed once a week, played basketball once a week, gave tuition, had an active CCA, and also had a girlfriend – all these while pursuing the goal of becoming the top student in my cohort.
I can assure you that I’m not some super smart guy that could understand and memorize things at first attempt. In fact, I was probably one of the slowest and most easily distracted students you could find. I knew that I had lots of commitments besides my studies. So, I had to take advantage of the 4 to 5 month annual break we had from school. The strategy was pretty simple – start studying as soon as I can.
I remember that the last paper I took in my freshman year ended on 28 May 2011. It was Principles of Sociology and I hated that unit. Right after we were released from the exam hall, I went straight home, took the car, drove to school, and started borrowing subject guides and textbooks for units I KNEW I was going to take next year. If you’re wondering how I knew what units I was going to take take, I’ll be talking about that in the next installation of the UOL Student’s Guide to First Class Honours.
I allocated at least 10 hours a week to read the stuff I borrowed and it didn’t go well. After a week, I got so lost that I almost gave up on this shit. In hindsight, I was studying the wrong way. I was simply reading the books from cover to cover – like a story. I thought it was like training for a marathon – the more mileage you get during training, the better your marathon timing would be! I figured that I couldn’t do that because textbooks and subjects guides weren’t written to entertain. They were written for something more.
I had to stop wasting time and find a smarter way to study.
I soon learned that it is better to deeply understand the mechanics of a few theories or concepts than to briefly remember the properties of many theories or concepts.
Properties are things you memorize, like the PPF is always downward sloping. Mechanics are things you rationalize, like the PPF is a point where opportunity cost is incurred, therefore it has to have a downward sloping curve to reflect a decrease/increase in the production of X when there is an increase/decrease in the production of Y.
Rationalization is much easier than memorization and it helps you answer questions that have never been in past year exam papers before. Don’t you hear the same thing from UOL students every time they come out of the exam hall? “Shit! What I studied didn’t come out!” It’s not that they were unlucky. The questions were just unfamiliar because they couldn’t match them with what they memorized.
Here’s a simple way to rationalize concepts and theories – Cause & Effect. Behind every concept, theory, model, or case study is a rational derivation to its existence. They can’t be produced out of thin air, right? That’s what textbooks are written for. They explain how great economists, mathematicians, statisticians, researchers, and basically people who have too much time, came up with all these theories and concepts. When you read textbooks, lookout and focus on rational derivations, then just speed-read everything else. You not only gain loads of mileage, but you actually understand and remember stuff.
We’re all humans and tend to forget things, here’s a way to retain what you’ve understood and easily regain them if you forget. Draw mindmaps. Mindmaps are the perfect tools to put these rational derivations into paper. I’m not going to dwell deep into how to draw mindmaps because I believe that there are loads of resources out there on mindmapping. If you look at how Quickienomics teaches Introduction to Economics, it’s presented in mindmaps because it guide students along the thought process.
So, regardless of what month it is now for you, start studying early, NOW. And do it the smart way. Draw those mindmaps and make your own notes. It is easier to scan through a thin stack of self-made notes than to flip through a thick pile of textbooks when you forget something.
Do this and I guarantee you that you’ll be practicing past year exam papers while others struggle to understand what the lecturer is talking about. You’ll be refining your exam writing skills while others depend on luck to spot questions. You’ll be reading beyond textbooks to value-add your answers to get the best score possible while others panic at the library looking for textbooks.
Now that you know how to study the smart way, it’s time to decide what units to take next year. But quite frankly, it doesn’t matter which units you pick. Find out why in the next installation of the UOL Student’s Guide to First Class Honours – Why Learning to Learn will help you overcome even the toughest unit in UOL.
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