Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Secret Recipe to High Grades

What is success? Success comes in a lot of forms, I suppose. In worldly views, it can be achieving financial security, being the top in your field, winning the lotto, even. But I believe it's really all about finding happiness. But what is happiness? I say it's a choice. I know that comes with some explaining and there's a lot I want to say about that but that's not the point of this post. The point is that, people view many different things as success. One of these, I've come to learn, is having high grades (A completely ridiculous notion since the grading system and exams are such ineffective ways to measure intelligence or mastery of skill, but that's something I'll get into some other time, too).

The thing is, I apparently have a knack for scoring relatively high in exams. I apologize if that sounded arrogant. The thing is, I've had many people come up to me and ask me how I do it. How do I do it? Doesn't that sound weird, like it's some kind of magic trick I pull every time we have to sit for an exam. Though, I suppose my non-committal shrug and close-mouthed smiles don't really help clarify the situation. This is also something that's been weighing on my mind. In my quest to diffuse any unnecessary attention toward me, it seems that I've become quite the ungrateful beneficiary. So, how do I do it? Well, I'm finally prepared to answer that question.

Let's start with the most basic, shall we? Review. And, when I say review, I mean re-view. There's a huge difference between reviewing and re-learning. It's a fairly basic thing but it's something many people seem to miss. Imagine this, exams are just a few days away and you're stressing yourself up trying to cram in every single line on a 600-page book. Would you really be so surprised that after all that you fail your exam? I'm not a neurologist but I don't really need to be one to tell you that putting that much stress on your brain doesn't really help with memory retention. But, I still see people crunching through books and stacks of hand outs like it's their first time seeing those notes and encountering those topics. The week before exams isn't the time for you to be learning everything in your syllabus. That's what you have the rest of the term for. What else have you been doing in the many hours of lecture that you haven't learned anything? Listen in class. That way, when exam week is nearing, all you have to do is re-view. As in, refresh your memory. But there won't be much to refresh if you have no memory because you were too busy texting your boyfriend or chatting away with your seatmate.

Understand the literature, don't simply memorize it. I know going down to the itty, gritty details and understanding the mechanism behind what your learning might mean that you'll be needing more time to cover your scope but it's a lot more effective than memorizing. Good professors know how to ask questions that measure how you understood the concepts they've been teaching you. There are, however, some who like to randomly point at their book and ask questions about whatever their finger lands on. And, yeah, maybe memorizing everything will make answering those kinds of questions easier but there's a different quality that you attain when you understand what you're studying instead of just having memorized a string of words or numbers in your head.

Take it easy on yourself. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to tell you to get lazy. I don't want to be mobbed for giving advice that might end up with y'all getting lower grades than before. The thing is, I believe that the mind works better when it is well rested. So, forget about burning the midnight oil (or something like that, I never understood the phrase). Review your lessons and have a restful sleep. And, stop panicking that sleeping on whatever you've reviewed would mean you'd forget them. You have better memory than that. Pressuring yourself and stressing over what score you'll have doesn't help either. I say this for before and after taking your exam. I don't understand the people who can't stop talking about the exam they just took. When you're done, you're done. There's nothing more you can do about it. Except, of course, build a time machine. But I doubt that'll help. Time machines are still a ways from us and if ever successful it will only possibly be able to jump through time in the forward motion. Getting off topic here, sorry. Anyway, the bottom line is to relax. I actually take naps after every few globs of studying. You know when you feel like your head is about to explode after a few pages? Yeah. I call that information overload and I take a few minutes to nap it off. It helps with memory retention, too. There are scientific articles that will back me up. Google it.

Now, at this point, I feel like many of you will be rolling your eyes at me and telling me that you already knew all of this. Well, my bad. But that was only about half of what it takes to ace an exam. Or at least I think so. The thing is, taking exams is half knowing the content and half knowing how to take exams. People get so stressed up when they come across questions they don't know the answer to. But here's the thing, you can pass (well, barely pass) an exam covering topics you have no knowledge of by simply understanding how the questions work. Very few professors know how to write questions that don't inevitably clue you in on the answer to other questions. You just need to know how to work the system.

Matching type questions are the easiest. I know they say that some choices may be used once, twice or not at all, and that's probably true in some cases but it usually isn't. When you run out of answers, just see to it that all answers, except for those that are so obviously wrong, are used. Multiple choice questions. Well, go through all of the questions first. Answer those that you're confident about. For the questions you're not so sure about, just mark off the choices you're sure can't be the answer then go to the next questions. Chances are, after a few more numbers, you'll find a question that somehow alludes to your mystery answer. Or maybe you'll find a statement that will eliminate another one of your choices. Either way it works for you. Modified true or false. Just look through other sections of your exam and I'm sure you'll find something in the multiple choice question or maybe in the matching type. I think you get my point now. This may seem very elementary for some of you, but it surprises me how few the people are who know how to do this.

I know I said that it's 50% content and 50% working the system, but here's the one thing that you need to remember/do to make that 100% count. Pray. Yeah, yeah. I know there are many people who aren't so keen to the idea but it's something I honestly do. And, I'm not here to preach about religion. I'm here to appeal to your faith. So, pray. And, I don't mean that you should go and pray for you to pass the exam or get high grades after taking your exam. I don't even mean that you do it before your exam (but you should do that, too). As I said, a huge part of your exam is knowing the content and those percentages won't magically move up when you decide to ask for help a minute before you're handed your exam booklet after you decided to forego studying entirely. Pray. Pray before, while and after you review. Pray for concentration. Pray for a better handle on your attention span. Pray for understanding. Pray for better memory retention. And, just for the heck of it, pray for the will to resist the temptation to cheat. I know it's easier and many people get away with it, but why not take the higher road when you can? In the end, cheaters only cheat themselves. And, there's that greater peace and satisfaction that comes with not having to go that low for something as insignificant as a number on a sheet of paper. There are many more things in life that are more important. So, pray.

I guess that's it. I have to admit, there are some things here that I don't always follow and there are things that will seem unnecessary for you. Just try it out and see what works for you. We were all made differently and, therefore, have different ways of dealing with things. I must emphasize on that last point, though. Pray. It's not something that you do only when you need something. It's something you do everyday, happy or sad, in need or in gratitude. I suppose that's what pushed me to write this. I realize that while I have been thanking God in the comfort of my private chambers, I should have had used all those opportunities to bring others closer to Him. Pray. Because while family and friends may sometimes fail you, He'll be there to pull you through, whether it be in the good times or bad.


  1. Awesome article! I have been rediscovering the aspect of having faith in one self and praying for guidance and clarity. Thank you so much for the insight!

    1. Hey! I'm glad to have helped somehow. I must admit, I am also in the path of rediscovering those things. Life is about continuously learning new things and evolving into better persons, is it not? It is my only hope that we not forget our faith in the chaos.