Monday, October 17, 2011


Among people who were not merely valedictorians [usually anyone 3.99 or above receives the dinstinction of being a co-valedictorian]but  graduated bona fide number one in their respective high school classes, I probably dislike studying as much as anyone. I don't mind reading the textbooks or other assigned literature, and I don't have any particular problem writing papers or doing other assignments.  What really geets to me is studying for exams. 

It's an incredibly open-ended process. How can one ever know when one has studied enough?  Sometimes I think I would be better off if I went into every test not having spent the previous night or weekend preparing for it. Of course I would have done the initial readings when they were assigned or before, and I certainly would have attended and would have taken copious notes from every lecture, and would have transcribed them into something more readable as soon as possible after having taken the notes. Such, I've found, is a major key to success in any challenging course. The purpose of transcribing the notes from the initial shorthand form in which they were taken to something more readable isn't actually so the notes can be read by myself or anyone else. It's more that the act of rewriting them into standard English does something to solidify the academic content in my mind.

I learned this when I when I was enrolled in Advanced Placement English Literature as a high school freshman. I was allowed by my guidance counselor  to enroll in this course, which was usually reserved for seniors or others who had completed all the lower English courses prior to their senior year by taking summer school, because it was the only period in my schedule that was open for English, and the lower course were full. I was a choir accompanist for $$$, which took up two periods.  (I took summer school  to clear those classes in my schedule that year.) The math course I was taking was only offered at the Advanced Placement level one period, and my science course didn't have much more flexibility.

We were told prior to one test by the teacher that it would be an open-book and open-notes exam. I recopied all my notes so that I wouldn't waste valuable time struggling to read what I had written in haste. Then, on the day of the exam, all but myself and two or three other students had the same set of notes, taken by one student and photocopied and sold to the rest of them during the break prior to the test. This wasn't explicitly cheating, as it wasn't a copy of the test that was distributed. Still the teacher was angered by the mass-produced notes. The few of us that didn't have them pleaded with her that we be allowed to use our own notes, but she was angry enough that she wasn't being reasonable. I had prepared for the test with the understanding that I would be allowed to use my notes, so when the privilege of using notes was suddenly revoked, I expected to have difficulty with the test. When I began reading and responding to the questions on the test, however, I much of what I had written while transcribing the notes came back to me, at the very least much more than it did for those who hadn't actually taken their own notes, much rewritten or retyped  them. From that point on, I made it a point to always rewrite or retype my notes.

Some people actually have to handwrite something to derive the same benefit; for me, it doesn't matter  whether I type or physically write something. Some teachers allowed computers during lectures; others didn't because many students, possibly even myself on occasion,  would have used them for all sorts of things more compelling than taking notes. If a teacher allowed computers for notes in a class, I usually brought mine. If computers weren't allowed, I would have been forced to handwrite them. It didn't seem to matter which way I took or transcribed the notes. I use my computer to take notes in my university courses.

My suspicion is that if I relied on my daily routines, I would do at least as well as I do with ruining an entire weekend before every test, and typically studying too late the night before.  I suspect this, but I don't know it from experience. What I probably need to do is to try it out in one class for one test.  Chances are that even if I blew a midterm, I wouldn't score so low that I couldn't overcome it with overachieving on other assignments and acing the final. Last weekend I already spent studying, so it's too late to test my hypothesis for this quarter, and the stakes are too high to try it for the first time on the final exam of any course this quarter. My experiment will have to wait until winter quarter.

At some point in late February or early March I'll report back on my findings.

1 comment:

  1. I am one of those people who will remember much better if I hand write my notes. I also did the same as you in college, write in some form of short hand and then re-write my notes later. I always did better in those (few) classes vs. the classes that I didn't take notes in. (ok, I totally slept through Psy 101).

    Good luck, I think with the way you are handling it is best :)