ad astra per alia porci

the difference between studying for an exam and reading a subject
May 5, 2007, 3:53 pm
Filed under: Lifeskills

Studying a subject with the objective of doing well for the exams and obtaining good grades is totally different from reading and appreciating a subject for the sake of intellectual pleasure. This is a clear distinction that I have grasped and used to my advantage while studying for my GCSE ‘A’ Levels. It’s not what you think that matters, it’s what your teachers think is right that matters.

Many students get pretty hung up over what teachers tell them about certain topics and have disagreements with them, and this has a direct impact on their grades since many insists on writing what they feel is right instead of what the teachers feel is right. This is especially so for the “arts” subjects like literature and history where much is open to interpretation.

Taking an exam is a game of strategy. Toss intellectual honesty and the formulation of a strong personal view out of the window; if the teacher thinks that the Duke in Measure for Measure  is a morally upright person, you better incorporate that in your exam essay. The teacher has a fixed way of looking at the subjects tested and the smart student knows that he has to be able to echo the teacher’s thoughts in his essays.

Hence during lessons it’s imperative to take down the pet phrases and words that teachers repeat all the time when going over material. Drop these words in your essays and chances are that your grades will rise. Follow the teacher’s train of thought when analysing themes and topics and delve deeper in the psychology of the teacher in order to find out what you should write in the upcoming exams. Also, it helps if you are able to build good relationship with your tutors and teachers; I always talk to teachers after their lessons are over about topics that are not always necessarily about the subject they teach.

A case in point. I used to have this literature teacher who has a very very bad temper. Somehow she is almost always in a bad mood coming into class (I suspect the cause to be hormonal inbalances due to middle-age) and to make things worst, my classmates sometimes come late for class or fall asleep during lessons. The teacher will spend a lot of time scolding students and criticising the attitude and work of my class and this creates an overall unhealthy atmosphere for us to be graded well in our tests and exams given her mood.

So, in this case, what I did was to volunteer my views and actively participate in classes no matter how bad her mood was, which was something the rest of my classmates find hard to do since they absolutely hate her. No teacher enjoys being hated by their students and I try to take advantage of this by building emotional bridges. I try to show her that her emotional fluctuations do not affect me, and sometimes after class I will engage her in chit chat. I know she is in charge of the school library and I will talk to her about the books she ordered for the library. Result? A positive image of myself and possibly higher grading for essays.

Another teacher enjoys repeating the same points and phrases during her lessons. Obviously, I repeat the same things in my essays and it makes things easier for me during the exams. It echoes her pattern of thought and it makes marking a lot easier, on top of giving her the impression that I am a very conscientious student that bothers to listen to her every word in class.

That said, I have two seperate tactics for school exams and the GCSE ‘A’ Levels. For school exams, what I have said earlier about echoing what the teachers want and building a good impression holds.

However, for the ‘A’ Levels, I try not to write what my teachers teach. I develop my own views. For example, for literature, I will write my own thoughts on themes and character and back them up with quotes and evidence. I do not share these ideas in class because it dilutes the uniqueness of my ideas and the teacher will probably trash it anyway.

Understanding the rubrics and psychology behind the marking of the ‘A’ Levels exam scripts is crucial. It is more important to have a unique, well-substantiated point of view for the ‘A’ Level examinations. Consider the poor British marker working his/her ass off to finish the entire bundle of exam papers. He has probably read a gazillion essays offering similar explanations to the question why the Cold War started and after a while he should be grading these essays with similar grades.

Imagine the impact that an essay with a unique and fresh point of view that makes sense and is well-substantiated will have on the marker. You will stand out in a positive way. Since my friends will follow what my teacher teaches (which is probably what most other schools in Singapore will teach too since teachers are rotated among all the JCs in Singapore), what I have to write will give me a leg up on the competition.

Here is where studying a subject for the intellectual pleasure comes into play. By studying for the sake of slaking my intellectual thirst, I produce differing and unique point of views when I study say, my literature books, and this helps me at the final hurdle. And this is also where I derived most of my studying pleasure from during my ‘A’ Levels. I get to think outside of the rigidity of the examination subjects and rubrics. I actively read up on topics outside of the classroom and I found myself all the better from that.

As Mark Twain once pointed out, “I’ve never let school interfere with my education.” Schooling is purely for the purpose of obtaining good grades and hence one’s efforts has to be geared towards the beating and outfoxing of the examinations system. Education, on the other hand, is above the petty preoccupations of a ritualistic schooling system we have in Singapore. Education depends on an individual’s ability to seperate what is studied for the purpose of examination and what is studied to better one’s knowledge, and an individual’s willingness to pursue knowledge outside the choking confines of our modern “education” system.


1 Comment so far
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interesting article.. echoes my thoughts on the subject (the country might be different.. im from india.. but teachers are the same everywhere i guess)

Comment by Kirat

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