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Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+

Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+
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    Is it better to get an A or an A+? Most people instinctively react with an A+. As I’d like to show in this article, that isn’t always the case. Being perfect can cost far more than good enough. Also, as I’d like to demonstrate, the habits that might get you an A+ might also leave you with a B or C if you fail to optimize.

    I’ve never been a perfectionist. I’ve always been aware of the costs of going beyond good enough. Despite this seemingly poor attitude towards work, it hasn’t hurt me in the slightest. By optimizing instead of attempting perfection, I’ve managed to maintain a grade hovering between an A and A+.

    How Optimizing Works

    The traditional studying approach is to learn everything perfectly and with equal force. I believe this approach will only lead to a nervous breakdown.

    An optimizing approach says that learning everything perfectly is impossible. However, by investing more time on critical details and less time on unimportant ones you can get a better grade with less time invested.

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    Isn’t All Information Important?

    Importance is relative. Sure you might be tested on it, but will knowing something make up 5% of your test or 50%?

    To get you started with the optimization process, here are some tips:

    1. Identify the testing bias.

    A test is a device used to gauge your understanding. All tests invariably have bias, where they emphasize certain concepts or types of understanding over others. Go over past tests and ask yourself what biases are shown in the tests. That can form your template for learning.

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    2. Quality of Time Spent Ratio

    Look at your course outline and the various percentages given to different assignments. Divide that number by how much time you need to get your desired grade. The result is a Quality of Time Spent Ratio. When time becomes tight and you need to make a choice, always use your ratio to see where extra time gets placed.

    Example: Your running out of time and you have three projects to do. The first is worth 5% of your grade and you expect 2 hours to get the grade you want. The second is worth 20% and you expect 15 hours to get the grade you want. The third is worth 30% and you expect 10 hours to get the grade you want. Your quality ratio’s are:

    • Project One: 5%/2 =2.5%
    • Project Two: 20%/15 =1.33%
    • Project Three: 30%/10 =3%

    Extra time spent on the third project is likely to have the biggest rewards for your final grade. Don’t use this approach dogmatically as there are other factors to consider (mark cut-offs, differences in marginal benefits, etc.). However, this method be a rough way to decide where to put your time.

    3. Reading Emphasis

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    If I asked you to recite your entire textbook from memory, could you do it? Could you do it even with a 50% accuracy rate? In both cases you probably couldn’t. Then how, if you don’t know the words in your textbook, can you pass the class?

    The answer is that some words and meanings are more important than others. Certain ideas are critical, others are supporting details. Some ideas form the foundations and others are just extra facts.

    When reading through a textbook, form a priority of information in your mind. Flag important information, but more importantly, assess the degree of importance. Simply using a highlighter might not be enough if you’re unable to distinguish between an idea that forms the basis for a test and one that only accounts for one question.

    4. What’s the point?

    What should you be able to do/understand after your course is finished? Use this question as a shorthand for prioritizing what needs to be learned. The beauty of this method is that most instructors give you the course purpose on the first day. You don’t even have to look for it!

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    Example: Financial Accounting teaches you to prepare financial statements for shareholders as well as understanding company financial statements.

    From this brief purpose statement, your goal is to connect everything you do to this broader point. Periodically ask yourself how some fact or detail you learn applies to that broader goal. Don’t learn things in isolation, expand and connect with the broader purpose of learning.

    5. Cutting Classes and Skipping Chapters

    I don’t recommend skipping class. But there are exceptions to every rule. I got two A+’s in courses that I only went to a quarter of the classes. I recognized early on that the material covered in class was simply repeating what could be learned in the textbook. Some students benefited from the repeated exposure, but I didn’t.

    Cutting out entire assignments, classes or chapters is normally a bad move in a school setting. Usually the marginal benefit of just showing up exceeds reinvesting the time elsewhere. Instead, most your optimization is about where to place extra time. Where do you put the extra hour when you have several different places to put it?

    If time isn’t an issue for you, then optimizing isn’t necessary. Just finish every project with the same zeal and enjoy the rest of your time off. But most people I know don’t have that luxury. Inevitably you need to make trade-offs. Optimizing often means making choices to aim for A rather than A+.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness Top 4 Misapplications of the 80/20 Rule How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

    More Time Management Tips

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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