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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+.

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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

    So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new:

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

    Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    The bottom line

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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