Advertising
Advertising

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

Study Tip: Why Aiming for A is Better Than A+
20071117-Balance.png

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    Advertising

    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!

    Advertising

    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.

    15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations 7 Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

    Trending in Productivity

    1 11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits 2 How Your Attitude Determines Your Success 3 How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most 4 How Much Do You Need to Give Up to Start Over? 5 Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

    1. Start Small

    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

    Do less today to do more in a year.

    2. Stay Small

    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

    Advertising

    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

    Why?

    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

    Peter Drucker said,

    “What you track is what you do.”

    So track it to do it — it really helps.

    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

    Peter Drucker also said,

    “What you measure is what you improve.”

    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
    For writing, it’s 500 words.
    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

    6. All Days Make a Difference

    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

    Will two? They won’t.

    Will three? They won’t.

    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

    What happened? Which one made you fit?

    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

    Advertising

    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

    10. Punish Yourself

    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

    Advertising

    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

    11. Reward Yourself

    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

    In the End, It Matters

    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

    Keep going.

    Advertising

    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

    Read Next