The Simple Solution To All Your Studying Problems
I was 45 minutes into the American History exam. I was squeezing my mechanical pencil so hard the plastic was bending. I was frustrated.
I finished the test but I knew my results were okay. They were just okay.
I had studied for hours. I worked harder than ever but my results were just plain boring okay.
In the past I would have thought, “thank god I studied for that exam. I would have bombed if I didn’t study so long.” This time around I didn’t feel that. My stomach was turning because I knew most of my studying was wasted.
The teacher threw a half a dozen curve balls on the exam. I studied to the study guide and she tested to just about everything except the study guide.
My frustration boiled over.
I was always a good student but I could never compete with the best students. It seemed like no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t compete. Many of things high scoring students didn’t study nearly as long as I did. I felt dumb.
Things have changed.
I’ve become one of those students I was massively jealous of. I’m in college. I’m in a relatively tough major. I’m sitting at my desk staring at my report card and surprising myself. I’m asking myself how I could have possibly done that well with how little I actually worked on it. It’s a surreal feeling.
Since that American History exam, I’ve been on a conscious path of academic reprogramming.
I had a program that wasn’t working.
I took the parts that weren’t working for me and I threw them out. I gave up on long hours of studying. I gave up impossibly high expectations. I quit trying to please my parents and teachers. I tossed as many preconceptions as I could out the window. (My neighbors lawn is now thinking it needs to “work harder.”)
I started from as close to scratch as I felt comfortable.
I was done.
That was also the time I fell in love with the scientific method…
The Scientific Method Of Studying
I never appreciated the scientific method until I lived it.
This idea was introduced to me by Aaron Richardson at Smart Student Secrets (where I now blog.)
He told me something I thought I’d already knew. It seems simple. It wasn’t until I started living it that I realized I was never living it before despite knowing it was true.
For the average person, the scientific method can be simple. It doesn’t have to be a 6 step procedure where you’re writing a report. It’s a simple process that can be brought down to two steps so simple that buffoon can do it. In fact, plenty of buffoons become wildly successful using this strategy.
1. Try something
2. Watch the result
This is nature. It’s what teaches everyone everything.
You touch the fire. You feel pain. The lesson is learned. You’re not going to run to throw your hand towards that fire again.
Most people understand this logically.
They just don’t use it.
There are two fundamental problems:
1. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re too busy paying attention.
People can only think so much.
Good luck paying attention to your grades when your brain is focused on whether or not your crush was smiling at you. That’s like trying to focus on whether or not you left the light on when you’re about to go skydiving.
You focus on what’s important.
If you want to focus on grades then you need to make it competitively important to you. (Convince yourself your crush will be into you more if you’re smart.)
2. But if you’re logical, no one will like you…
It’s sad how often this is a problem for students.
A big part of improving a student’s grades comes down to improving their emotions. A happy student does better on tests. A frustrated student bombs randomly.
A student can’t study for hours a night and expect to be happy. Sure… there are people that can pull it off but they’re the exception and not the rule. For that reason, I’m always recommending students cut their study time down while ensuring every minute they spend studying is focused (and that they never skip a short session of studying.)
Too often students end up asking, “what do I tell my parents?” or “what if my teacher asks?”
The student obsesses over what their parents are going to think and it makes some sense. Students getting a guilt trip from their teachers are not happy students. They’re frustrated students. Most students feel more comfortable saying to their teacher “I studied 10 hours and scored a B” than saying “I didn’t study at all but I got a B.”
When you say you studied 10 hours, the teacher will tell you that you worked hard. (Or mildly scold you for not studying long enough.)
When you say you didn’t study, the teacher will give you a dirty look and act disappointed. You could score an A+ and they’d still do it.
The world for these students demands effort as much (or more) than it demands results.
It takes a serious commitment to break through these two challenges.
Your Forgotten Results Mindset
Everyone is born with a results mindset.
Children don’t have to be taught to pay attention to results and adjust their behavior. It just comes naturally to them. They try something. They see the result. They repeat or avoid that something based on the result.
Over the years they’re taught to pay less and less attention to their visible results. Delayed gratification becomes a virtue. This is where the classic marshmallow test would come in but it’s not that simple.
Sure… delayed gratification is a necessary evil but delayed gratification is only useful when their isn’t an instant solution.
Sure… it’s good to buckle down and study hard so you can get a job paying six-figures but if you already have the job offers, delayed gratification becomes a vice. It’s masochism.
Student athletes are offered jobs paying 100k+ per year with million dollar potentials and they’re still encouraged to go to school. People say, “what will you do after your career ends.” Well… other than sit on the extra hundreds of thousands? Well… you could always go to college without that debt. But… of course, if you’re not delaying gratification to your own detriment then most of the world will judge you negatively for it.
Regular students face similar challenges everyday. They’re taught to use strategies that get them deeply involved in the subject when they’d score higher using a more superficial approach to learning. They’re taught to “understand” (in quotes because it’s a hard to define concept. When do you understand it? No one knows without a test.) In most cases they’ll do better on the test just memorizing first and worrying about “getting it” later.
They’re taught to learn in high school because hopefully, in a decade or so, it will help them advance in their career. It takes some serious brainwashing or some serious brainpower to get a child to go all in on that concept.
People are taught that results don’t matter indefinitely.
Results matter later.
Sure… that’s an important part of life but you shouldn’t hold that belief to the detriment of the moment. It’s a lifelong balancing act.
Find The Right Path
The approach you take doesn’t matter when you have the right system.
The right system is just a hacked up version of the scientific method.
1. Try stuff
2. See what happens
3. Adjust your plan
This system makes success almost inevitable. There is only one big thing to worry about.
Pay attention to your risks.
If you have a super important test coming up next week then it’s not the time to try some new and crazy system. It’s time to buckle down and use what you know. If you just have a small quiz coming up then it’s the perfect time to continue trying stuff.
This is how I turned my grades (and my life) around for the better.
It led to ups and downs but every down was a lesson. I planned on those downs and was prepared to adjust my behavior based on them. That made them almost as pleasant as the successes. And those successes just kept happening.