I follow a lot of blogs from friends who are still in high school and are assigned weekly blog assignments from my former English teachers. Recently, one of their assignments was to react to an article that discussed the perceived differences of a good learner and a good student and that claimed a huge flaw in our education system was this emphasis on grades and standardized testing. I won’t say much on the article itself, but rather, it just got me reflecting on a few things now that I’ve finished taking my first three midterms of the year.
The first two years of high school, I never got a grade lower than a 95. I was ranked 7th in a class of 430, and I was very proud of both those facts. Then came junior year. I failed the third BC calculus test and the next day, a physics test. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement: I went home and cried for an entire afternoon. For someone who had never gotten a grade below a 95, a failing grade was a bit terrifying. Later that night, I wrote in my diary about how I would use this as a lesson to never procrastinate again and to work harder next time…couldn’t let that GPA go down…had to make sure I get into college. But soon enough, I found that one failing, or even two, three, was okay: my GPA was still standing strong. So I’d look at the grade, shrug and think about how to get some more extra credit. I chugged along through the rest of high school, to the point where in some classes, I came out of them with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of what happened during the year (physics, calc, art history). And once I got accepted into college, senioritis arrived and I really didn’t do anything.
So fast forward to today, when I just finished taking my calculus, chemistry and biology midterm. How do I feel about the three? Well, respectively it’d be: fuck, okay and shit.
But before we talk about how I probably just failed my first three midterms, I’m thinking back about my high school approach towards education.
- I was great at memorizing things. Particularly, I was good at memorizing things thirty minutes before a test, or even a few weeks before a test, and promptly forgetting about it afterwards. So what do I remember from high school? Now that I think about it, probably how to do stoichometry and take a derivative. That’s about it.
- Yeah, I realized that a bad grade didn’t kill you. But once I got back a grade, I wouldn’t actually go back and relearn the material. If something was hard, eh, well, it was over by the time the test was over.
- I knew what to look for. Sometimes, I’d glance over a textbook and be able to pinpoint whether the particular material would be on the test.
Now let’s see how well those skills translated over to high school.
- Memorization is bullshit. You can memorize the entire textbook, heck, IT CAN EVEN BE AN OPEN NOTES AND OPEN BOOK EXAM and you’ll still fail if you didn’t really understand the material. By understanding, I mean applying, as in the information you learn won’t ever be verbatim on the test, but rather its application will be. You’d think that’s common sense, like, of course you should know the application of the information you learn, but when did I ever have to apply anything in high school? It was always plug-and-chug, or best-case scenario, a word problem where you’d have to remember the equation and then plug-and-chug. HA.
Note: One good thing about memorization is that that provides your foundation of knowledge, given you remember it even after the test. The test is about application of the knowledge that you should have memorized.
- Yeah, I still know a bad grade can’t kill you. That part’s good to keep in mind, because when you’re consistently reminded that you needed to keep a 3.5+ GPA to stay in honors, that can get a bit pressurizing (sort of reminiscent of high school, to be honest, though good thing is that you’re only pitted against yourself instead of the rest of your school). So how do I feel about that failed Calc midterm? Well first off, I actually learned calculus. Not saying that my BC Calc teacher wasn’t good; it was just that I never really learned anything in her class. I failed so many of the tests in that class, but since it never truly reflected in the GPA, I didn’t care. So I walked into class today for my first Calc midterm feeling pretty confident because I spent four weeks actually figuring out how to do integrals and for once understood what was going on. And I actually had fun doing calculus problems at night.
But as I was sitting there at 9 in the morning, my mind blanked. I solved three out of the eight problems, and the worst thing was, I knew those other problems (just not at the right time). I went home and solved the rest of them. Of course, it was incredibly disappointing that my brain decided to fail me during the test, but at least I can say that I do know how to do all sorts of integrals now (apparently not under high pressure though, haha). BUT STILL: A BAD GRADE WON’T KILL YOU.
- I don’t know what to look for in the textbooks now, because anything is fair game. But talking it over with the professor, TA, or even my classmates helped dramatically. I would have failed even worse (if that’s even possible) if I didn’t talk with others and just read the textbook. High school emphasized a lot of independent study, but that doesn’t work particularly well in college.
They weren’t kidding when they said in college, you have to entirely flip your old way of studying and your old attitudes towards learning. At first, it really doesn’t hit me that everything is so much different. It didn’t hit me until I sit down for my first exams — after trying to study the ‘new’ way while still holding on to my old ways (which include, but aren’t limited to: pure memorization, procrastination, and skimming over books) — and I realized how fucked I was.
I suppose I will touch on the article now (here’s the link). Did the public education system make me a good student or a good learner? Well, it didn’t make me anything that I didn’t allow it to make me: in other words, it was mostly my fault that I ended up emphasizing my GPA and grades over accumulation of knowledge. Not to say some aspects of the education system can’t facilitate this sort of imbalance between a good learner and a good student, but most of my teachers, more or less, HEAVILY EMPHASIZED the fact that grades were temporary and knowledge is permanent. I think it’s fair to say I was the one who ended up tipping the already skewed balance. Now, I could go on and on about the flaws of standardized testing and our state and federal education policies, but for now, what do you guys thinks, especially those who have already made the transition from high school to college to wherever you are now?