Say you’re playing basketball. You dribble past your defender into space. It’s a long way from the net, but you’re confident – you’ve been practicing for way too long. You take the shot, just as the defense scrambles to get in front of you. Too late. You timed it perfectly. The ball leaves your hand with enough backspin to make a table tennis player proud. It takes off at the optimum 45 degree angle, maximizing distance to power. Swish. 2 points for you. Back on defense. The guy who was just guarding you dribbles up court. Clumsily, he hangs around the edge of the3-point line. You stand alert, daring him to make his move. He puts up a half-hearted jab to your left. You don’t bite. Another jab, this time with as much persuasiveness as an insurance salesman trying to sell you keychains. You stand firm, glued on him. With some unease, he sizes up the basket. He puts up a shot. It is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. The ball groans as he chucks it forward from chest-height. The instant the ball leaves his brutish grip, your opponent spasmatically freezes into a poor excuse for a follow-through, as if he only then remembered his coach’s insistence on proper form. The ball crashes through the air with as much grace as a hand-grenade, clipping the front rim at an impossibly horizontal angle. The shot actually had top-spin. Which pushes the ball slightly forward as it rebounds high off the front rim, and falls square through the net. Swish. 3 points for him. For those slightly less familiar with basketball, or those yet to get what I’m driving at (pun not entirely unintended), allow me to put it simply: If you’re standing in the 2-point area, no matter good you are, you will never get 3 points. And if you’re shooting outside the 3-point line, no matter how bad you are, you will get 3 points if the shot falls. And for those unwilling to put 2 and 3 together to appreciate what this means for exams, let me say this: If you want an A, you have to do things which the rules say will give you an A. It does not matter how much (or how little) you work or even how good you are at the subject. If you want an A, do things which give you an A. Now you’re probably asking – how do I know what gives me an A? In case you haven’t realized, the entire education system is geared towards knocking this into your head. Model answers, ten year series, model students, marking rubrics: all these are really there to show, tell, plague and indoctrinate you to the path of the A grade. So the first step is not working hard at the subject – it is finding out where the 3-point line is drawn. What do you need for an A GP essay? Is it structure, language, examples, or evaluation? And lines are specific, not blur, so find out – what kind of structure? What kind of words and phrases? Must my examples be original, or does it suffice if I re-use that epithet on global warming killing us all that everyone uses? Do I need to be critical in my evaluation, or will a simple model essay regurgitation do the job? Or, for econs: Does it suffice if you write entirely L3 stuff? Or does the system require you to show that you do know the L1 stuff like the basic definitions? Must key words be there or do you get to creatively express yourself (read: no you don’t)? Do you really need to think, or are there freely available model answers to copy from, especially when there is sometimes simply no time to properly understand the subject? The biggest problem is idealism. We are brought up to think it is about hard work, doing things the ‘right’ way, acquiring skills over rote learning. Sounds great, but the system does not work that way. Take a look at the model essays you have. Do they really demonstrate curiosity, critical thinking, and subject mastery? Or are they masterclasses in grade-sniping worthy of Craig Harrison? The elements of an A answer are not obvious, but discernible, and are seldom about actual rather than apparent understanding. Why else the insistence on key words, key definitions, and fixed writing structures? Einstein said “if you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it enough”. These key words and whatnot are in no way attempts to explain things simply. Don’t believe me? Try answering your next exam in simple language – stuff primary school students can understand. Say things like: demand is how much people want something and can pay for it; price elasticity of demand is how easily people can stop wanting something. Tell your GP tutor that issues like freedom of speech and human rights are context-dependent and capable of no easy answers; write your essays in a mature way which acknowledges both sides instead of distorting either one to force yourself to take a stand you don’t really comprehend. Let me know if you get anything above a C. Put up an A essay and it will get an A even if you had to memorise an entire book without understanding anything within it. Even if you’ve taken all allowable shortcuts and went for every tuition class conceivable. Conversely, put up a C essay and it will get a C even if you’ve studied hard, on your own, and without expending a cent of your parent’s money on dubious enrichment classes. That is how the system works. If you’ve been following me, you’re probably angry. You should be. Everyone is angry when they find out they’ve been lied to; that fairytales aren’t real. Schools are not like when Plato first invented them. They’re not about individual teacher-student guidance and achieving philosophical epiphany and epic meaning. They’re industrial plants necessary to produce people who will produce things. If you’re playing basketball, chances are you don’t give a dime whether your point guard understands quantum physics and how it may affect a basketball’s trajectory. You just want him to pass with speed, accuracy, precision – howsoever he does it. So no one really cares how you get an A as long as you do. Provided you don’t cheat – but cheating is tremendously difficult to define nowadays. Say you buy an essay online (google “buy essay online” – it’s more common than you think) and your school doesn’t realise. You get an A. Is that cheating? Say you didn’t buy it, but did lots of research and found a good one, which you promptly submitted. Is that wrong? It’s plagiarism, technically, but some of us no longer believe it’s cheating if you don’t get caught. It’s a two-way thing. Degrees now cost hundreds of thousands. You could have bought a house with that money. If you don’t get a proper degree, you’re sinking in all that for near zero returns on investment. It’s all about the bottom line, isn’t it? If you’re angry that’s good. And important. It means you’re smart. Smart enough to find the 3-point line, but also to know that the line is only there because we say so. Because the rules say anything within the line is only worth 2 points. But you get to decide otherwise. That doesn’t mean you can change the rules though. If you want to play the exam game, you have to play by the rules. Whatever you do, you’ll get the points they say you’ll get. But you can play another game – the game of being a good shot, for example. The game of learning and not exam-taking. It won’t be easy. The system naturally rewards those who live by it. If you want those rewards, you have to as well. It is an unfortunate incident of modern life that it is phenomenally difficult to abandon the system. If you’re in JC especially, you can’t really say, “I’m done with exams, now to real life”, even if that’s a good path for you. Have the pragmatism to know what you need for good grades, the intelligence to know what you need for a good life, and wisdom always to know the difference. Remember: If you’re standing in the 2-point area, no matter good you are, you will never get 3 points. If you want an A, you have to do things which the rules say will get you an A. Now you have the ball. What will you do?
Articles tagged under studying:
It has been a long while since I've penned an article, so here's me making up for lost time with a nice little read. For starters, here's a brain-teaser. There was a man with a gun on his shoulder wandering in the wilderness. He walked 100 metres North, then 100 metres East, then 100 meters South before stopping. He then had the strange feeling that he had been here before. At this moment a bear wandered past and the man shot it. What colour was the bear? If one ignored the earlier story, answering this question correctly would be a matter of pure luck. Bears only exist in a few colours - black, white and brown. With no earlier consideration, and a small amount of luck, you'd pick the correct answer - white. This question, however, like many we face in life, rewards the answerer for every bit of general knowledge he or she has. Though faced with the impromptu, the more well read a person is, the more luck is removed from the equation and the more a person increases his chance at solving the riddle. A combination of geography (the poles), mathematics (vectors and displacement) and natural understanding (bear colors and habitats) is what gives anyone the opportunity to turn ambiguity into certainty. It is possible for us to manipulate events in our favor. There are two kinds of luck. The first kind is Opportunity, and the second is Phenomena. Opportunity defines our very actions, and every action we take defines future opportunities. In a tennis match for instance, Zhicong wonders if his serve will be strong enough to get by his opponent (Tennis serves often make or break matches). He wonders and prays for luck. His worry and anxiety, his nervousness, is defined by the amount of training he has put into perfecting his serve. Training for hours and weeks on end assures him of a faster, more skilful, and more powerful serve when the big game arrives. It gives him a buffer, a stabilizing effect against the unknown, against lousy weather, against his frayed nerves, and even though he can never fully account for every phenomenon that may befall him, the training and hours put in gives him the opportunity to win. And so he does. As he wins the tournament, he is approached by a sports representative who gives him a new opportunity to play for his country in the national team. Zhicong is lucky, and luck is on his side. But it was through his own actions, training and his seizing of opportunities that his made his own luck first place, allowing him to win and seize future opportunities to get lucky. "Luck" can be manipulated in this way, through effort and will. And sometimes, the first form of luck is defined by the second. Sometimes we don't create our own luck, but gain the opportunity to do so through unforeseen phenomena and "divine intervention." Several prolific men rose to power inspired by circumstances they had no control over. One could say there wouldn't be a Stalin without a Lenin, a Che Guevara without a Castro, or even a Hitler without the treaty of Versailles. Such prolific events were perhaps random tosses of the galactic dice. Had they not occurred, none of these powerful and influential leaders would have been able to come to the fore and seize success. Knowing how influential external phenomena is on our lives, sometimes we too feel that the world is too big for us to start anything or create any meaning. However, the key takeaway is that even though these leaders didn't start the fire, they took hold of the situation and created the opportunities for their own ascension. Random events always happen. In essence, to take advantage of random phenomena is also exploiting and creating opportunity. We only need a sharp eye to recognize that. The second kind of luck always leads back to the first, but only in the hands of someone ready and waiting to exploit it. But there is a flipside to all this positivity. If we make our own luck, then the inverse, that we make our own bad luck, it also true. If we don't grasp the opportunity, we are stagnating our resources and exhausting future opportunities. Those who do not understand how they are not fully employing their resources believe they have done their best, attributing their stumbles and failures to "bad luck." They often refer to such "bad luck" as "fate" - something beyond their control. This arises from poor understanding of potential actions, and their own capabilities. A person may be great at playing the piano, but may be misguided in trying to eke out a living playing concerts in rural areas. Similarly, a person may possess a fantastic vocabulary, but may be mistakenly trying to apply them in an area like Literature, where speaking clearly and concisely trumps flowery language. Understanding where to apply your strengths is often more important than developing that strength to begin with, and getting the areas right can help you be sure it was just bad fortune, and not your talent being wasted. Even those who were recipients of "bad luck" to begin with, the victims of phenomena afflicted by hereditary conditions like Stephen Hawking, or born into poverty like Mahatma Gandhi, can still make tremendous headways in the world. Even if you've been dealt a bad hand from the start, it is how you react to adversity that shapes your character and life. Right now the prelims are almost onto us. It is not too late. It's never too late. Turning ourselves around is not a mere option. It is our duty. Not a duty to better our schools nor beat our competition, but a duty that we fulfil whatever potential within us to its limit. And toss the dice ourselves. Now, impose this idea of you creating your own opportunities onto the oncoming examinations. Opportunity may knock, but we must first build a door for it to pass through. And how well this door is built will decide if opportunity knocks once, or many, many times.
You know, besides actually studying for it? So there’s this colossal exam that’s coming up, and it means half of the world to you, because the other half technically doesn’t exist now that you’ve got an exam to take and the world pretty much stops spinning. You’re all prepped up, having poured in 20 hours per day cramming all that academic information into your suddenly curious mind. And you’re ready. Or so you think, because on the day of the exam your old friend Sleep calls in and demands you repay his debt. Feeling slightly dizzy and yet strangely euphoric, you step into the exam hall, not realizing you haven’t actually brought your pencil case today – you left it on your study table as you hurried out after some final readings. The next thing you know, you’re running around begging others to lend you their stuff, and in all of this fluster all that important information you saved in your head as last-minute short term memory starts leaking out. Things are not going well, and from your pedestal of confidence and preparation you fall into the mud pit also known as panic and stress – and you have no idea how to deal with it because you thought you’d be absolutely prepared by now. And it all goes downhill from there. All because you forgot to bring your pencil case... Of all the reasons why people don’t do as well as they should for their exams, some are way more ridiculous than others. It’s one thing to fail because you genuinely didn’t care about studying, but it’s a terrific pity if you’ve put in all that effort, but didn’t realise that dealing with exams involved more than just mugging, including… #1 – Taking care of the small details This is one thing we’re all horrible at, because most of us lead lives in which these apparently inconsequential things are all taken care of for us – by our parents, maids, teachers, admin staff, so on. So much so that when the time comes for us to tackle the demon that is exams ourselves, we don’t realise how much they really matter. So the pen is mightier than the sword. And you wouldn’t want to bring a rusty sword into battle, would you? The quality of the pen you use can affect your performance, especially for exams that require lots of writing (read: History). You never ever want to just use that pen that’s somehow always been in your pencil case for the exam. Most people will buy new ones, but even then it is infinitely wiser to consciously choose what kind of pen will suit you best. Some people prefer ink pens and the rough feedback they give when writing. Others prefer ballpoints and their smooth, spherical splendour. Some go with 0.5s because their handwriting is typically atrocious, while others prefer 0.7s because their words are usually too small. It is as crucial to know which ones suit you best as it is to know which key words will answer which questions well. The same applies to almost every other piece of battle gear you will need in your quest for marks. Your jacket to prevent you from shivering so much you can’t write as fast. Your water bottle to prevent you from dehydration and losing focus (it’s been scientifically proven that adequate hydration improves concentration.) You never, ever want to feel uncomfortable during your exams, so make sure all these things are well sorted out. And who could ever, ever forget that amazing thing known as the ENTRY PROOF? Which does have a purpose, but seems like it was initiated as a practical joke to be played on every single student because… Moral of the story? Bring.TheDayum.Entry.Proof. Now that you’ve got all those external details settled, it’s time to prepare yourself within, starting with… #2 - Developing A Pre-exam Ritual Before you put on feathered Indian hats and dance in honour of the bell curve gods, let me explain that a pre-exam ritual simply means a set of actions you go through to get yourself into that entire ‘groove’ of exam conquestery. And trust me, you need as much groove and mojo as you can get when you’re talking about exams. Doing this is similar to the fixed routines that many professional athletes go through before the big day to remind their bodies to transition into fight mode. People are known to sleep with their baseball bats, cut their fingernails, compulsively eat chicken before their games, and do all sorts of wacky stuff. One NFL defender was so desperate to get into gear he habitually requested his coach to bestow upon him nothing else but a slap right across the face as part of his preparation. So if you want to score your As as consistently as an NBA player scores his free throws, then go on and start thinking of something you can do that’ll help you get into that familiar flow of focus you’ll need to tackle your exams with confidence. And within this ritual, you might want to include some… #3 - Power Posing I know this sounds like you need to have as much muscle as Terry Crews to pull off, but power posing has, fortunately, nothing to do with manhunt. In fact, it’s championed by a female psychologist, who believes that our body language can and will influence our minds. In her illuminating TED-talk which you should totally watch (especially from 10:00 onwards), Amy Cuddy explains a few experiments she conducted and how posing in various ‘high power’ positions actually can increase your testosterone and decrease your cortisol levels. Before you start thinking about how this can be helpful for…other areas…know that testosterone is commonly associated with confidence and power (sorry ladies), while cortisol is known to cause stress. It’s sort of self-deception and mind control, but whatever works works. And as amazing writer Neil Gaiman said, the way to believe you can to do things that seem impossible is simply to pretend that you’re someone who can. And if playing pretend doesn’t quite calm you enough, then… #4 – Use Totems To Help You The number of potentially Indian references here are actually quite amusing. Perhaps they were really on to something with their cave drawings and spiritual beliefs. But Native American culture aside, this idea was totally taken from Inception. For those who haven’t watched the show, other than the fact that you absolutely need to watch it (make it the first on your ‘Things To Do After Exams’ list), a totem is a physical object the characters carried around and used to remind them of what’s real and what’s not. In other words, physical objects can help you cling on to the desperate reality of your situation, before you get carried away into the word of mental blocks and hysteria the moment you look at the question paper and realise you’ve spotted the wrong ones. The trick is to make your totem something that can actually be brought into the exam hall – something like a country eraser that reminds you of home, or a special pen that a friend gave you. What I personally used was a jacket. And when you start to feel like you’re slipping away, just reach out, physically and metaphorically, for that object, and hopefully it’ll help you with a little course correction. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a physical object. We all have that friend or teacher who uses the word ‘actually’ or ‘basically’ in their presentation so many times we start trying to count the total number of times it occurs. Actually, what happens here is basically that they are actually using these filler words that basically fit in anywhere to actually bring them back to what they’re basically trying to say. Humans are creatures of habit, and being able to fall back on something habitual to us helps to re-orientate, familiarize, and make us comfortable with the current situation. Now that you’re all prepped up, externally and internally, one last thing you might not realise could help you with your exams is… #5 – Other People Surprised? It’s actually no secret that people who do well in exams typically do well as a class. So how is this possible when exams seem like an absolute zero sum game? That’s because contrary to popular belief championed by the concept of the bell curve, other people can help you do well for your exams, even in the last minute preparations you’re doing. Honestly speaking, this entire site was founded on the idea that working together is the way to go, and although it is possible to tackle the monstrous exams alone, studying and learning is often more effective in groups. This is particularly true for the few days and weeks leading up to the major exams, because everyone you know will be extremely concerned and busy with preparing for them, so much so that by the time it’s five minutes before the test, many people will be almost overflowing with the knowledge they’ve tried to cram into their minds. And that is the best time to go and benefit from some of that excess capacity. I kid you not when I say a significant portion of the marks I got in exams are thanks to some of these last minute interactions with friends – when I walked up to this guy and he was all like ‘hey did you study this specific part about this little concept that I think is really important?” Moral of the story: Work with other people. Not during the exam, because that’s cheating, but before the exam, cos that’s totally allowed. And of course, when you receive you should also give, and I’ve also done my fair share of last minute enlightenment. When everyone graciously shares knowledge, everyone benefits. Therefore, you should really share this article with all your friends right now. The button’s right below…that shiny red one there…see it? Yup that one! Go on, click it! Wouldn’t hurt y’know… Last but not least, good luck for your exams. Because none of the above will count if you’re totally unlucky anyway. Have more great exam techniques? Share them in the comments below!
Celebrating the ideal of making minds run and studying fun for all our viewers here at Owlcove, here’s an article from the admins introducing our take on the most effective songs to study to, since…forever! Before we start though, note that we deliberately chose a mix of songs that are lesser known and can be applied for uses other than the standard instrumental relaxers. This doesn’t mean we are indie. We just don’t want to tell you stuff you already know. Alright, here we go… 1. Day Before We Went To War – Dido – Girl Who Got Away. Ever felt the warmness of sweet bliss overtake you as you munched through that puffy lava cake? How about the feeling of standing on the edge of the beach after a run, the sunset glazing your eyes and playing across your face? Give or take, that’s what most people feel when they first hear Dido. Not a newcomer to the music scene, this once mainstream artist’s new entries now sound anything but that. Trading commercial volume and mass appeal for a more placid, atmospheric take, Dido has produced a masterpiece in this soft ballad. Even if you’ve never known her before this, give it a listen. With an angelic voice and a beautiful melody, this is one tune that soothes strained ears and mends the mind. The slight echo and reverberation throughout the piece simulates expanse and landscape, which to us, is great for inspirational writing. Recommended for: Arts Students, Literature Students We listened to this while studying for: IELTS, LNAT 2. Covered in Rain – John Mayer – Any Given Thursday (Live in Birmingham) Any girlfriend who says she doesn’t know who John Mayer is is a keeper. Hang on to her tight guys, and don’t let her go. She evidently cared about you enough to not want to emasculate you by comparing yourself to him. Known for his high-profile relationships and exquisitely tempered guitar playing, John presents a beauty of a ballad in this eleven-minute live stage performance, which scores major points for relaxation. Composed post 9-11 and performed in 2006, the song is literally off the charts and includes one of the most satisfying basses we have ever heard. For those who draw particular inspiration from people who are effortlessly beyond you, this is a good place to start. The mind instinctively looks towards light. Focus on this achievement and let it spur you on to better yourself. Through the only muggery crammingly way you know. P.S. Just listen to the song alright? Don’t watch a video of him because some things are just nicer to look at than study notes. Recommended for: Arts and Science Students, Female Students, Nicki Minaj We listened to this while studying for: A-Levels, LNAT, SATS & SAT 2’s 3. Steel Run – Atlas Plug – 2 Days or Die Here we explore the other spectrum of stimulating music, music that gets your blood flowing to your brain. For those who would rather skydive while mugging than sit down to the Carpenters or Enya, Tom Salta a.k.a Atlas Plug brings to you a whole album of piston palace. In the relative shadows of the album hit single ‘Truth Be Known,’ this song nonetheless packs a wallop. With a grinding beat like its namesake, it emphasizes relentless mechanical progress, which may be helpful in bringing out equally relentless mugchanical progress. For something to knock the box on its side, Steel Run takes the listener out of that Zen mode, and injects some adrenaline into that stagnant system. Mixed delicately, the muted piano solos accompany the sigh of African echoes in tandem, adding a sense of fragility and touch. The song offers a brief but forgettable respite for the deafening silence in the library, and doubles up as a great song for the guys to pump iron too. Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys watching the Fast and the Furious Series, Mostly guys We listened to this while studying for: A-levels 4. Deviljho Theme– Monster Hunter 3 Soundtrack Book This song, though part of a soundtrack, could very well be listened to without any introduction or explanation. You don’t even need to play the game. In fact, we’d rather you not listen to the whole song, but just the opening. The initial feeling you get when hearing its first ten seconds or so is one of the most intense conjurations of musical expression ever. Don’t believe us? Just picture yourself in the middle of the exam hall. It’s the A-level H2 Economics Paper 2, and you’re at your desk. There are the unfamiliar invigilators from a mysterious other JC handing out the question sheets face down. You didn’t have time to cover every topic, like everyone else, so you spotted a few likely topics to emerge. You’re good to go. Okay, I can do this, you think. Supply and demand? Back of my hand. Market failure? Checked. Conflicts in macroeconomic goals…easy. You just know the questions on the other side. You feel you’ve known them your whole life. Nothing can go wrong. You smile as the invigilator gives the signal to turn over the paper. You turn over the paper. Now play this song. Recommended for: Anyone who understands the phrase ‘cautionary tale,’ people with great imagination, basically everyone that loves spotting topics. We listened to this while studying for: A-Level History Papers 1 & 2, Literature Papers 1 & 5 5. Boyfriend – Justin Bieber - Boyfriend Didn't expect that, did ya? Sorry for the shock and awe, but we here at Owlcove feel that anything and everything, given the circumstances and properly managed, could be adapted and put to good use. No exceptions here, as even something as interesting and queer such as the song above could be put through its paces for studying. Remember when you were young, and, missing self-motivation to finish that little piece of homework, began to play games with yourself? Like “I’ll hold my breath until I finish this question!” Okay, maybe you weren’t nearly as self-torturous as that, but between you and me, that kinda worked… Well, same concept, different causes of suffocation. For best effect, put this song on replay on your iPod, and just...listen to it over and over again, until you finish your revision. Don’t allow yourself to turn it off until you’re through. Voila. Your revision is done faster than you can say Lil Jon. Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend (pun intended) stands out among his various tracks as it achieves that rare equilibrium of bad taste and non-addictiveness. Just as it is a headache to listen to, at least it’s one that doesn’t stay in your head after you study (as opposed to that - other - song). Go for a shot of Steel Run after to reward yourself. No one deserves too much torture. Recommended for: Non Bieber Fans (Everybody). People who study alone. You don’t want to do this within the earshot of anyone else. People who seriously want to get straight As and are willing to take the greatest risks known to Man. We (actually just one of us, to make things clear) listened to this while studying for: Traffic Police Basic Theory Test, Higher Mother Tongue Stay tuned for the next installment of editor’s choice, where we explore the therapeutic effects of David Guetta and delve into the potential applications of Mrweebl’s mesmerizing melodies.