Studying for an exam (From Flickr)
Studying for an exam (From Flickr)

A few weeks ago, I finished up my finals for the year.   Luckily, I only had to write two finals because all of my education classes had final projects instead.   This meant I had a great deal of extra time to prepare for my two difficult math finals.  I’m used to having to prepare for five finals in the same time period, so I had plenty of time to get ready for these two.

Did I use this time to my advantage? Of course not.  Why would I?  If high school taught me anything, it was that I can cram the night (or even morning) before an exam, and do well on it.  I was so good at it, I graduated with highest average in my class and received the Governor Generals award for Academic excellence, “the most prestigious award that students in Canadian schools can receive” (quoted from  I strongly feel that my effort in high school was pathetic, and that the awards and recognition I received was not deserved.  Perhaps I wasn’t challenged enough, maybe I just didn’t care.  It’s tough to recall what was going through my head at that point.

It turns out that this skill has stuck with me into my post-secondary career. For one of my finals I was able to figure out the mark  I got on the exam.  Miraculously, I pulled off a 95% on the final.   I use the word miraculously because I only put in about three or four hours of studying, if you can even call it that (much of that time was wasted away on Youtbe, Twitter, and Facebook).

I found some definitions of “studying”.

Studying: perusal: reading carefully with intent to remember

Reading carefully with intent to remember? Try having an intent to get a good mark. I could have cared less if I remembered, since I didn’t feel that class would be beneficial to myself down the road.

Study skills and study strategies are abilities and approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, are considered essential for acquiring good grades, and are useful for learning throughout one’s life.

They are very critical to success in school and essential for acquiring good grades. Useful for learning throughout one’s life? Not so much. Not my study skills. How often are we faced with situations similar to a midterm or final exam in real life? I’m yet to encounter anything similar.  Maybe it’s still coming.

Do I know 95% of the class material? Not a chance. Maybe I did from 9-12 that morning, but by that night, most of it had already been forgotten. If you asked me what that class was about now, I could probably tell you a few of the topics we covered, but not much more.   I was able to attain a mark that in no way reflects my knowledge of the course.  What it reflects, is how effectively I was able to cram in those three or four hours.  Apparently I’m pretty good at it.

Studying (from Flickr)
Studying (from Flickr)

I get away with this, because the current education system allows me to. If I (or any student) can get by with as little effort as possible, why would I (or we) change things up? I know this is not right and not going to help me in the long run, but classes that allow this are just making the problem worse.

I do not want my students to turn out like this. I am a product of the system that I want to change. I’ve never really been encouraged to learn, but rather I was encouraged to get good grades. It appears to me that most people don’t know the difference.  To be honest, I didn’t really know the difference until this year.  I have started to realize that I have learned more in classes that I’ve received 60’s in than those that I’ve received high 90’s in.

So how do I encourage students to learn? I am the perfect example of how I don’t want my students to turn out. Is it possible to simply abolish exams? Or grades?  I don’t think it’s this easy, especially in high school, where grades are essential for students who wish to move onto post secondary education. Certainly, marks motivate many students to pay attention and do their work.  But if they are anything like me, they will write the test, get  a grade for it, and forget the very next day.

I want to encourage life long learning, not up-to-the-exam learning.

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Comments 3
  1. Great post, Kyle. I’m a lot like you in that I never seem to use my potential studying time to my advantage. I pretty much slept through grade twelve and had a 96ish average. I can also say that I have never really studied for an exam, even at the post-secondary level. By studying I mean putting more than one day into studying for an exam. If I study at all, it’s usually for an hour or two the night before. I’ve learned that I can get away with doing things this way, so I’ve never thought about studying “for real.”

    I agree with you– I’ve learned more in my classes where I received low marks than I did in my 100% classes where I wasn’t challenged at all. In order for students to shift from this mentality post-secondary institutions need to change how they accept students. This will probably never happen. After all, it’s easy to say something like, “We will only consider you for admission if your average is over 75%.” Why not have students be accepted based on an essay or a detailed reference from a teacher? As a teacher, I know students who perhaps don’t have the highest grades but have the work ethic to be just as successful in university as the slackers like myself who could do very little work in high school and receive exceptional marks.

  2. Hey Kyle,

    You bring up several great points. I was the same way in high school and in my early college years. I see it too in my 15y/o brother, who I think is a very creative and smart kid, but loves to procrastinate til the last minute. I have learned more in my toughest classes than the easy ones with multiple-choice end-of-unit tests.

    What do you suggest to shift your future students from last-minute learning to life-time learning?

  3. Kyle,
    Thank you for putting words to what we all have thought through over our years of education. Especially those of us who have done well in school. I find it very easy to agree with you that I succeed in a system that I want to change, but it also makes me think- when things get tough, how am I going to change the system that I am most comfortable with? When the pressure is on, what is going to keep me from valuing marks over learning? I know I need to do some serious reflection on practical steps and pedagogy that will give me alternatives to our mark based system- but I know that’s my first step- I have to go in with a plan. We all do. Good luck and thank you for your critical thinking.

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