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 http://archive.gg.ca/honours/awards/acmed/index_e.asp).  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
(http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=studying)

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.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studying)

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.