Grades Phase – a more optimistic approach

So now that the exam phase is over, it’s time for the grades phase. And to be honest, I was quite disappointed with my performance in 3 out of the 6 courses that I’m doing this semester. HOWEVER, this time I’m going to take some strong protective measures in preparation for the next upcoming exam phase. Read on because I believe I have compiled a very compact and intense midterm-prep-list. (Hopefully I’ll be able to  write another post proving that it worked for me.)

1- Seeing the performance
And by this I mean requesting to see your own paper with the professor and actually knowing what went wrong and how their grading criteria is. Do they give marks for working? Do they need to see final answers even if incorrect? Do they just need to see knowledge and understanding through working? Sit with them and calmly go over each and every mistake in the paper and mark very well the type of errors that you fell into.

2- Making a report
Make a report about your performance. For example I noticed that I made various mistakes on questions that require a derivation or a proof. So I wrote in my report that these questions need to be worked on during the studying period. There was also another problem with establishing relationships between graphs for one of my courses, so I went home that same day and watched tutorials and actually solved questions on the topic. You have to resolve issues quickly before you forget that you even have them. Before the next midterm comes, you have to have highlighted your problems and worked on solving them.
So make a report about each and every course and the areas you need to work on improving, then, on the last page of the report, write down goals for the next midterms, write about your overall performance, what mistakes you shouldn’t have fallen into, which mistakes were silly and which ones were major. You get the point.

3- Practice makes perfect
The most cliche but the most true statement of all time. The more you “solve” the better you become. I, for example, have 70+ questions at the end of each chapter in my Linear signals and systems course. I can’t do all 70 night before the exam because:
a) I won’t study any other chapter
b) I will not sleep
SO, I have decided to divide the questions into daily portions. So that if I manage to finish all the questions for all the chapters coming in the midterm, I’d have time to ask about the ones that I couldn’t solve. And this is immensely important. Allocating time to get your questions answered. Plan ahead of time so that you compile all the concepts and questions that you got stuck in, and get them answered before the assessment/test.
This applies for assignments but for assignments I’d like to add a key tip. START the assignment the day it’s posted. And divide the assignment in portions and again make sure you finish before the due date so that you have time to ask about the stuff you couldn’t solve. I usually start assignments a day or two before the due date and this is very wrong because yes, I tackle all assignment questions alone, but if I happened to get stuck, I know the timing is tight and so I either copy the answers from somewhere or leave them blank. Learning outcome: big fat zero. So yes, I’m working on this too.

4- Revising with a friend
Arrange for a review session with friends, and if you can arrange a session with the teaching assistant of the course, even better. I’ve only realized recently that they’re important because when you explain or go over the material with your friend, the info sort of sticks there, and likewise the other way around. Top tip: divide the material between you and let each person explain their material on the review day.

5- Utilize your best potential
I have a picture memory, and you’d say it’s an excellent trait, but it doesn’t really help me much because there’s nothing to memorize in my courses. However, I use this memory when I write my own notes while studying. Whether it’s a formula or a proof or a solving strategy. The drawback with picture memory however is that you either see the picture in your mind as you solve during the exam, or you don’t. So exert some effort in looking at the notes/equations for a long enough time. Make sure you use all your senses in class and while studying. The more the better.

6- Don’t take things for granted
So you can solve systematic questions really well. That does NOT mean you practice them less. Professors love twisting easy questions, and so if you’re good at something, make sure you’re REALLY good at it and know it from the inside out.

7- Lifestyle during and before exams
And this tip actually worked for me already. Exercise, healthy food, moderate amounts of sleep, and doing any one thing that you really enjoy doing once or twice during the week. These 4 will not only change your mindset, but will help you organize your day better, and become more productive.

Having said that, I will do what I preach and hopefully write another post after my second wave of midterms.

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The cycle that never ends.

This is going to be a somewhat unhappy post, but it’s reality and it happens with a large number of students. If you’re a teacher, I beg you to read on, if you’re a student, you will relate on some level.

So I’ve been in this for almost 2 weeks now. It’s a dreadful cycle that drains me out of everything that I love or enjoy doing. It’s inevitable and it’s recurring, painful and challenging. Yes, I speak of exams. My almost 2 weeks of sitting through one midterm after the other had made me feel basically like a lifeless corpse. My desk is a pile of notes and check-lists and assignments that are deferred because I’m studying and just everything is here and there.

I’m not going to talk about that, however, or my lack of sleep, or my depressed state because I believe it happens and that no one can lead a perfect life all the time.

I speak of assessment methods, and rewards/punishments. Because, I have to admit, I learn quite a lot during the time of exams. About myself, about the type of mistakes that I normally and abnormally fall into and so on. This is great, but when my future is at stake, I’m a bit worried that my learning experience has its drawbacks. When I almost fail an exam, okay yes, I’ve learned not to do the mistakes, but I’ve also lost almost 10% of my grade.

Why aren’t there learning techniques that are more rewarding? Why are assessment methods so risky and put students on edge? Why do I, and a lot of students, study hard and exert so much effort only to find that the exams are on a different level or that we need to score a high grade to ensure not failing? Why do I have to go through the midterms week stressed, depressed, sleepless and worst of all demotivated and frustrated, that despite my efforts the expected results aren’t coming? Why?

I must also admit that the culture puts a lot of stress on “grades” and “scores” and this is why the student population does not enjoy learning. Because all they’re focused on, is how to get As. I know people who finish courses they know nothing about. Literally. What is the point behind anything inside the scope of academics if it’s not to help the student learn without all this pressure? Aren’t there more interesting ways to teach students time management, and stress-handling? If universities and schools keep threatening to tease the students’ scores in such a manner, given the importance of grades in the environment we live in, then no learning will ever happen. 

I’m immensely disappointed that education has reached this far. And I mean education in Egypt, because that’s what I’ve actually seen.
When public universities have an extremely high threshold of grades for entering, without having any other criteria but high school scores what does this show? What if they asked students to do certain hours of community service, or presenting a handmade project or a new idea or anything in life, apart from academics, wouldn’t there be actual change in attitudes? (Provided that there’s no corruption and students actually do the community work)

I just hope that I live to do something about this, because if it continues, we’re going to be having seriously materialistic generations who are selfish and indifferent towards learning.