What? No pictures or photos? When it’s the first one? No. Because this post is a seriously one. After 17 years of tutoring, In a moment of nostalgic hindsight, I spent some time evaluating my many students who had come and gone (388 to be exact). I had never needed to advertise for tutoring and this is because I had a waiting list of more than one hundred students. I was known as the tutor who “cares” or the one “who will get your kid into the top five at the minimum” at any school or “get your kid into either Medicine, Dentistry or Law“. I only took on students from senior school because they were the only ones that were serious about learning. I didn’t want to spend time convincing them why they had to study. And all that was just to establish why I have some level of authority to tell you what I am about to now.
When I think about the students who were exceptional, I don’t think it was because of me at all, but rather, it was all of them. All I did was impart knowledge and guide them through their journey through Years 10, 11 and 12. Of course there was strategy but these kids were driven and I admired them for that. So there are some things you could do to achieve high and trust me – it always works.
Strategy 1. Change what you do at school
When you sit in class listening to your teacher, first try to understand the concepts that are being taught at hand. Write down jargon you don’t know (keep that list) and look up those later at a more convenient time, or if you can manage, during class because you don’t want to spend your whole time confused. Don’t take notes if you don’t understand what you are writing. And please don’t do think, “Ah, I’ll figure it out later.” Because chances are, you won’t, and it would be much more difficult then. And then it would be tutors like me who would have to fix your mess. Also don’t be one of those students who, like a legal clerk, type in everything your teacher is saying and only half-listening just because you think you might miss something. What should you do? Put your hand up and ask! Something along the lines of, “Sir, so sorry I didn’t catch that. Do you mind repeated what you just said.” Or, “Sir, can you please clarify that for me just one more time?” Of course I know students never do that. The teacher is either too busy or the students are just too embarrassed to ask. So they ask me instead. That’s how I found out that this unfortunate habit was widespread. So Lesson No. 1: Listen and understand.
Strategy 2. Work on your organisation skills
I’m not sure if you realise this, but we spend too much time planning and never fulfilling any of those plans. I always told my students: “Be a doer, not a dreamer.” So this is what you do. Yes, write notes. But write them in this way. Say it is Week 6A of school and you have three Chemistry classes in a week. Label each of these classes Chemistry 1, Chemistry 2, Chemistry 3. There’s a reason why. Writing down dates actually have very little use, but writing down which WEEK actually has a purpose and effect. So imagine you sit down and today it’s Chemistry 2 day and write at the top left or right hand corner “Chemistry Lesson 2”.
Sometimes your classes that day you may not have done anything at all. In this way, your school notes help you keep in track of what you have covered/not covered at school. Try this for every subject. Imagine in “Chemistry Lesson 3”, you had a substitute teacher and the teacher had left worksheets for you to do. Write a note: “No teacher, had substitute. Gave this worksheet.” This is because THAT worksheet may or may not be included in your upcoming exams. Do this for most subjects except English. English is completely different. I spent most of my time thinking, discussing, talking and yes, writing USEFUL notes for plays that my teacher so wonderfully gave to us to study. I might write another blog for that for another time.
Also when you are writing notes, don’t write dot points. Trust me, I’ve had many students who would look back at their own notes and ask me if I knew what they were writing about. Write full sentences instead which is what I did for both high school and med school. This is what I did, and it saved me a lot of time when revising because it explained difficult concepts that I didn’t have to return to in my massive textbooks – word of warning, university textbooks are like boulders. If only we had iPads back in my day.
Strategy 3: Managing your study time
At the end of every lesson, you are left with two things: new knowledge which would need some working on to make it truly your knowledge, and homework. Remember on 50% of the time, homework is revising. So please don’t try to convince yourself that you are studying by just doing homework. Try this. At the end of everyday at school, spend a couple of hours going over what you learnt THAT day. This stimulates your memory, and you will also know what is going on in your next lesson at school. Then do your homework. If you have been issued an assessment notification, plan for that. Break it up into pieces such as researching, then drafting, then polishing off your several drafts, proofreading and then submitting and write these plans in your diary. If you don’t use a diary, all I can say is, “What’s wrong with you?” Even as a child I had a diary. No because my memory was so poor I couldn’t remember I had get some scaling done at the dentist the next week, it enabled me to envision my week, and when I could do what. As an adult I need my diary even more.
Procrastination leads to no-one being happy. 1) Many students who spend the last minute doing their assessment cannot produce their personal best. 2) You don’t want to be sleep-deprived – it literally hurts. Every weekend, revise what had been taught the entire week. This has a two-fold effect: One, you are exposed to the material again therefore stimulating your memory, and second, it enables you to organise the purpose of the week for that particular subject. It enables you to be organised.
When I was younger, my goals for the afternoon were unrealistic. I’d jot them down in my diary: “Finish economics essay“. But now, it should have been: “Do research for economics essay.” This led to me feeling I didn’t accomplish anything that evening. You need to be realistic about your limitations. This was mine. I realised I worked better by managing my time better, and I was also left with feelings of self-fulfilment if my goals were made. I was able to gauge my abilities and how much work I was able to produce in one afternoon.
Not everyone is blessed with a superb memory, and I will give you some words of hope. If you think your memory is poor, this can be fixed. I don’t mean memorise random things. But this process is not over. When you revise everyday, make sure your notes are orderly and complete and memorise what you can. I’m not a supporter of rote learning. Sometimes however, even though we understand concepts, this does not mean you remember it in complete detail. I do not believe in:
“I understand, and therefore I remember.”
for high school kids – unless they have an IQ over 150. This is only true for me now, as an adult. But in my teenage years, I did have to make effort to remember concepts that I understood. Techniques in memorising will be addressed in another blog. There’s just too much to say with regards to that.
Strategy 4: We can burn your notes, but then that means you’ll know nothing, so keep your memory alive
Before an exam, we were all sitting outside of the exam room and my friend jokingly/depressingly said to me, “Marion, my knowledge is in my notes.” I will give you some good news, especially to those who struggle with memory and think they are really dumb. First, you’re not. Second, the brain is an elastic organ. It is capable of being stretched and trained. So the more you do Strategy 3 (religiously), and have these healthy habits, your memory will expand. Frequent exposure to a difficult concept (such as in physics) will also help those who think that once they walk out the door they forget what the lesson was all about. I want you to study with the mindset that if a teacher decided to give a surprise test, you can say: “Bring it on! I can do it!“. This is one method I had used all throughout high school and university. If you forget, your knowledge is gone. If you forget, remind yourself to revise. And if you remember everything, look ahead into the textbook, see what there is to come!
Strategy 5: Widen your vocabulary, widen your world
This is a no-brainer. The better your vocabulary, the better you are able to understand anything – starting from research, your school notes – and finally your ability to write. Writing does not end in high school. It continues through high school, university and the rest of adult life. Always have an appropriate dictionary and thesaurus that you understand (If you want some tips on what dictionary and thesaurus is appropriate for you, by all means e-mail me at email@example.com. Don’t overuse your thesaurus. You don’t want to sound too verbose or use words inappropriately.
Not only that – you will be able to articulate yourself in a more precise manner. In high school and university you will sound learned, and in adulthood, people will take you seriously because you know what you are talking about and you are able to use the appropriate words to do so. Even if you’re not aspiring to do Law, you are aspiring to be an intelligent, well-read adult.
Until I write again. I hope this was helpful in some form or manner!