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November 02, 2005


A corollary: In the third year of my PhD program, we presented work in progress to a group of fellow students and a faculty member. One day, one of my colleagues indicated that writing a dissertation proposal is hard because "there is no textbook to use."

The Unknown Professor

Here's a couple of suggestions I give my poor, overworked students:

1) When you read the text, don't highlight the things you think are important - highlight the things you DON'T understand. After all, highlighting what you already know is a waste of time (and yellow highlighter)

2) Better yet, don't use a highlighter at all. Instead, keep a sheet of paper handy and on it, write all the questions you have (no matter how trivial) as you read. Then go back and try to answer each one

3) After each class, rewrite your notes. When you do this, don't just copy them from one page to another. See if you can organize them as you reqrite them (make lists of key points, etc...). Better yet, keep a sheet of paper handy, and write down all the questions that WILL come up as you re-write your notes.

I've found that just thaking these three steps will make a HUGE difference in performance. In fact, if a student does them, it decreases total study time.

However, it does require "front loading". In fact that may be the real secret to it's success - the "time value" of studying is similar to the "time value" of money - sooner is better than later.

John Whiteheasd

Great suggestions by the Unknown Professor. I'll be adding these to my syllabus next semester.

But, a H-B reader comment sent via email says this:

"the unknown professor's hints sound like a lot of work that would take away from quality "drunkening" (see "words invented by simpsons") time."



I'm curious. In physics reading the textbook is useful, but by itself does little. The real gain comes from working problems and getting your hand dirty.
I take it the balance is different here?

El Conquistador

Actually READING a textbook? Are you insane? There's all kinds of stuff in there that you're not going to ask on tests and you don't talk about in class. [Sarcasm level--whatever the highest one is]

I've thought about trying the following experiment one year. When the students walk into class the first day I will offer them one of two options:

Option A: I will give you a C- right now. You do not have to attend any classes and you do not have to do any work for the rest of the quarter.

Option B: You can take the class as a regular class. The average grade of those taking Option B wll be a C+.

I wonder how many would take option A to avoid the work? I think I'm afraid to find out. Can I do that?

By the way I'm grading mid-terms right now.

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