Getting a First Class: Consistency

I haven’t been writing in my “Getting a First Class” series of posts for a long time. In short, I wasn’t consistent and people couldn’t get the knowledge and tips that I have in my head. This meant that I couldn’t achieve my goal of sharing information so that others could learn. While this is a lousy example of how inconsistency meant that you don’t achieve your goals, sadly it is an important rule that could result in your GPA dropping.

A university semester is about 13 weeks long in Singapore. It is broken down into two terms of about 7 and 6 weeks respectively. You need to be consistent near the start of the semester so that you are able to achieve results with minimal effort – and you don’t need to spend extra hours cramming at the end of the semester.

It is difficult to write about how to be consistent in your studying. This is something that you have to be conscious about to do. Most people, however, have subconsciously grown used to having the bad habit of not being consistent and leaving all the work to the end. Hence I am just going to give examples of the type of consistency I have grown used to in university.

I start my semester relaxed and but consistency kicks in about a week into the semester. As I mentioned previously, the tutorials on the subsequent weeks depend on the material learnt in the lectures. It is important to be able to grasp the concepts in the lectures and validate it during the tutorials. This also means that you can understand better in subsequent lectures as you are aware of the fundamentals. Compare this to an inconsistent student; he will not know what is going on at week 5, and has to spend 5 weeks of effort crammed into one week to be able to catch up. Chances are, you need more than 5 times of effort – the effort increases exponentially.

I am also consistent in the timeline I use to prepare for exams. During the final month (about 3-4 weeks prior to examinations), I would start doing my revision and download all the exam papers. I would do my planning to clear about 1 paper a day at the onset and do more papers as it progresses into the reading week before the examinations. If I have any questions, I ask them on the school forums or meet up with the professors to ask them questions.

It is such level of consistency that makes it easier to achieve your goals as compared to when you are not consistent. If you add up the amount of effort required, you might find that you are achieving much more with less effort. And that’s the smarter way to study.

Getting a First Class: Responsible Teammates

It’s been some time since I wrote a post about “Getting a First Class” on my blog, but judging from the visitor statistics that WordPress managed to obtain, these type of posts are relatively more popular than my other posts. I guess this shows that there are many students out there looking for tips and tricks to obtain the “Holy Grail” from their stint in university. Today, I would like to write a post on the importance of responsible teammates.

Recently I went back to university to attend a course that my employer sent me for and I had to do some projects with teammates that cannot be classified as responsible. It was a painful affair and serves to reaffirm how responsible teammates help in lifting your grades.

1. Team mates out to S/U

The first thing I would like to talk about are team mates that are out to S/U the module. My recent course was graded on an S/U basis automatically, hence you could see that the mood and attitude of people follows. When I was an undergraduate taking my marketing module (which I took out of interest. Read: Steve Job’s lesson on taking classes that interest you), I had irresponsible team mates. I took the module alone as it was based on self-interest and not common-interest of my clique. When it was time to select team mates, what I did was just to look at the guys sitting to my left and right and ask if they would like to form a group. Bad idea. In the end nobody wanted to work other than me. They were all in the final year and I was in my 3rd year. To them their FYP was more important than an S/U-able module. The 4th team member of my group contributed NOTHING and hence I served a complaint letter to the professor stating how much he contributed. I eventually S/Ued the module myself as the project marks dragged my GPA down significantly. Hence, find team mates that treat your project as something important.

2. Responsible team mates produce quality work and quality work saves time

As far as I am concerned, the recent stint back at the university served to wake me up in two areas: (1) lousy English and (2) copy and paste style plagiarism without citations. I had to spend a lot of time correcting bad grammar (if you noticed my own bad grammar in this blog, its because I let it happen) for the report to make sure the entire report reads smoothly and that the word count is kept. In addition, it never failed to piss me off when people give me an entire page of work and ending off with a single source at the bottom. How am I supposed to know which parts were quoted and which parts were not? I had to go into the source, read it and do the necessary quotations. Huge waste of time considering I had another essay from another module to write. Time could have been spent working on my essay, which was an individual piece as compared to the lousy team work report I was correcting. Time could also have been spent revising for the exam that is to come.

3. Responsible team mates want to score as well

I guess this point doesn’t need much argument. For team mates who are in to boost their GPA, they would definitely do something to make it happen. However if all they want is an easy module to lift their low GPA, then that’s a different story. Generally speaking, usually people try to score as high as possible to boost their GPA.

I cannot emphasize more on how important it is to get responsible teammates to back you up. In periods where time is lacking, a good teammate can cover your faults and step in for your portion. At the same time you do not have to worry about his quality of work. Furthermore, a responsible teammate can be a good role model for yourself as well. Surround yourself with friends who have the same aim and you will find it easier in your quest to snare the honours of your desire.

Getting a First Class: Consistency vs Sprinting on Impulse

Now this could be the singular most important post to read for anyone aiming to achieve academic success. In actual fact, this post might also apply in many aspects of life and the successes that one could enjoy. Should anyone ask for any piece of advice to getting good grades, the answer that I would give them is to be consistent. It’s that simple.

Think about the typical undergraduate study pattern. The first week of school and everything is so nice. Classes are relaxed. There’s no tutorials. We are all busy catching up after the holidays. We sit through the first lecture of each module expecting it to be some introduction where nothing concrete is taught and we are just there to have a good relaxing start to the semester, which would probably become very difficult as the days progress anyway.

It’s week 2 and hey for NUS students, the tutorials only start in week 3. There’s still time to play and enjoy some fun. Week 3, it’s the first tutorial. What could go wrong if we don’t do these tutorials anyway. Soon it’s week 5, there’s a recess week after week 6 and after the recess week it’s the dreaded mid terms. Should we start now? And most people start to hit the books on a more serious note, trying to cram whatever was taught in the first 5 weeks.

The Exponential Cumulative Principle

The Cumulative Principle is simple math, really. As long as you do not clear a piece of work, it comes back to hound you. The work in week 1-4 accumulates and by week 5, you have 5 weeks of information to study. Truth? Except it’s not. What really happens is this:

The studies in week 1 are the foundation for you to understand the lecture in week 2. The studies in week 2 are the foundation for you to understand the lecture in week 3, and so on and so forth. By neglecting the first few weeks, we have effectively found ourselves in a situation where we do not understand what the lecturer is talking about in week 5, and we have wasted these 5 weeks of time. The Exponential Cumulative Principle simply means that in order to make up for such lost time, the effort required to re-learn everything in week 5 is not equal to 5 weeks of effort, but rather, it might be much more than that. Week 1 of effort might become 5 weeks of effort by week 5, week 2 might become 4 weeks of effort by week 5, and adding it up, by week 5 you need 15 weeks of effort just to catch up.

While the tortoise strolls on beyond the hare and finally wins the race.

How did he have so much time?

Sometimes we look at the students who have it all and we wonder, “How did he have so much time?”. How did he manage to study, learn and do those crazy CCAs and activities that boost his resume up a notch? The answer is just that we are catching up and spending more effort due to the Exponential Cumulative Principle when we could have just been consistent and only spend 5 weeks of effort to achieve the same effect. Then we will have so much more time to do other things too.

Now we may argue, we get to spend more time with friends and enjoy ourselves during the initial 5 weeks; surely that counts for something? Yeah I guess, but if what you really want is the best of both worlds then at one point there’s got to be a balance. You could still consistently have time for friends; just that it is not so lopsided that the time spent on friends is exponentially decreasing as you spend almost all your time with friends in week 1. It’s better to be consistent.

Not to mention its impossible to have 15 weeks of effort in 1 week just to do catching up. Your grades will definitely suffer; unless you are some super smart dude to begin with, and if so you probably don’t need to read this post.

Consistency

Hence the answer to many things in life is consistency, and make it so consistent that it becomes a habit. Here’s what I do in my typical semester.

I attend the lectures and really try my best to pay attention. I try to scribble notes; on hindsight, if I had learnt about mindmapping earlier then I would have been more effective. I do the tutorials that I am required to do so that the tutorial session will be effective (never mind the possibility of inefficient tutors, which is a real threat). And I make use of the forums in school to ask questions if I could not understand the tutor. And I contribute back to other’s queries. Funny how the way the universe works; when you give, you gain so much more in return.

At the end of any week, I spend half a day compiling my own notes (you could do it in mindmap form) from the lecture notes provided. I bring these notes wherever I go in school. By compiling my own notes, I (1) actually did my revision and found parts which I didn’t understand, following which I made sure I found out the answer and (2) build my foundation such that when I don’t understand material in the subsequent weeks, I could look at my own notes so that I can catch up. And if you understand the Buzan’s lesson on building long term memory (which I will have to write another post on), compiling my own notes help in a bit to improve my learning efficiency.

Hence I did not bring any material unquestioned into the next week, ensuring that I would not need to put in twice the effort to reach the same state in subsequent weeks.

That’s all really. The consistency actually helped to make sure exams were easier. I just didn’t need to spent more time as compared to others because I had invested my time earlier.

Consistency will help in other ways other than academic success as well. Consistency at work ensures that work do not pile up and overwhelm you a few weeks later. Consistency increases your credibility, improves your standing etc.

Now that you have learnt the single secret to academic success, what will you be doing?

Getting a First Class Honours: Surround Yourself with Positive People

Studies have shown (but I’m not going to start quoting them here)  that positivity leads to success. The mere thought that you can do something makes it possible for you to achieve your goal as opposed to the constant thought that the task is beyond your capabilites. Ever heard of the placebo effect? Patients getting cured by taking a non medicated pill that was told to them as the state of the art medicine for their illness. In actual fact what cured them was the belief that the pill could save them, and it did.

This just shows how powerful the mind is. I am a personal living testament of the power of positivity. There was a point in time where I started to see things in a positive light; nothing could put me down. It was the start of the best things in my academic life. I excelled in my tests, examinations and even presentations.

But what I did not have was positive friends, so I had to rely on my own innate positivity to bring out the best in me. Believe me, sometimes being positive makes you weird to other people, and annoying too when you try to rub off the positivity to other people.

So if we could surround ourselves with positive people, the barrier to being positive is significantly reduced as everyone is positive. Humans are social animals. It helps that your social circle agrees with how you think. It reinforces your concepts and you are more than likely to reach your goals.

Imagine that the professor had thrown in some last minute assignment and spoiled some of your plans. Your group could either say “this professor sucks. Totally spoiled our weekends”  vs “Alright let’s do what we can so that we can save what’s left of our weekends.”

Notice the difference?

To be honest, nobody really like whiners. Its fun to whine along to destress but if your whole life is about whining, sooner or later your friends will get sick of it.

You can choose to be positive or negative about a certain problem. You can choose to solve it or to blame others. But when you choose to be positive and accept the responsibility, chances are the work produced will be a higher standard than the whining group. And this leads to results and better grades. You will feel confident of yourself and enjoy your studies. You will be more positive and then this cycle continues. In this way, you can achieve academic success.

But if you surround yourself with negativity, you can either be strong minded and insist on self positivity, else humans usually succumb in order to fit in with the group. If you belong to the latter, you are not a leader in your own right and you won’t be those who achieve success.

The cycle of negativity also continues. Getting bad grades, deciding you are not cut out for something,  lose interest, getting more negative, worse grades.

So why would anyone choose negativity? It’s easier. The world is quite interesting. Only a few will achieve great success and they will enjoy the fruits that will make other people envious. But with great rewards comes great sacrifice. It does not make sense that success comes easily.

So choose positivity over negativity. When you surround yourself with a positive group, you will find it easier to stick to the goals you set and you have more chances of seeing it through to completion.

Mindset towards learning

I was reading a book on the principles of finding happiness in the workplace (will do a write up on that subsequently), and a story in the book made me realize that it actually applied to my life and academic success.

The author went on a trip to south Africa and he asked a simple question, whether they liked school work. To his surprise, 95% of the class actually answered in the affirmative. This was totally the opposite where he worked as a Professor in Harvard University. In Harvard, most people dread school work. The reason? In South Africa, they saw studying as a previledge that their parents did not have. However in developed countries, studying has since been seen as a chore.

As I reflected on my life thus far, I realized that this was what happened to me. When I didn’t do as expected for PSLE, I was devastated and this actually led to me seeing studying at prestigious schools to be a previledge I yearned for. My peers were in great schools, I was in a good school, just away from them. When I eventually made it to NJC, I saw it as a previledge that I was able to study there. I also found opportunities to out do myself and saw it as an achievement to be able to improve.

As I progressed into university, the chances to out do myself were opportunities waiting to be harvested. I enjoyed studying and getting good grades. This happiness and positivity actually helped in the academic experience.

Hence no matter at work or in school, how you view your task changes your attitude towards the issue and your chances for success. So adopt the right mindset today!

Getting a First Class: To S/U or not to S/U

When I decided to write down my experiences and methods used to achieve academic success in University, I didn’t think about writing such a post on whether to S/U a subject or not. However, when I was looking at the search results that came to my site, it seemed to mean a lot to many different people. Hence, here is a post talking about using the S/U option.

NUS vs NTU
Now if you are here on my website, you would most likely come from two groups of people. I’m not neglecting SMU, but I have no idea how it works there and hence it is not right to assume. It isn’t really a NUS vs NTU kind of situation; rather, it is a comparison of the way we use the S/U option in both universities.

As of the time in writing this post, NUS students are allowed to exercise the S/U option after the results has been revealed. NTU students, however, have to decide whether they S/U their modules before they take their final paper. I find that the NUS method benefits the overall grades more, and actually forces you to study for all modules. It might make you a more all rounded individual if you treat all exams seriously.

I have found myself in situations where I wanted to S/U a module, only for it to be an A, and the other module where I had confidence in was the one I eventually exercised my S/U option on. Therefore, this S/U option actually helped me to improve my overall grades.

So, how do we decide
I’m actually surprised someone would ask me that. Generally the simplistic method to decide is whether it pulls your grades down, and by how much. Remember drawing the best fit line in science classes? The one that doesn’t fit into your best fit line is considered an outlier and can be neglected. Should your GPA be 4.0, and your grade for this module is a 3.5. Chances are you will have a lot of 3.5s and 4.5s that make up the average of 4.0. Hence you will not waste your S/U on a 3.5. Rather, if it’s an outlier, say a 3.0, it would make sense to S/U it.

Another way is to see whats your desired end point when you graduate, and see if this puts you off track. If it doesn’t, then you are still on the safe side by not choosing to S/U. If it does, please do S/U it.

Now what about the future
So what if there is another module that I do worse in the future? Well you will never know. But what you do know is the impact of this module on your grades, and you can choose to let it affect your grades, or you can S/U it. Personally I will look at the number of S/U-able modules for the future to decide. Not every modules can be S/U-ed since they represent the core of your degree.

You can also plan for the future by deciding what are the electives that you will be interested in taking for future semesters. If you can choose something which you know you have plenty of interest and capability in, then chances are that module shouldn’t do as badly as the one you have in your hands right now.

If there are only 2 modules left with 2 S/U options after you exercised this one, then stop reading on for you are just wasting your time.

But…
But really, if you are really interested in the whole series of what I have to say regarding “Getting a First Class”, you shouldn’t be worrying about the future. You would S/U this outlier and then tell yourself, “I will make sure this doesn’t happen again”. And with the study techniques that I will eventually go into, you will do well.

Actually, the reason why I didn’t think about writing such a post is because you shouldn’t need to be troubling over this. What you should do is doing so well that you need not use your S/U. So well that it becomes blatantly obvious when you HAVE to use it.

If you would like some special advice from me, do leave a comment on your situation and I will do my best to advise you accordingly. Do give me some time though, as there are other high priority tasks to do everyday.

Getting a First Class: An Introduction

I thought it would be interesting to talk about achieving academic success, given that there have been many related searches on google that leads to my blog. In addition, from time to time there will be a random comment seeking advice for university related matters. Fun fact: I only started learning the difference on usage between advice and advise when I started working as having good staff work translate to better performance.

Alright, let’s set the stage clear. There will be a series of posts following this introduction that would deal with specific issues that I thought would be worth sharing. However as a general guideline, I thought it is best to make it clear that I do not think that getting a First Class is so big a deal. I have just read an article on the internet detailing how pointless the author felt when he got his First Class. He felt that he should have gone out more with friends, experienced more of the outside world etc instead of spending his time studying. I feel that one should have no regrets, so do deal with this delicate balance yourself.

What I will do is talk about the good values that would aid you into achieving that academic success you so desire. However, do not end your university life regretting that you did not find time to pursue other interests and develop yourself in other areas. Like the author of the article, I thought development outside the classroom was important as well.

Another important thing to consider is the argument of nature vs nurture. Some people believe that being smart is dependent on your genes and some believe that being smart is a result of how you were taught. I believed that it is a balance between the two. I have seen friends who struggle and put in a lot of hard work but it didn’t translate into results. However there are those who easily get better results with half the effort.

That said, whatever I am going to write from now onward in my series of posts under this category will be merely an aid. It will not be a guaranteed method of getting a First Class. However I do believe that if you are an average performer you should be able to improve and pull yourself up.

Another interesting topic that I would like to cover in this introduction is on whether it is worth it to get a First Class. The argument against is usually along the lines that employers look for other skills that are not taught in the classroom. This argument is valid, except that I do not subscribe to it. What I feel is that getting good results shows (1) how serious you are about the subject and your education and (2) your ability to pick up material in a short time (a semester is really short in my opinion). I would just like to point out that it would be beneficial for people to adopt this attitude: “I will get my academic success PLUS develop the soft skills needed to gain an edge over any potential competition”. This is like the argument, “I will rather have health than wealth”, as it is not one thing other than another. Our attitude should be “Can we have both”. Hence, other than talking about academic success, I will be adding posts belonging to the various soft skills we should have under this category too.

But, for the record, I think it was worth it to get the First Class, despite the fact that there might not be a salary difference given the class of honours. However, it might help to open doors and add in some minor points to your resume. However, it does get a little irritating if everyone labels you as the “First Class guy”. We have to learn to take that with a pinch of salt.

So, with all that being said, I hope I will have the energy and dedication to see through this series of posts and help train better graduates. If you have benefited from this series of posts, do leave me a comment or a testimonial.

Thank you!