Before I went to college at age eighteen, my father gave me some advice on studying. “Always read the book ahead of time,” he told me. “Then after you’ve heard the lecture and done the assignments, go back and read the text again. That way you’ll learn the material thoroughly.”
I just repeated this advice to my daughter, even though she still more than a few years away from college. But I added one caveat…
Don’t do it.
If the primary goal is to thoroughly grok the information, then multiple readings and diligence in doing the assignments is a great way to learn. However the goal of learning is not always to cram every bit of information into your head. As a student, one juggles many responsibilities and deadlines. Putting too much energy into one thing means taking energy away from something else. If one is a perfectionist or OCD or has a similar internal impetus to overdo, then trying and failing to do this thorough kind of work can sabotage one’s overall success.
I love my Rise of Modern Europe class. One of the main parts of lecture is to show a slide of a primary source such as a diary excerpt or bill of sale, and ask “What is this telling us?” Last class we looked at a chart that listed all the groups that participated in the Thirty-Years War, and when they entered and left the conflict. The point was not to know each of the armies; the point was to understand that this was a huge conflict involving many different factions in ever-changing alliances over several decades.
Another exercise we did in class was to attempt to read a lengthy piece in a very short time. The professor urged us to know the difference between a text we need to study closely, and a text we only need to skim. Both methods have great value.
I still haven’t found a good way to mesh my writing career with academia, but most of that is time management. It’s not that I’m doing it wrong, it’s that I need to prioritize some things, and other things must be put off. One thing that is both a blessing and a curse is that ideas for stories and essays pop up regularly. It’s nice to have ideas, but frustrating not to have time to work on them. Someday I’ll write The Diet of Worms Was Not a Buffet and The Closeted Calvinist (If you’ve studied Calvinism, you’ll get the problem with that title.)
But for now, I’ll read. Once. I’ll skim. I’ll take in everything I can even if there isn’t time to grok everything I want to grok.
And I’ll pass BOTH quizzes tomorrow.