- John Mavrick
Disclaimer: This was written during my senior year of high school, thanks to my efforts I've been thriving in university :)
After getting my first sub-80 percentage exam as an always 90 student, I decided that it was time to get my shit together and not fall any deeper.
I’ve had my eyes on going to university at UBC or SFU for over a year, and I’m not about to let go of my chance because of my laziness and inability to adapt. From this point onward, my goal is to score over 95% on the future exams I take.
Thanks to COVID, I’ve been able to end off the classes I took last year with rather high averages (95% in PreCalc, 97% in Physics, 97% in Psychology). Compared to my current Grade 12 average of a 95.7%, it seems like I’m on the right track. However, my exam marks have been weighing down my overall grades for a while, and it’s about time I figure out what’s holding me back.
After reading, I hope you can learn a thing or two from my soon-to-be academic transformation.
What's holding me back?
When examining the reasons for my lower-than-expected marks, most of it was attributed to not properly answering the question or making minor mistakes that added up. I usually have a strong grasp of the concepts while taking tests, but what use is it if I can’t apply them properly because I overlooked a crucial part of the question, or if I have a brain-fart and mistake a 2 for a 7?
I know what I’m messing up on, but despite knowing the root of the problem, I still manage to make the same mistakes.
First off, what did I try? I tried to consciously remember to take more time reading questions, but the problem still persisted. Despite actively trying to accommodate for my bad habit, I still did it out of instinct; I would skim past the rest of the question after reading the basis of it, and would end up missing a thing or two that cost me marks.
As for correcting my minor yet frequent mistakes, I spent as much time possible to review my answers and quickly do them in my head to see if they were roughly right and made sense. However, in an open book quiz where I spent 10-20 minutes reviewing my answers, I still ended up with an 81/85, which is roughly a 95%.
Although a 95% was what my goal was, I felt like I could do way better considering the circumstances.
Not seeing results after trying to adapt and overcome my obstacles jabbed my self-confidence and capabilities; I was putting in the effort to work on improving my weaknesses, but had nothing to show for it.
Luckily, this only fueled my desire to improve.
I kept trying more methods and making more adjustments to try and reach my goal, and all of it was finally going to be put to the test on December 10th, 2020.
The day before the exams Upon writing this part of the script, it is December 9th, and I have less than 24 hours before my computer Science and chemistry exams. I have a strong grasp on the concepts in chemistry regarding redox reactions, and have been doing the assigned homework to evaluate and further solidify my understanding.
In computer science, I’ve read the powerpoints and have a decent understanding of the concepts, but when doing the assignments, I had to constantly refer back to the powerpoint and kept forgetting the different methods of dictionaries in python.
So on one hand, I’m concerned with making small mistakes, an issue that I’ve been trying to work on that has yet to be resolved, and on the other hand, I’m worried about not fully understanding the concepts upon the time of the exam.
So, how did I overcome (or try to overcome) these obstacles?
First, I had to realize that a problem that has lasted for months on end won’t be solved within a single day. To truly overcome this problem or mitigate it as much as I can, I need to start making small systematic changes to my studying or test-taking, one step at a time. I’ve already identified some of the small mistakes I do and have tried to fix them with certain methods, but now I just need to keep repeating this cycle of analyzing and improving to see further change.
Since I was unconsciously failing to stay focused, why don’t I find a way to prove myself that I’m paying attention? On top of consciously going through my thought process, once I find the answer, I can ask myself if I gave that question my undivided attention. If not, I can star the question, and come back to it if I have extra time to either spot my mistake or re-do the question completely. Despite all this, mistakes can still slip through, and that’s why reviewing is important.
Since reviewing my answers didn’t help me find mistakes, why don’t I try to also acknowledge the mistakes I usually make so I can better spot them? After all, how can you find something if you aren’t even aware of it in the first place? During this next test, I’ll think of ways that I could have messed up (whether it be miscounting electrons, copy errors, or applying the wrong process), and see if I made those mistakes in my answers. With this new mindset of reviewing, I’m able to pay closer attention to the test and mitigate the inevitable errors I unconsciously yet inevitably make.
I tried thinking back to how I would remember concepts in classes like history or science, where I would constantly have to memorize terms and definitions that I couldn’t really get a grasp on.
And then the solution came before me: flashcards.
I used to use quizlet before every test in my previous years, and I kind of stopped doing so because… yeah I’m not sure why either. It might not help me truly internalize concepts, but it led me to the right direction and was better than nothing.
After making the flashcards, I used gravity mode, Quizlet’s neat little way of testing yourself with the flashcards you made.
As asteroids are falling down, you need to type the corresponding term that matches the definition on the asteroid, or vice versa. It was a fun way of making the learning process more enjoyable, and helped me stay focused as I tried to learn the methods and functions of python. The time aspect of the game also helped me kick my brain into third gear, making sure to read and answer as swiftly as possible to avoid the imminent threat.
After a run or two of the gamemode, I feel much more confident in my memory, but I’ll still do a quick round or so prior to the test just in case.
Now that I’ve came up with a plan, it’s time to finally put it into effect.
Chemistry Exam and Results
We were given 30 minutes of review time before we were given the tests, and instead of quickly reviewing the material, I simply took a nap.
I closed my eyes, and imagined myself writing the test in my head, balancing equations with ease, and understanding all the concepts. Then, I imagined myself reviewing, keenly catching a few mistakes. Finally, I handed it in, checked my grades online a few hours later, and saw the number 100 right beside the exam’s listing.
Finally, it was test time.
The overall test was fine as the concepts were similar and fairly easy. I had slowly taken my time and had around 10 minutes left before time was up. However, he walked by my desk, and told me that I forgot to balance the equations after balancing the electrons.
I didn’t even know we had to do that in the first place.
I didn’t practice it at all while doing homework.
I wasn’t done reviewing my whole test yet, and as a result, I began to panic. Of course, I went to correct this mistake and finished it question by question, until I was completely stumped by the last one. I didn’t know where to start, but time was ticking. I kept guessing and checking, randomly putting numbers and hoping it’d all come together at the end, and it did. I finished the equation just in time, and the bell had rung.
I did have some extra minutes to quickly review my other answers, but decided not to because I was pretty exhausted and didn’t want to be late for my next class. I gave him the test paper, and my confidence I had imagined prior to the test slowly turned into fear, for who knows how many small mistakes I made.
The following day, I checked online to see what I got, and I was shocked to see that I had only gotten one mark off on the whole test; I got a 37/38, which equated to 97%.
Computer Science Exam and Results
We were given 10 minutes before the test to review the powerpoint, so I spent that time playing some more gravity on quizlet B)
To my surprise, I managed to retain the functions and methods quite well, and felt confident going into the test. By being more prepared, I was able to focus my attention on the questions at hand instead of trying to remember the concepts, which helped me tremendously.
I got the highest grade in my class, getting a 36/38. Upon looking at the mistakes I had made, I was surprised to see that none of them were due to misreading the question, choosing the wrong answer, or anything silly; I just genuinely got the question wrong.
Rather than feel ashamed of myself, I felt kind of relieved knowing that I was capable of losing mistakes to genuine errors.
So, what did I learn?
Overcoming perfectionism Accept that you can get stuff wrong every once in a while, and that it’s okay if you make a silly mistake or two (or 70 trillion if you’re like me) on a test.
You can be like me and try to come up with ways to mitigate making such mistakes, but in the end, don’t let it affect your mental health too much. After all, that one mistake is going to be one of many throughout life, so there’s no point in wasting more time and dwelling on it.
Overcoming obstacles When problems arise, it’s important to identify and reflect on them, to come up with effective and creative solutions to help propel you towards success. If you’re feeling a bit stuck, it doesn’t hurt to talk to teachers or to do some research online on how other people managed to fix their problems. In my case, I spent some time reading posts about people who made similar mistakes until I found something that worked for me.
Just like me, if your ideas don’t initially work, keep making adjustments until you reach your desired results. Honestly, with the minor changes I made to my methods of studying, it might not have even been the reason why I was able to do so well. Instead it could have been...
Overcoming mindsets Your mindset before and during the test is an important factor in your test-taking ability. By thinking optimistically and imagining myself achieving success before the test had even started, I was able to stay calm during my time of panic and trust in my preparations and studying to lead the way.
Overcoming the search for the "perfect" strategies There is no cookie cutter and best method to getting good grades. I critically examined my problems, and used the appropriate principles and tools at my disposal to work on solving them.
The perfect strategy is the one that best fits your current struggle.
Don’t expect making these kinds of changes to immediately improve your grades. Instead, just focus on building a steady foundation of habits and methods that are tailored to your own needs as an individual, and success will show itself.
Lastly, learning and all of these other skills are not just important in school, but in life as a whole. By starting early and putting effort in now, I’m sure you’ll thank yourself later on in life.
So, that’s about it. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a thing or two during my journey towards improving as a student.