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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pursuit Of Knowledge Versus "Grades"

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Knowledge and good grades are not the same goal. They aren’t completely opposed to one another but they’re definitely skewed a little away from each other. Just because you have a ton of knowledge on a subject, it doesn’t mean you’ll get good grades in a class about it. Just because you get good grades it doesn’t mean you have a ton of knowledge on the subject. You need to keep that in mind with every decision you make in school.

Factors come into play that virtually no one discusses. You can get grades best on showing up to class, dumb luck, concentrated studying, smart memorization tricks, sleeping with the teacher, or cheating. Grades are not knowledge. Grades mean virtually nothing when you don’t factor in the methods used to achieve those grades.

You can’t become knowledgeable by cheating the system. Well… maybe you can. Using cheap memory tricks can help things lock in your brain easier than ever but hacking your brain chemistry isn’t exactly a problem in most cases. Knowledge is the end. Grades are just one slightly related means to achieve that end.

In Pursuit Of Grades

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I recommend focusing on grades for students. Forget about acquiring significant amounts of knowledge. Students are judged based on the grades they get. Not based on the knowledge they have. By making intelligent study decisions, a student can learn everything required for a course in relatively no time at all.

Using prioritization methods a student can focus their energy on the information that really matters and spend very little energy to do it. Energy doesn’t have to be wasted on low value projects.

Teachers are constantly benefiting the students that chose this path through school. Many teachers virtually hand the questions of the tests to their students before the test in test prep material. Virtually every teacher focuses their class time significantly on the testing material. Teachers encourage this focus because it helps them too. (Who cares if you know more than the average student in a subject if you don’t get a good grades on the test? The teachers will look bad in that situation.) The whole system is designed to focus around grades.

Is that a good thing? Who cares!? That’s irrelevant to your success or failure. Using these biases in teachers you can study for minutes every night and get a good grade in virtually any course. Sure, the system may be stupid but at no point do you have the reasonable option to not participate in it (until college but college the system tends to be slightly less stupid too.)

By focusing on grades you get one less obvious advantage over other students.

In Pursuit Of Knowledge

Knowledge is something that requires emotional investment. In school, going after good grades is your emotional investment. Parents and teachers guilt and scare you into getting good grades. “What are you gonna grow up to be a bum?” “I’m so disappointed in you!”

Sure, it works to some extent but as you can imagine, it’s not the most motivational way to go on the pursuit of knowledge. It’s just emotional blackmail. By pursuing good grades without the knowledge goal, it offers you a significant amount of extra time. Suddenly, you won’t have to study for hours a night because you’ll have great grades already. Any extra studying would be the pursuit of knowledge.

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After you free that extra time out you can do virtually anything with your time. You can slack. You can watch a movie. You can talk to friends. All that is an option but there is a problem with those decisions. They’re a bit shallow and boring after a while. If you’re the kind of student that would study hours a night to get good grades, you’re probably going to pull your hair out slacking off. This is the perfect time to spend actually pursuing knowledge.

I know… Why pursue knowledge when you can veg out? That’s your natural thought but once you free this time up for a while, you’re going to feel slightly differently. You’ll likely find yourself curious about certain things. That means you’ll look them up. You might even start to study a few subjects completely unrelated to school.

The great thing about this pursuit is that it’s your curiosity driving you instead of your fear and guilt. You’re looking to learn things that you actually care about. That is how you actually try to learn something effectively. Instead of fighting to force yourself to remember something, you’ll find yourself just not forgetting it.

Making Your Distinction

The dreamer in me says, “never sacrifice knowledge for grades.” I believe that is probably the preferable way to leave. I sometimes wonder if I chose to drop out and focus on my own studies if I’d be better off. The practical part of me says, “You’re F’in nuts. Get good grades and play the game dumbass!”

If you’re the kind of student that focuses on actually learning the information your classes teach you then this can be an awfully strange distinction to make. It can take you a very long time to completely accept it. It can feel like knowledge and grades are linked but it’s a much looser connection than most students even imagine.

In fact, just look at some of the syllabuses for your class. Look for the section that shows a percentage of your grade for each aspect of the course (for example, 10% homework, 40% tests, etc.) Get a little creative and see if you can find any little tricks for improving your grades without increasing your effort. Or, at the very least, not affect your grade while decreasing your effort.

Think about the example I gave where 10% of your grade is based on homework. In that case, you could skip all your homework assignments and still get an A- in the course (90, depending on grading style.) Is that smart? I don’t know. Does the teacher give hundreds of hours of homework, maybe? That’s a class specific question. Usually the smart decision is a simple balance with most of your energy going towards the valuable factors. (If you’re going to skip anything in that example, homework probably is one of the better things to skip.)

Prioritization like that is one of the most powerful ways you can focus on improving your grades without increasing your knowledge.

Once you learn that skill remember this though. School doesn’t value knowledge. It values grades. Life (past college) doesn’t value grades, it values knowledge. Sure, getting good grades without more studying is a skill in itself but it has limited value outside of fields dealing with the government and contracts. (“Oh look… if we reallocate funds here it will be tax deductible.”) You want to have knowledge.

You don’t have to learn what school is teaching you but be damn sure to learn a little about something.

Do you want to know how to get good grades without the effort? That’s what this blog is about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives to learn more. Also, there are three ebooks in the sidebar that you might be interested in reading.

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