When I left home last August, I had decided not to study for grades. Plus, my friend told me grades don’t really matter here. Our course director told us that it is very difficult to get an A here, and the competition will be intense cuz everyone is well educated and every one has some great strengths. I wanted to learn and take part in activities outside of the curriculum, so I wasn’t going to stress about the grades. The first courses, I really enjoyed myself, and I read only cuz the courses were interesting and exciting. Plus it was sunny outside. I LOVE reading while walking outside. And Sweden is so quiet so I could read easily.
I dunno what happened after but I’ll let you in on a lil secret of mine – I have been getting all As in class. Quantitative courses, intense group work, crazy teachers, infinite readings, open internet exams, you name it, the end result has been an A. I know I will eventually get a B. It is inevitable, but thought I’d reflect on what’s been working for me. So it goes!
Disclaimer : I take no guarantees for your grades!
Most of my learning happens in class : I listen in class, well mostly yes. I try and come prepared to the class. Which means that I go through the presentation and readings for the class. Of course, this is very hard to do and many days I just spend fifteen mins on the subway skimming through them. Sometimes I catch up during the breaks. The idea is to grasp the context of the class even if I dont understand all of it. Most lecturers lead a discussion to a certain point. I feel its really important for me to understand where the discussion or argument is going and why they structure it the way they do. I feel like the climb is more important than the destination itself cuz it gives information on ‘how to think’ rather than just understanding the concept (which can be done while reading at home, of course)
Don’t do group work just for the grade : Group work doesn’t contribute to much of my final grade even though our courses are group intensive (10% to 50%, may seem a lot but can be recovered in the final exam). The thing is that getting a B in group work is straightforward, cuz every one has an idea of what the school expects about quality. You get a C if you make blunders and you will identify signs of a dysfunctional group when you work in one. A really depends a lot on the group.
So simply put, striving just for grades would be a waste of all the learning you could have from group work. I feel like I learn most of concepts and things that truly stay with me when I work in the group, when I discuss concepts with friends and when my ideas and work are validated by group members when we work on a report or something. So, I spend a lot of time doing my group work sincerely, but not so much for the grade, but the learning eventually shows up as a good grade. This is very tricky though, every group is different and everyone’s approach to group work is different. Good to know what works for you though, and why.
The dreaded exams : Every exam is different, every teacher is different and every system is different. So I don’t really know what works for me here. One maybe, I am good at exams cuz I have had a lot of practice. Engineering exams in India are hard. The teachers set tricky papers full of traps. Hell, even the entrance exams are a treacherous climb. Two, for me, exams require a mindset. Getting a context of an exam is so important. What is the teacher trying to test. Being creative with models is appreciated sometimes, sometimes teachers just want you use the model as it is. It may sound like ‘oh this is so arbitrary and depends on the teacher’, but I think it depends on the subject. Subjects require you to develop a certain kind of thinking, some subjects need you to be creative, some need you to be factual. I look at every subject as a different way of thinking. This I learnt very late in my schooling life. But a physics hat is different from a chemistry hat and an economics hats is different from an finance hat.
So understanding what is being tested in an exam is important for me. I used to stress a lot for exams when I was a kid. Now I go into the exam hall hoping for a challenge, something that makes me think and something that helps me learn, something I would remember. If I find the exam fun and challenging I do my very best and enjoy myself. Else I just write, sometimes without any heart, and it shows in the result. I mean, I am someone who enjoys the process more than the result. The kick I get during or just after the exam is greater than the one I get when I see my results.
All said and done, grades do not matter. Just short term indicators which may in the best case get me my first job. But that’s it. What’s important is what I learn and how I spend my time. What I retain and how I apply.