How you approach learning from the beginning will define your relationship with exams and tests for the rest of your life. This is why learning to learn is so important. I’ve tried both methods in different subjects and I’ll let you in on my experience. For physics, at A-Levels, I found that everyone who had done it the previous year, but for one or two students, had scraped by on the bare minimum grades they needed. This absolutely petrified me, and so, when I began my AS Physics I paid attention to my teachers’ every word and stayed back after class to ask questions, and to even confirm everything I’d understood. After the first term and a half I dropped this annoying habit much to my teachers’ relief, but because of my initial comprehensive approach, I found I understood the pillars of the course.
For the remainder of the AS year and the A2, I managed to rely on my basics when problems squeezed me into tight corners i.e. playing around with units to remember the correct equation etc. This approach rewarded me, not meaning to show off, with probably the only good grade in our class, but when I arrived at university I began looking for the quick route in a few of my modules and sought only to learn problem solving.
At university, our course’s nemesis goes by the name of Fluid Mechanics, and I tackled it by only solving exam papers rather than actually reading and trying to understand the lecture material. In the first year, this lead to an average mark and in the second year I kept my method and doubled my efforts only to see I improved by five or six percent. In my finals, I endeavoured to go back and understand the core principles of Fluid Mechanics and build my knowledge on top of that, this, coupled with fear of poor marks lead to my best module result of the final year.
It may be a cliché to say do it properly and don’t go looking for shortcuts but the truth is no matter how daunting a course or module may seem, with the right book and enough determination it can be understood in a way that it will never be forgotten.
“The biggest thing university taught me was that, with perseverance and a book, you can do anything you want to. It doesn’t matter what the subject is; once you’ve learnt how to study, you can do anything you want.”
George Laurer, inventor of the barcode