A New Strategy

So here we are at the end of week six. Week six at Bangor University is exam week, so I’ve been doing my best to regurgitate all the things we’ve been learning the last five weeks. One bonus for me is that I had a cold, and a headache during every exam I did, not to mention the constant running nose, the head aches and the tiredness during reading week.

Naturally that was quite a thought provoking topic as I looked over how the whole thing turned out. These exams are worth about 1.5% of my degree, so they’re at a stage where I should be making them count.

Let me put this exactly as it looks in my mind. I don’t like exams, and the reason for that is that I don’t enjoy preparing for them. I don’t enjoy the impossible situation that accompanies content modules. What do I mean by this? I mean attending a lecture, and then needing to read 45 pages of a book, for each of the five lectures, for three topics, to learn and internalize them, and to show evidence of extra reading in the exam.

Yet people manage it, so there must be something I can do to get myself there. Well, this is my plan:

1. Attend every lecture and make a reasonable effort to make notes – weather I ever read those notes or not again is irrelevant. Taking notes helps concentration, and also gives the information a more permanent base.

2. Re-watch every lecture as a podcast, and highlight bits. – if nothing else, this creates a second pass over the content, strengthening it in my memory. It also then makes chances to ponder, see how much emphasis each aspect of the lecture was given, and to decide how much required reading needs to be done.

3. Use the textbook to delve deeper into things I don’t understand, or that are of importance. – This is a third pass over the important parts of the course content, and a detailed look at the parts I need to know. Things should be starting to become fluent by now.

4. Make many flash cards covering all the terms relating to each subject. – Key terms act as a cue for the things learnt in lectures. Using flash cards frequently will build fluency in recall, and is a time effective way to have a cue to all parts of the topic.

5. Do at least something in the way of extra reading for each module. – A friend of mine, who teaches college students said you can tell in the answers students give who has done extra reading, through the ideas and the ways of thinking they demonstrate. With the extra time I have I can do some extra reading, of something I like, and I will be satisfied with that. I choose not to worry about it any further that. What happens happens.

One of the problems for deep thinking students like myself, is that I cannot bear for any bit of information to be left behind, because logically, it could all be necessary for the exam. The problem is not lack of time, but lack of strategy. This is what we call working smart, not merely hard.

Well I hope I can report success at Christmas!

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A Word on Evolution

Evolution is a popular word within science these days, and psychology is no exception. It seems that just about everything, whether it be neuropsychology or developmental psychology, can link theories back to our so called evolutionary past.

And it does kind of fit. The regions of our brains that carry out more elemental (similar to animal) roles are all centred around the medulla, which becomes the spinal cord. The further you come from the medulla, the more executive functions are performed, which might suggest from the evolutionary standpoint that new bits were built around the older parts.

Today I was reading on vision, and it astounded me just how spectacular the visual system is. Now the notion of evolutionary psychology suggests that the elements of the visual system for the transduction of colour came later on, that certain parts of the visual system are colour blind, and that through additional pathways the colour information is sent, to make a picture in our ‘minds’.

I just cannot grasp how such a system could uniformly form across an entire species by chance. The scientific primary colours, which according to theory, out of mere chance have constructed into the cones of the visual system, them selves through accidental genetic mutation, I honestly believe to be impossible. With no complete set of systematic steps, something has made itself out of genes that once upon a time had no trace of colour information.

Many a scientist now do look at the spectacularity of nature and of the human body, and feel conviction that a power of deity is having a bigger role than science would be comfortable accepting. I myself am a firm believer in Jesus Christ, belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information and ideas such as what I refer to here play no part in my conversion to that faith – empirical evidence for such does not exist, but I do marvel at the hand of my creator in such a spectacular organism as the human brain.

Am I studying Psychology or Information

Okay, this is a question that I have: is the practise of trying to intensely internalise lots of information really going to make me into a psychologist?

And let me present another situation too: we’re all told that to pass an exam with a first, it is important to do extra reading, show novel thought and all the rest of it. Then we’re typically given 5x two hour lectures with power-point notes representing 200 pages of book which, if I understand rightly, I am to read and fully understand and be able to recall so as to be able to answer the test questions.

I do not believe that reading large amounts is an effective way to really be the master of this knowledge. I suppose when it comes to learning for exams, I think of what my father, and others have taught me, which is to make many notes from what I read and hear during my study, from which I can revise then through means such as flash cards, testing myself, simply re-reading or hand copying down notes and so forth. That to me makes the difference between studying and mere reading.

When I get down into the process of studying, which I try to do by taking the lecture slides, the course literature and my iPad for note taking, and seek to read, compare the slides with the literature and then write down in my own words what is being taught, it turns the study process into something drastically longer, and given that I have never yet completed this activity in the way I’d have hoped to, the time, and the ability to remain focused in a manor that is generally fruitful for learning doesn’t seem to be there.

I believe that things are best learned when put into practise. As an I.T. enthusiast, I have learnt to program through practise using books and guides, which had lead me to know how to program web pages, fix computers and enjoy research methods (stats). I became a fluent German speaker in the small space of 1 year through the study of a textbook, but then the putting it into practise, living in that country. And for that reason, I aren’t thoroughly convinced this is the best way to actually learn the subject at hand.

Clearly something in it works, because classes are essentially taught the same way all over the world, and have been taught that way even since my parents did their degrees. But I don’t think these modules are making psychologists, they are assessing who is good at regurgitating information under test conditions.

You could say these exams aren’t valid. Do they measure what they claim to measure? What do they claim to measure? Competence in handling matters related to developmental psychology? To some extent I’d say probably, yes.

But I believe if I were to take a more hands on approach, by participating in research straight off, seeing more replications of research, instead of being given a block of text, and immersing myself in it, like I did with German and programming, I would become a psychologist, and not the walking Wikipedia.

I’m sure that’s rich of me, a mere undergrad, to be calling change in the way education is carried out, but I believe there is much capacity for improvement, and I would like to find out how it could be done.

Comments, both positive and negative are gladly welcomed!

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