Friday, April 2, 2010

Phreak Your Final Exam Tests!

Crush the Curve!

Here's the tried and true technique for beating out the Final Exam. It beats the grading mechanisms. It's an end-around, a secret handshake. It's the push of the button that ain't supposed to get pushed.

The Standard Substandard Method

OK, you know the drill. You're given a syllabus with the grading breakdown for your class. So many percent for this, so many for that, yadda yadda.

It'd work fine if you only ever took one class at a time. But every teacher expects you to build your entire life around their class. It doesn't matter if it's a five unit lecture plus three unit lab, or a two unit time-filler in underwater basket weaving. Your time belongs to them.

So they bleed you. Time for lecture, time for quiz, time for studying/revision, papers, midterms. A pint at a time, four to six time vampires attached to you, leaving you bloodless and limp just in time for finals.

So here's how to fight them.

Phreak the Final Exam!

First, you gotta know this technique ain't gonna get you in the honors society. It's gonna get you a passing grade, that all. But if you're in a position where that's in question, that's good enough, right? Especially if you can do it to more than one class where passing is in doubt.

Sometimes You Gotta Lose to Win

First, pick and choose what matters. Chances are, what really matters are the midterm and the final exams. The rest is blood taps. So, here's the deal. You're going to ace the final, possibly the midterm (if it's not already too late), skip the rest and retire with a cool 'C'. On top of that you'll still have a life, a body, and probably more real knowledge than if you'd flogged yourself to death on all the filler work. Heck, you may not even waste your time on classes any more.


Yes, I have actually done this.

Guess what? Your college is not the only place in the world to learn things. In fact, most government-run schools (and some private ones) are among the worst places to learn. They do provide resources...labs, clubs where students of like interests can get together, libraries, they act as focal points for bookstores in the community, and so on. All this good stuff is what they hide lousy, boring curricula behind. The textbooks are chosen by crooked committees more interested in kickbacks than the quality of the material, the professors and instructors do what they can, but they have an administration forcing all sorts of requirements on them to satisfy the demands of people who have nothing to do with what you really want and need out of your education. And let's face it, some of them have either given up or weren't all that hot to begin with.

So, let's go where the knowledge is. You're not stupid, and you're not against learning. You're just against spreading five minutes of information across several hours of dry tedium.

Take your subject. Chances are you already know something about it and what it's for. There may even be an interest in your part. Sometimes the real use of a school subject is deeply buried, but it's there.

Now go where the people who use that subject actually learn it, or share their love of it. It's not school! Find the articles online, find the books writtten by interesting authors (there are interesting authors who write textbooks, but you wouldn't know it when the textbook editors finish with them.) Find a textbook from 50 years ago, when results were still expected and people were still naive enough to think that knowledge can be fun and interesting.

Now learn. Really learn. Have fun doing it. Fill your head with it and play with it. Make things, test ideas, play at being a crackpot with a wild idea about your subject. Build intellectual castles, then move the surf over them.

Know your subject cold, from the best perspective possible--that of someone who knows it for the sheer joy and love of it.

Guess what? This takes less time than classes and homework. Stay cool, and stay with it. Keep looking for the good stuff.

The Final Exam

Then, walk into the final an expert on the subject. You've used it. You've done it. It's yours. Know more than the teacher. Recognise the mistakes in the way the questions are asked, and anticipate what it is they're looking for rather than trying to search your memory for some comment from class you can parrot.

I have done this.

I got a C every time I did it.

I never went to any class but Final Exam for some classes, both Midterm Exam and Final Exam for others.

I never failed.

In most classes I had the highest score in the class on the final (or a tie for highest.)

And I got to have fun reading things I enjoyed reading, playing with ideas on paper, writing simple programs to play around with math, or languages, or history, or whatever as a way of playing with the concepts I was actually learning. I not only knew the bare facts, but why they were that way. If I forgot something, I could remember everything around it and piece it out for myself--while staring at a final exam paper.

Crash and Burn

OK, it's a scary idea. And fear will kill you. It shuts off the brain, keeps you from settling in and learning. And the potential for failure is huge if you can't be trusted to be honest and firm with yourself.

Accept failure. Fear nothing. Just learn because you want to. Perhaps start before you actually enroll in the class--you knew you were headed that way, right. Then you'll have your feet already under you once class starts. You might even enjoy class time, since you'll have something interesting to discuss with the instructor (and maybe even liven things up for your classmates.)

It's not necessary to start ahead of time. I often didn't. When I did, I often ended up showing the teacher my knowledge and interest so strongly at the start of class that they took me aside to make a special deal. In some classes the teachers sounded me out, then said "Here's the deal, I'll just give you an A in the class if you'll..." In one case I was asked to tutor a sports player who was struggling with staying on the team, in another case I was asked to write some articles for the school paper. How's that for a grade exploit?

Live and Learn...and LIVE!

Anything, anything, that makes you stand out from the muddled mindless masses in your class will mark you to your teachers. So long as they don't have some inferiority complex (many do), they'll welcome the difference in you.

And even when they don't, don't let them draw that life out of you.

Beat the system. Learn with enjoyment, control your time and your life. Pick your own way, get recommends from others who actually love the subject (your instructor may be one of those, ask and see!) Spend less time and get more, and get a passing (or better, maybe) grade.

And walk out with not just a diploma, but a mind filled with the joy of understanding.

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