How to Graduate from University
Assuming you’ve decided this is what you really want to do, the next step is to develop a strategy how to best accomplish it.
I guess I’m fortunate to be endowed with enough intelligence to have gotten through the system by the simple approach that I took, and the amount of time that I invested into it. Simple, honest and diligent work can be good, but you should consider that your university career is essentially preparing you for the rat race. And where there’s a race, the faster ones get the bigger prize. And to get ahead of the others, you can always employ various tricks to claw your way forward.
For me, I knew that the only reason I wanted to get through university was for that piece of paper and nothing more. It was for my own confidence, and I always knew that eventually I would want to run my own business. The paper was a means to launch myself out of the blue collar mire and into the white collar world, from where I assumed it would be easier to launch myself into some independent existence. In hindsight though, I may have found a more efficient route to accomplish this, because the piece of paper is certainly not cheap, and it requires a significant investment of time. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my university years (I purposefully chose one with the greatest party reputation) and, because I was taking this minimalist approach (I was shooting for and exactly attained the percentage score I needed to get that piece of paper - and not one percentage point more), it opened up all sorts of time to develop myself in other areas (I was on the university gymnastics team, rowing team, school photographer with access to free film and the dark room, drama class - and all sorts of fun).
Actually, while you are going through this institution,
you can look at it as a good opportunity to develop yourself in many other
areas you might not have thought of. These opportunities will simply not
be available to you once you are in the “outside world”, where your boss
will work you to death, you may have other mouths to feed, mortgage payments
to meet, and where there is simply so much less time for leisure and self
development. Not to mention that such resources could be significantly
sparse. In university there are endless clubs you can join, sports you
can take part in, and everything is centralised and on campus, so you
should consider all these options to make the whole exercise and investment
worthwhile. Any committees or organisations you partake in will give you
valued experience and skills, even networking benefits once out of school,
all of which you can apply once you graduate. Not to mention that such
participation will always look good on your resume. The people who hire
you often like to see that you have initiative, many skills, and that
their investment will yield them their desired returns. Not to mention
that these skills may bring you pleasure or serve your own development.
Certainly not everything should revolve around serving your future employer.
It is your life, after all, and we should assume that you have chosen
to enter university for your own needs and not those of others. This is
a mistake many might make (back to previous "career
But before we start to talk about “attaining your diploma requirements”, you should know what those are. I had a housemate in university who would be chained to his desk constantly. When he had enough of that, he’d migrate to the living room and watch some TV as a break. He would tell me that his average was something like 96%, that he was eligible for some scholarships, and then he once told me he would like to become a police officer. This when he was watching on TV how the police were beating protestors. Perhaps he assumed they were all lazy and good-for-nothing lefties who should only be beaten.
My other housemate also studied nonstop and asked me what
the heck I was doing in university, since I seemed to spend so little
time at my desk. But I have to ask you, what did the 96% serve him if
he wanted to become a cop? It seemed like a ridiculous waste of time.
I needed a 70% average to get my diploma and I achieved 71%. Seemed righteously
perfect to me. If you want to move on to further studies you should find
out what the requirements are. If you later want to enter the workforce
you should find out what they are looking for. For the field you want
to get into, perhaps they are not so interested in percentages but more
interested in certain extracurricular activities. You should find out
all this so that you can develop a good strategy for yourself. Four (or
more) years can go by pretty quickly, so do not lose out on all the opportunities.
I knew one girl who attained one degree, then hum and hawed and said she’d
like to try something else. Professional students we’d call them. Fortunately
her parents foot the bill, but it seemed more like a professional waste
of time to me.
Once you have developed for yourself a sound strategy,
I am sure you can find many tricks and resources on the internet, or books
in school, or from speakers who pass through the campus and suggest their
ideas. I never took advantage of any of these. Then again, I’m Bohemian
in nature and tend to fly by the seat of my pants in anything that I do.
Speaking of teachers, maybe yours is not a good one, or you don’t get along, or you just do not understand well the way they explain things, whereby another option is to consider changing teachers. I never tried this as well but simply accepted my fate and believed it was up to simple and honest hard work to overcome all obstacles.
But in the real world, once you are outside, those that progress faster do not necessarily do so by simple and honest work. I once asked a boss of mine why others seemed to get promotions while I did not, to which he responded: “Well, the squeaky wheels get more oil.” At which point I would just squeak and squeak until I eventually quit, out of protest. But this is just to show you that there are many ways you can skin a cat, and that you should constantly seek them out, if you want to get ahead of the others. Or attain your goals with less effort. So ask around. Ask older students. I never asked, but I do admit I did apply one little trick and secret during my last year of university. It was for my most difficult course. Something about rational economics. The teacher was Pakistani and I could barely understand him through his thick accent. In hindsight I should have dropped that course, as it was obviously retarded. Frankly, my final thesis on economics was that the entire subject was retarded. The concept that we can create and apply mathematical formulas to the way people behave, and try to apply them to create the most efficient society. Certainly I know that economics cannot be entirely retarded and there must be some point to it. Perhaps I missed this point entirely (but I do now see how the world economy works in general and one day I’d like to dabble in the stock market). In any case, this one course on rational economics took the cake. I passed that course and still have no clue what it was about. Something about rationalising variables in an equation. While we are trying to make up mathematical formulas which supposedly explain and predict how people will behave, we can mathematically rationalise about each of the variables we are considering applying to our equation. Yes, precisely this.
After staring blankly into my book for a few weeks and
trying to get a grip on what the heck he was talking about, a fellow student
casually mentioned that the students of that class were meeting once or
twice a week to help each other out, and he asked me if I would like to
join them. I thought this could be a good idea. I showed up the first
day at their designated meeting point: in some conference room in the
university. These apparently exist for the students and I was amazed.
Yet something else I knew nothing about. I walked wide-eyed into the room,
chose for myself some seat, and waited to see what would happen. Which
is about when three of the students started scribbling madly away. As
soon as they were done scribbling on one piece of paper they would hand
it to their right. The three scribbling students were evenly distributed
(a term I learned in statistics class - yet another of my hated and poorly
understood subjects) around the round table, so it did not take too long
before one of these pieces of papers were passed to me. I stared at it
and came to the wonderful conclusion that they were doing the homework
for us. So I joined the others and soon we were all frantically copying
the homework assignments. My friend said to me, as he passed it to me,
“Oh, and you should try to word things your own way.” As I worded them
my own way I would quickly try to grasp what the heck I was scribbling
about, and between that, the classes I attended, and the few hours I could
stomach before the final exams, it was my only participation in the course.
Once you are in the real world, and are after a promotion,
perhaps you could let your boss win in golf. I am sure there are many
ways you can skin that cat as well.
We invested our million dollars into advertising and right
off the bat we were at the top of the pack! We remained there for a while
but over the course of the class we would slowly drop down, until we ended
near the bottom. Then came the time for the final report, which I prepared
myself, since no one else in my group had a clue or interest in getting
involved. I poured my heart out and explained to my shareholders (teachers)
why we performed so poorly. I used much fancy speech and waving of arms,
but the sad truth of the matter is that I did not even know I could view
the investment decisions of the other groups. Which goes to show how spaced
out I can be. Essentially, I was blind and making investment decisions
with no clue about to my competitions’ decisions. If I had known that,
I would have simply watched how they spend their money
and mimic them to maintain our leading position. Simple algorithm analysis.
Mathematics has always been my best subject, so if I had known this, I
am sure I could have maintained our initial lead. But I couldn’t admit
this to my teachers, considering how pathetic it was that I did not know
of this basic fact, in which case I spent much energy bullshitting, one
should say, and successfully attained for us - you guessed it - a 70%
grade. But the art of bullshit is a valuable art in itself. How on earth
do you think someone like president Bush can get elected twice in a row?
Just listen to speeches given by most politicians. The speeches given
by executive board directors to their shareholders concerning the poor
results of the last quarter can only be compared to the political speeches
of supreme bullshit. Take Enron for example and the endless speeches given
by their corporate heads trying to allay everyone’s fears while the ship
was rapidly sinking and the big boys were pulling out all the cash to
hide it somewhere offshore. Hence, the 70% I earned for our group was
So dishonesty is not what I am trying to promote (rather,
I consider myself an exceedingly honest person) but what I am trying to
suggest is that you analyse all your options and not just assume the straight
and narrow, or put all your eggs in that basket. Obviously, you have to
learn the material one way or another. There are tutors available (yet
another resource I was not aware of or never applied) who are there to
help you where you are experiencing difficulties. You might ask for help
from one of your classmates. Perhaps you are doing better in certain subjects
and can help others in exchange for them helping you with subjects they
are good in.
First of all, if you do not understand something, I would suggest you do the necessary background reading while the teacher is covering it. Do not delay this for the final exams and do not cruise through a course if you do not know what the teacher is talking about (unless you are blessed in the very particular example of the rational economics course I mentioned above). Make sure you generally understand the topic while you are taking it and going to class. Focus on areas you are weak in and which are not clear to you. Save the memorising of things until just before the exam.
As the exam approaches (I was a horrible procrastinator and always started about two weeks before), start building up by doing your necessary background reading and iron over those areas you do not quite understand. Do all your time consuming work now - to get the general picture. But as the exam approaches, you should start compiling your list of facts etc. that you should remember. Sometimes in class I see how a teacher stresses some point, followed by a small period of silence as his intense gaze scans the classroom. “Aha,” I would think, “he must want me to remember this.” Which is when I would pull out my red marker and circle the point. In my shirt pocket I would always carry around with me various coloured pens and highlighters, accentuating this point or that in different ways. By the time I was done with all my notes and textbooks, it would look like a child had gone through them in finger painting class. But obviously, you do not want to overdo it, otherwise all your material will look like a finger painting by a five year old. The highlights are there for you. When reading the material from the textbook, I would write down key ones on a separate piece of paper. You can tell which points are important and which can be used in an exam. You want to compile the year’s information down to some swallowable size. Obviously it is important that you generally understand the concept, but exams are not really tests of your general understanding. You are not asked to write a general essay about the entire course (actually, it depends on the subject, doesn’t it), but you are tested with insignificant facts, dates and names that you will soon forget and never apply again. The test does not necessarily prepare you for the subject in any way but is more of a method of weeding out the weaker students. A certain amount of failures are expected. So when you are studying, think about all the silly points your teacher might pull out of the bag and test your knowledge on.
As the exam and doomsday is approaching ever closer, I would increasingly consolidate my notes into these little facts and useless bits of information that I felt I needed to remember. As I go over them, again and again, I might cross some out or mark them if I felt I will certainly remember that ‘in three days’. I might write up new notes on a new piece of paper, until I am walking to the exam with all the other students, like sheep in a procession before the guillotine, but I have with me my last one or two pieces of paper onto which I have written the information I have failed to securely log into my short term memory. Or basic points which I felt I should keep fresh in my mind. As I am walking to the exam, I am going over these last points, branching off to what I remember, and keeping this information fresh and alive in my head.
Which brings me to the exam schedule. Towards the end of my “educational career”, I got into a habit of organising my schedule around my exams. This is because I found I was most perky and fresh a few hours after waking up. So I would plan my schedule so that I would wake up, if possible, from a deep sleep about three hours before each exam. Not very healthy on the body, and required lots of coffee and tea (I found I need 1 cup of coffee for every three cups of tea - the tea seemed to keep my chest awake while the coffee my eyelids), but I managed to shift my awake times according to my planned schedule. Perhaps it would be 2 in the morning and I would go for a “lunch break” to my favourite pub, as they were winding things down and getting ready to stagger out the door. I would shoot a game of pool with the stragglers and free my mind for a while.
Sometimes I would play a game of squash at 8 in the evening. You need to keep your juices flowing, to keep your mind awake and alert, and ready for the intense one hour exam session. Nothing worse than taking an exam at 9 in the evening, after a day of cramming more information in, just when I am getting sleeping and nodding off at the exam desk. No, you definitely want to be fully alert during this period, and I found the best way to accomplish this was to have a nice and full sleep a certain number of hours before an exam. But many people say they cannot take naps during the day. Power naps do my mind wonders, so you will have to learn how to gauge yourself and optimise how you go about doing things.
Another trick I learned at the tail end of my studies was the possibility of studying in the gymnasium where the exams will be held. Find out which room your exam will be held in and go there a few days before and study your compiled notes. Perhaps you are trying to remember some complicated formula while staring at a certain fixture on the wall. It is called the power of association, and it is a powerful tool indeed. I had one football player friend who learned this trick whereby he could go down the line of new players, ask them what their names were, and then immediately go back down the line and call out each of their names. That is because he was using a story, or association, with each of their names. Perhaps he would look at one fellow’s orange collar, derive some story which matched his name, and then remember that when it came time to remember his name. Your brain works this way, so use this to your advantage.
When studying like this in the exam room, you might not
develop stories relating the lamp fixture to the mathematical formula
you are trying to remember, but just looking at it could lodge something
deep in the unconscious of your brain, which then resurfaces when trying
to come up with that formula during the exam period.
Multiple Choice and Exam Strategies
Many times your exams might be multiple choice. For this there is a strategy as well, and I am sure you can find lots of information about it. But the general principles are simple, as one teacher explained it to us. First of all, with any question on any exam, if you are not certain and it is bogging you down, MOVE ON. Do not get stuck on one question if it is taking too much time. Not only are you wasting precious minutes but it might cause you stress and bundle you up in knots, intimidate you, increase your worry, and it might make it more difficult to answer other questions.
When you sit at your desk, a few minutes before the exam would start, this is when I would put away my compiled notes and start to meditate. Breath in, breath out. Clear your mind. Bring your mind to ease. You want the information to flow out freely and not to be knotted up in a bundle of stress. I would try to clear my mind of all my surroundings. You can probably find on google much reading on “meditation and studies”. Tap into the power of your mind. Our conscious mind only uses about 6% of your brains, so tapping into your brain’s potential is an entirely different subject we can talk about.
Once I have totally cleared my mind and the exam is only seconds away, I’ll then gear up my mind for an intensive one hour session. Sometimes I might purposefully wait 30 seconds before beginning, just to get my mind at ease and in the right state. It is one hour, during which you can pump up your adrenaline and use your mind very intensively, spilling out the useless information onto the paper in a very intense manner. Which is one of the main reasons I wanted to be well rested a certain amount of hours beforehand, so that I would have the reserve to think so intensively for an hour.
If you get to a point you are not certain of and it might pose a stumbling block, immediately move on to the next point and don’t let yourself get bogged down. I might make a mark in light pencil next to that point indicating the degree of my uncertainty. As you whip through the points you are confident in, you’ll get to the end and already you might feel confident that you have enough points to get your magic 70%, or whatever it is. You can quickly peruse the test with your pencilled marks on the side and get a rough overview of your progress.
Now you go back and focus on those questions you are less certain about, starting from the least least certain towards the most least certain. Perhaps, after completing your first sweep of the test, you might have been reminded of something you previously forgot. If so, you might consider going back to that previous point right away lest you forget that point. Remember, as you read the test questions, they cover the subject and it might remind you of something that is buried deep and lodged in your noodle. If you do not remember the point when you initially read the question, do not let it stress you out but move on, because that point can often magically surface later during the exam.
By the time you are nearing the end of your hour, you might be spending
it on those points you are least certain about. Perhaps you feel you’ve
already attained 85% and now it is a matter of adding a few more percentage
If you do not know an answer at all, the secret of multiple choice is
the following. Let’s say there are four possible answers. Usually two
of them are way off the mark and two of them are closer together. Chances
are (we are talking about calculus now and probabilities) that one of the two similar responses contain
the right one. If so, then you have increased your chance of stumbling
on the right answer from 1 in 4 to 1 in 2. Which means you now have a
50% chance of getting the right answer. Even if you only had a 1 in 4
or 25% chance of getting the right answer, the 25% that you get right
will only be a bonus on top of the ones you know you got right.
Which brings me to yet another story: the hardest multiple choice exam I ever took in my life. And what could that have concerned? Well, for my Czech driver’s licence. The Czech Republic was once nestled in the Austro-Hungarian empire, which itself was notorious for its bureaucracy. If it is because of that, or the general mentality of the Czechs, I do not know, but the Czechs tend to do things in such a bureaucratic and insanely screwed up-into-a-knot manner than one can only marvel at how they manage to survive. Even their language is screwed up into complex knots, and they are proud of it! On the other hand, having to learn such a complex language might exercise their brain from a very early stage, which could prove beneficial when trying to outsly any competition.
Anyway, I was studying the very thick handbook in the customary honest and diligent manner, when I took a break to peruse through the very thin booklet of possible multiple choice questions. The way they had it set up was there were about 650 possible multiple choice questions, whereby the exam would have about 100. After studying some of the questions, I quickly realised the extremely and insanely bureaucratic manner in which the questions were posed. They tried to throw you off in every possible manner. Which seemed further ironic considering how badly many Czechs drive. Under and following communism the accidental insurance system was quite cheap, so there was no great motivation to drive carefully. Such a complicated and bureaucratic test would not force people to drive more carefully or weed out the poor drivers, but it might limit the number of drivers to those who are rocket scientists. However, in the typical Czech manner -- as one person explained to me: “When they [the government] go tick, I go tack.” -- the easiest and most logical solution was simply to bribe the instructor. This is of course the option I chose (I did not want to delay my travel Europe world tour departure longer than I had to). The answers were provided for me as the inspecting police instructor strategically went to the back room to eat his donuts and coffee (and count his percentages). While driving the test, the police inspector would strategically gaze out the window while the school owner would occasionally grab my steering wheel, or apply the break or play with the clutch (Czech driving schools have cars equipped with a break, gas and clutch also for the instructor, and these are the cars used for the tests as well), whispering to me what I should be doing. Absolutely ridiculous in any sense of the word, but this is the way Czechs operate.
In any case, it was my goal, even in light of the calm assurances of the school owner that some means will be provided in exchange for my bribe money, to score well on this insane test anyway. (I will try to translate some of the questions here later.) It quickly became apparent that I should throw away that big manual and focus on remembering the answers to all 650 multiple choice questions. Many were obvious, but many were written in a very sly manner such that, even if I were to lock myself on an island for a year and learn the thick manual inside out, it would not have helped me anyway. And this is where I used the power of association to make sure I remembered which of the stupid and deceptive answers was the right one. Every time I remembered the correct answer I would pencil a check mark next to that answer. Once I got three check marks it meant that I could be confident about that question and consider it sealed. If I got three correct ticks but also three wrong guesses, I might keep working on that question until I got it right. In this manner I would slowly wean down the number of questions to a minimum. And again, as I was waiting for the exam to start, I would go over and over those extremely deceptive questions and try to remember which was the right response each time. In this manner I scored quite high. And this is the only logical approach to this type of an exam.
I am just trying to illustrate to you the necessity of looking at previous
exams so that you can develop for yourself an optimum study approach.
To just grab the thick textbooks and lock yourself in your rooms, or on
your island, or in the library, as my housemates have done, will only
deny yourself of all the other opportunities a university campus and life
can offer you.
And finally, speaking of multiple choice questions, many universities use MSAT and PSAT type scores. These are basically intelligence tests on a general scale and which serve to test students across universities. Just because your particular school gives you 90% does not mean you are smarter than a student who receives 75% at a much more difficult school. Not everyone is aware of practices and grading schemes of every school out there, which is why these broad and general MSAT tests were devised. They are made up of vocabulary oriented sections and math and logic oriented sections.
Again, I just went to these to see how I faired, but in these cases as well I learned there is an entire science you can apply in order to increase your score. Remember that will be compared to all the other students, so you want to score well against them, and use all the resources at your disposal to make sure you score the best that you can. I’ve learned that you definitely can and should prepare for these tests. Like the insane multiple choice question exam for my Czech driver’s licence, you can purchase previous tests and study and practice them. Give yourself test exams and test yourself. There is an entire science on this and I’m sure you will find ample information on it in your school or through the internet.
Therefore, my friends, after completing my four years, I learned that I did not apply any of the smart strategies above. I simply went to school, on the assumption that I will learn something useful and that something good will come out of me, one day. I did not apply almost any tricks, but later realised what the “game” was all about. So I can only suggest to you to go about it smartly and examine and research all your options.
It’s a poor cat, but you gotta skin it one way or another. Just find the best way, and good luck!
* * *
* * *
Published - August 2010
Please see some ads as well as other content from TranslationDirectory.com: