What creates a first class student?
It’s a tough question, but when you look around, you find the same students topping the class every single time. You always find them on the dean’s list.
What’s their secret? Do they know something you don’t?
The answer is Yes! They do!
And while they may not be aware of it, they know how to use this “technique” without fail.
How do I know this?
I used to be at the bottom of my class.
I used to struggle a lot in my medical studies. No matter how hard I studied, I was always last. I put it down to a matter of genetics. I consoled myself with the ‘fact’ that the top medical students had a higher IQ than me and no matter what I did, I would never be able to reach their level.
But in 2010, I did one simple thing that propelled me to the top in ONLY 4 weeks.
And until recently, I kept this a secret, even from my close friends.
But today, that all changes.
What has chickens got to do with your grades?
Temple Grandin is a highly autistic researcher that has an innate ability to see what scares animals. She has used simple measurements to transform the meat & poultry industry around the world. She goes to cattle farms and literally crawls through the various chutes that the cattle has to go through on the way to the slaughter house and then she tells the slaughter house owner exactly what he needs to change for more humane treatment of the cattle. She audits cattle and chicken farms for health and humane reasons.
The thing about her is that her audits are kindergarten-simple, usually consisting of 5 or fewer direct observations about nothing, except the animals themselves. For example, she’ll go to a chicken farm with a tiny questionnaire containing fewer than 5 questions and the number 1 question on her list is “How many chickens can’t walk?”
She goes around to the chickens and count how many chickens can’t walk. This is her audit of the chickens.
This is significant because, until she came along, the auditing practices of the poultry industry would have a checklist of 100 of items. The checklist would cover everything from employee records to filing systems, to what time the lights went off, to the quality of the flooring, to what kind of hormones go into the animal foods and to the nature of the feed. The auditors would show up at the farm and spend days going through all these questions and many times the results were not satisfactory.
Temple Grandin came and toppled all this. She had this brilliant idea of just looking at the health of the chickens to see if the practices of the farm were humane and up to standard. If the feed was unhealthy or the lightning was bad or the employees were not taking good care of the equipment, all these would show up very simply in how well the chickens could or could not walk.
She did not have to look at the flooring.
She did not have to look at the lighting system.
She did not have to go through the employee schedules.
She did not even have to look at the feed the farmer was serving.
If a significant amount of chickens could not walk, then the farmer failed his audit. It is up to the farmer to figure out what needed to be change.
How I managed to get to the top of my class in 4 weeks only!
Now that you know about Grandin, let me show you how I managed to get to the top of my class by following her simple audit method.
Audit measures practice against performance. An audit cycle usually involves four stages:
- selecting criteria
- measuring performance level
- implement change
- sustaining improvement
Most students I know have a tendency of judging their work done by the number of hours they have ‘studied’.
I was, once too, a victim of this misleading belief. So I took Grandin’s simplistic approach to audit my study. I came up with only one question to see if my efforts were paying off or not.
“What do I remember?”
It was simple and to the point.
Measuring performance level
I would do a quick mental review and go over what I studied every 30 minutes. At the end of the day I would audit the study session and record the result. I would grade the audit on a scale of 1 – 10 depending on how many concepts or facts I remembered.
Here are the steps I go through to measure my performance level:
- I reference all my notes with unique identifiers. For example, I’ll write in the upper left corner of the first page of my first anatomy course ANAT001. For the second anatomy course I’ll write: ANAT002.
- I use toggl.com to track time spent on my studies.
- I use a spreadsheet like excel to record all ‘Audit Grades’ and the time taken to learn the various courses.
- I would analyze the spreadsheet at the end of a week to see my grades and the time spent on various courses.
- I’d then breakdown the results and see where I lagged and how I could improve. I would judge the results on a list of factors that could in some way have a negative influence on my sole criteria:
“What do I remember?”
The factors are:
Class: Did in Class/ Skipped this Class
Review Cycle Level
Time & Date
This may seem like a lot but I usually go through them in 1 minute and record the results for each course in the spreadsheet.
Implementing changes is easy when you have a clear idea where you are lacking and how you can improve the situation.
Let me walk you through some examples so you can see what I mean.
I took more than 1 hour to review the course ANAT028 (Vascularization of the Digestive System) on a Monday morning just before going to my Ob-Gyn rotation. My audit after this study session was a D which is a very poor performance. I remembered very little of what I had learned. This was very bad because I had already learned this course 2 days earlier.
I graded this performance against the factors cited above and came to this conclusion.
Class: I had skipped this class.
Notes: My notes were excellent because I had already prepared when I was learning it.
Review Cycle Level: I was on my first review in Cycle 1.
Environment: I was in my dorm room and it was quiet. No one bothered me.
Time & Date: It was a Monday morning and I usually did well on Monday mornings.
Energy Level: I slept for five hours only last night. I had a good breakfast though so my energy level was quite high.
Concentration: My concentration was impaired because of the lack of sleep.
Deadline: The exam was in 6 months so I had a lot of time of my hand to master this course.
Practical Applications: My rotation was in Ob-Gyn and I had little use for the vascularization of the digestive system there.
Conclusion: So from the above results, I concluded that the best way to study ANAT028 was after a good night’s sleep and during my rotation in General and Visceral Surgery. I also concluded that it was better to leave this subject till my deadline was about 3 months before the exams. Then with my review cycle, I’d be prepared just in time for the exams instead of wasting time on a subject that I’d have to study in 2 review cycles instead of 1. I also needed to attend a class on ANAT028 just before starting my review cycle.
It took me more than 2 hours to learn CARD016 (ECGs) on a Saturday afternoon during my rotation in Cardiology. My audit returned an E. I had less than understood the course.
Class: I attended this class but the teacher was not very clear in his explanations.
Notes: My notes were poor. I had a book which went into details about ECGs though.
Review Cycle Level: I had yet to learn this topic. So I had not started my review cycle yet for this.
Environment: I was in my dorm room and but my friends kept popping from time to time to chat a bit.
Time & Date: It was a Saturday afternoon and my mind was not clearly set on learning.
Energy Level: I slept for a full 8 hours last night. I had a hearty lunch.
Concentration: My concentration was shot because I was drowsy from the lunch I had eaten.
Deadline: The exam was in 2 months so I had less than enough time to start my review cycle to be prepared in time for it.
Practical Applications: My rotation was in Cardiology but I just did the ECGs on the patients which is a very simple procedure. I gave the ECGs to my resident. He had no time to explain them to me because he knew I would be learning this in class. I was ‘scared’ to ask questions because I did not want them to take me for a fool. 😉
Conclusion: I needed to do this on a Monday morning when my focus was at its peak. I needed to ask more questions during my rotation after understanding the basics.
The class and the notes were not enough. Sometimes going to a class is not the best use of your precious time. I needed to find another support to learn the ECG course. Luckily I found a free site which offered free, simple videos explaining all you needed to know about ECGs: http://www.ecgteacher.com/
As a result my grade audit shot to an A; I did my reviews in 1 cycle only and I aced the exams.
It took me more than 4 hours to review ENDOC017 – ENDOC020 (Endocrinology Courses) on a Monday morning during free weeks where I had no rotations. My audit returned a C even after I had properly understood and mastered the subjects.
Class: I attended the classes and enjoyed them. I learned everything on the first go.
Notes: My notes were excellent.
Review Cycle Level: I was on the last stages of the review cycle and should have mastered around 90% of the subject by now.
Environment: I was in my university library and it was a very good place to study.
Time & Date: It was a Monday morning.
Energy Level: I slept for a full 8 hours last night. I had a nice breakfast.
Concentration: My concentration level was shot for some reasons. No matter what I did, I could not focus on the task at hand.
Deadline: The exam was in 2 weeks. So I had to make sure my audit grade at the end of the review cycle was an ‘A’.
Practical Applications: I had no rotations during this period. But I had already done a previous rotation in Endocrinology and Diabetes and I had the fortune to examine patients and apply my knowledge to real live cases.
Conclusion: It turned out I was burnt out from work and study in general. I took a week off and did nothing during this week, even though the exam dates was looming. I went to the movies, went clubbing and had a good time during this week even though all my friends were studying. They thought I had gone crazy.
I started the final review in my review cycle just 1 week before the exams with a fresh start. I did a final audit just the day before the exams. No surprise there, I scored an ‘A’. When the results for the exams came, I was in the top 5%. I just needed to recharge my batteries before undertaking the final review.
The audits never lie. You can never base your study sessions on what you feel like studying now, in the moment. You need to have a strategy in place and tweak this strategy as you go along based on feedback. To get this feedback, you need to measure your progress.
To accomplish this transformation though, you need to gain control over your lifestyle. You must not repeat the same mistakes you made. If you crammed in your last exam and got bad results, you need to start your revisions early this time. You’ll have to overcome your urge to procrastinate.
The Bottom Line
Now that you’ve read this article, I want you to remember two things:
When you’re looking to improve your study session, the first thing to do is to always measure and record your performance each time.
And finally, don’t just record your performance for the sake of recording. Always analyze the results afterwards and change whatever is affecting your study.
Trust me, it works.
Now I pass it to you. What do you think? What strategies do you use to improve your study session? 🙂
PP.S. I have created a FREE, 7-Day Course on How To 20X YOUR LEARNING!
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