To become an excellent turnip you simply sit around and wait for someone to dump manure on you and water you from time to time. That makes for a great vegetable, but not a great student. So why do most students sit in class and wait for knowledge to be dumped on them?
To become an excellent hawk you roam far and wide with your eyes peeled for anything that looks tasty. When you see it, you dive on it, kill it, and take it home to the kids. That’s also–figuratively speaking–how to make a great scholar.
During a lecture or while reading a text, you are cruising, eyes peeled, looking for any little tasty bit of learning you can find. Once you see it, go and get it! Own it! Kick it’s hiney and eat it for dinner. Here’s how…
- Pay rapt attention. Birds of prey are properly known as raptors, from the Latin word meaning “one who seizes by force.” As you sit in that lecture hall or hunker down with your Ramen and that three-inch thick, hernia-inducing textbook, actively look for facts and concepts.Some textbooks and professors will make it easy for you. They’ll put main points in bold letters, or point to a key concept and say, “this will be on the test.” This makes your job easy; pounce on the point.Other lecturers and books will camouflage important points in a thicket of words, unimportant drivel, and poorly-told anecdotes. Only the most attentive raptors will spy their prey and swoop down for the kill.
- Pounce on the point. That means go grab it and make it yours by putting it in your notes using some of the note taking methods I’ve mentioned. Notes are the equivalent of talons for the raptor. The prey is not yours until you’ve got a death grip on it. If it’s in your notes, then it’s yours. You can eat it later at your leisure.
- Rip it apart and consume it. Don’t be content to simply get the concept into your notes. You must really understand it. One great way to do that is by asking great questions and then answering them. [hidepost]Better questions force you to evaluate, predict, judge, compare and contrast, or synthesize, etc. (see Costa’s Levels of Inquiry).Example: Instead of asking the low-level question, ” What were the causes of the European conquest of the Americas?” ask the higher-level question, “What strategies could indigenous Americans have used to more effectively resist the European conquest?” Another example: Instead of asking, “What are the stages in cellular mitosis?” ask, “What stage of mitosis is most dangerous and risky for the organism? Why?”You can use these same questioning strategies to help learn vocabulary for tests like the SAT and GRE. Low-level questions such as, “What does prolix mean?” aren’t nearly as helpful as higher-level questions such as, “In what situations would the word prolix be a better word choice than verbose?”Good questions force you to work at a whole new level, and that will show on your test performance. And notice, in each of the examples above, the higher level questions can’t be answered unless you know the answers to the lower level questions.Higher level questions are also great ones to ask in class. Most profs (but not all) like well thought out questions. BONUS: If the prof is going too fast, a good question will slow them down so you can catch up. [/hidepost]
Actively go and pursue knowledge by paying careful attention, capturing concepts in your notes, and then processing the knowledge with good questions. Don’t settle for being a vegetable waiting for the next load of manure. Be a hawk! Go own that knowledge!