Petkov: Don’t hedge your bets in learning

Petkov: Dont hedge your bets in learning

Antonio Petkov, Columnist

The fear of the unknown is something we can all relate to on multiple levels, especially with respect to academics. It is a feeling which, in the words of FDR, “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” When some of us take a particularly challenging course load and are not quite sure if we can handle it, we might instinctively spend valuable time speculating whether it is a realistic endeavor, rather than simply getting into it and doing our best. Here’s my advice: Forget about dropping the class and forget about getting an A. Do your very best, and in the end you will be pleasantly surprised. If you always condition yourself to have a fallback (i.e., dropping the class), you will subconsciously prevent yourself from being totally dedicated to it and likely will not perform as well.

When I am faced with something new, I often adopt a meticulous but counterproductive strategy which involves freaking out and taking way too many notes. A more effective strategy is not to amass an archive which you intend to peruse later while studying (you’ll never get to it), but rather to put down your pen every once in a while, actually look and actually listen. This is not the same as writing things down frantically and going through five-subject notebooks like Hogwarts goes through Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. It means looking at what your instructor is doing, visualizing it and effectively learning it on the spot. This helps with retention, visualization and familiarization with your particular instructor’s teaching style. (That last part may be useful on the midterms, as it gives you some idea regarding the thought process behind potential questions.)

One of my professors remarked to me, “Balance is very important. But when you are faced with the unknown, you have no balance.” As a result of the inefficient preparation and compilation of multiple fallback positions you have subjected yourself to, you have no spare time to study the notes you so carefully took, let alone free time for things called relaxation, entertainment, or life (see Merriam-Webster Dictionary). This is because the subjects you have taken might be unknown to you, and you literally have no way of predicting how you will perform, how much studying you need to do, what liberties you can and cannot take when it comes to homework or exams and so on. Unfortunately, the only way I can think to best acquire this judgment is by not having it in the first place and having to go through all of the aforementioned issues. As time passes, you will realize that it’s acceptable, and even more productive, to skip some lectures to study for other subjects, and that if you have a midterm on Monday, you can perform well on it without neglecting all of your other homework to study just for that one test. In the end, you learn to reconcile yourself with being underprepared even when you over-prepare. By preparing less, but more efficiently, it is more likely that you will see better results both academically and socially.

Antonio Petkov is a McCormick freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].