I was in a fraternity in college. It was a great fraternity. We won a bunch of awards while I was in the fraternity, even the top chapter in the entire nation one year. I had some great experiences, made some great friends, and learned a lot about the way groups of people work.
That brings me to my point: the 80/20 rule.
If you’ve never heard of this rule, thinking about a group of 100-ish college guys doing a bunch of volunteer, athletics, and social events. If we had 100 guys attend, it meant about 80 would just show up while 20 did all the work. The planning, set-up, tear-down, work during the event, communication, promoting of the event, and any other activity you can think up were done by 20% of the people. The rest just had fun. This is an important example for our study skills conversation.
In your studies, it works essentially the same way. One of the most important study skills is actually being able to know what you should learn and what won’t be important.Typically 80% of the material in class only gets you 20% of the results, but 20% the material gets 80% of the results. That’s why most students have a 2.5-3.0 grade point average. B’s and C’s don’t take that much effort. A’s, on the other hand, require effort and know-how.
I’m not suggesting you ignore material in class. Rather, great students know how to filter the material they receive in class. They can recite the most important material in their sleep, while they are just familiar with the least important material.
Here’s why this is important:
1) You have limited time
No student has enough time to memorize everything that was mentioned in class. Teachers and professors are fond of saying things like, “If I say it in class, it’s fair game on the test.” While that sounds all well and good, the truth is that you don’t have enough time to remember everything that was said. Even if only 9 weeks of classes are on the test, that’s still potentially 45 hours of the lectures! If you can’t filter the material well, you’ll never survive class.
2) You have limited brain-space
Brain-space probably isn’t officially a “thing.” I made it up, but I imagine you understand what I’m saying. Even if you had all the time in the world (and wanted to spend it studying…?), you couldn’t remember all that your professor taught you in that semester. You just can’t. Those professors have spent years, and years, and years, and years, and ….
A long time. They know the material extremely well. And even if they are wrong, it doesn’t matter because they have 3 little letters after their names: PhD. You need to be able to pick out what’s most important.
3) Your test length is limited
Professors can’t give twelve hour tests. Maybe they’d like to, but they can’t. Twenty-five stressed-out students locked in a room with a maniacal professor for 12 hours to take one test … somebody is going to die. Instead, teachers as four questions after 45 hours of lectures, and you hope you’ve studied the right material. If not, welcome to the bottom 75% of the class.
That means you don’t really need to know everything from the class to make an “A.” You just need to know the right information from the class. But that’s the tricky part. We’ll discuss the “How to’s” of filtering information without disengaging and becoming an utter slob in the next article.