If you’ve never failed a test, you’re studying too much

Inspired by a chapter in How Not To Be Wrong, more specifically the chapter described in this article: “If You’ve Never Missed a Flight, You’re Probably Wasting Your Time.

One of the really nice things about junior year is that the teachers expect you to be more self reliant, which translates to a lot less busy work. This also means that there’s a greater responsibility to figure out how to study and learn, as most classes are extremely test heavy.

I’ve noticed that I’d rather understudy than overstudy for a test. For English, which I have at the end of the day, this means I’d rather cram vocabulary in my other classes the day of the quiz instead of studying over the weekend. For my other classes, this means I don’t study at all if I feel like I learned the material well enough in class. On the other hand, I study like crazy if I have no idea about the information. Whether “failing” is defined as below a 90 or below a 70, I’m trying to minimize unnecessary studying as much as possible.

How Not To Be Wrong does a mathematical analysis of how many “utils” you gain by being on time for your flight versus how much time you spent at the airport.

Say you arrive at the airport 5 hours in advance. (0 utils) You’d never miss a flight (~5 utils), but is all that time spent waiting really worth it? What if you got there only 1 hour in advance (~2 utils) and missed your flight 15% of the time? (85% * 5) It’d be a hassle occasionally, but what couldn’t you could accomplish with the extra 4 hours?

What if you applied the same principle to grades? Is a 100 on a test really worth it if you spent 10 hours studying for it? Some people would say yes. I wouldn’t. There’s other things I’d rather do than study. Like sleep. Typically, I stop studying for a test once I decide that sleeping would be better for my grade (and health) than additional studying.

Grades don’t work on the same binary scale as missing a flight though. Studying an hour for a test more would have a tangible impact on a grade, while getting to the airport an hour early would still result in making the flight on time. Also, more studying= more learning. How can that be bad?

My best answer is that once you learn the core of the information, any additional content is easy to pick up if necessary and not always worth your time.  Applying the Pareto principle here (aka the 80-20 rule), you’ll spend 20% of your time learning 80% of the material. Conversely, this means that 80% of your time will be spent understanding 20% of the material. Not the best use of your time.

(Ok maybe this entire post is just an elaborate excuse not to study for my calc test tomorrow.)


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