Something You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A College Student

Someone recently asked me whether I felt “victorious” in the context of checking up on my progress through grad school. I demurred, but if you think about it, that’s a really relative question.

victory First off, unless you’re talking about college students who just aced really difficult assignments, I don’t think students generally feel “victorious”. (Maybe your experience has been more special than mine.)  I don’t feel victorious, like, ever. I feel loved. I feel safe. I also feel stressed and , scared. The good news is the answer to that question does not determine how things are actually going.

This is firstly because my feelings do not determine reality and reality does not determine my feelings. Sure, there’s a strong correlation there, but it’s one which (I hope) grows weaker by the day. Secondly, we have to draw a distinction about who’s doing the winning here. If I ace an assignment, but don’t feel I’ve done my best, I’ve lost. If I ace an assignment, but have to work myself to exhaustion, both the teacher and I have lost (It’s not supposed to be that hard). If I fail, but I accomplish what God has me here to do, He’s won. If I do my best, learn a lot, and still fail, I’m not sure if I’ve won, I’ve lost, or I can draw a tie. (Also, who do I win against? Myself, the educational system, or a difficult subject?)

You’ve asked the wrong question, probably because you don’t know what you want to know. Even I don’t know whether I feel victorious. If you want to know how I am, ask directly and expect an honest answer. You probably don’t want to ask about my studies unless you want to hear jargon. I’m not going to tell you my grades. I’d rather you told me you were praying for me. I’d rather you told me about a really hard test you once took (and didn’t fail). I’d rather be a person rather than a collection of grades and feelings.


Remember, Remember: My Recall Dismembered


(Image courtesy of scui3asteveo at

Firstly, I’m sorry for the horrendous title, although obviously not sorry enough to put it out of its misery. No matter.

There is an localized urban legend that I remember everything. This started somewhere around first grade when AWANA gave me the opportunity to memorize large chunks of scripture–or, in my case, swathes. Things only got better as I grew older and I realized that *it was actually easier for me to remember ten verses than two.* Not quite literally, but the effort put into memorizing each verse was vastly reduced. Then people started asking me how I did it. As if I knew. However, the more I think about it, the better I get at figuring out what triggers memory for me.

1)Visualization. Unless I’ve seen something in my mind, or touched it, done it, or come up with some kind of 3-D model, it’s down the drain. I can’t even talk to people without some kind of image of what we’re talking about or I will not understand them. If I don’t have a notebook, a whiteboard, or a power point slide, I don’t get anything out of lectures.

2) Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm. (Also acronyms.) There is one exception to the visualization rule. It’s a verbal phrase I’ve somehow saved by repeating it, or because the phrase itself is memorable. I started out memorizing things by repeating them over and over under my breath. It helped if they had a sort of rhyming rhythm. (HE made HIM WHO HAD no SIN to be SIN for us so we could become the RIGHTeousness of God in HIM. [Woo NKJV!]) This is part of the reason I like poetry. It’s easy to remember. I love rhyme, and, while it took me a little longer to discover how to use it in poetry, I love rhythm.

3) Digests. As you may have noticed, I misquoted 2 Corinthians 5:21. (For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.) There are two reasons for this. The first is I memorized this verse multiple times in multiple versions. (Repetition!) The second is I don’t memorize the words. I memorize the idea. Rhythm helps me with the exact words, but before I learn the exact words I *must* to be able to regurgitate the argument in almost the same terms. I’ve also noticed this trend in my school work. I must make an outline, figure out an analogy, write my own summary, or have a pre-made outline each chapter or I will not understand and will forget important parts of the material. In short, I’ve got to organize everything.

4) Why. Part of the reason I’m always writing digests is I’ve *got* to understand *why* everything works the way it does. I drove my mom crazy trying to learn algebra and pre-calculus. I had tantrums because, “It doesn’t make sense!” I’ve gotten better. Now I write down all my questions, and, secure in the knowledge that they are recorded, I forget them. But I still chatter nonsense to my mom about why I think math works the way it does, and I drive my sisters crazy because I make an analogy for everything.

5) I don’t remember things. I’m gradually learning to make a physical paper trail and a trail of pictures through my brain. I don’t exactly remember, but I make it easier for myself to re-learn. My English teacher says that he outlines his papers before writing them to make it easier to write them so, “future Josh will like past Josh.” Ok. Bad analogy. There are certain things I find almost impossible to remember.

a. Street names. If I’ve been there often enough I might remember enough images to get there, but I don’t associate street names with images or even pay attention to street names. That said, don’t try to give me directions, unless they include sentences like, “Turn right at Kroger.” It won’t work!

b. Conversations. Unless a conversation is especially earth-shattering, funny, or inspiring, I won’t remember it. This is why people quoting my words back to me irritate me. Not only have they apparently proven me wrong, but I have no way to refute them because I don’t remember what I actually said or what I was thinking at the time.

c. Bible verse references. I have no trick for associating these with the proper verse yet or even for remembering them long-term. Come to think of it, I’m apt to forget any number I don’t revisit on a constant basis. (Repetition!) I remember 3.00 * 10^8 m/sec is the speed of light. I remember there are 6.023 * 10^23 atoms/mole most of the time. But I don’t remember Planck’s constant or how many feet to the mile.

d. Life lessons. This is why I slide into perfectionism, judging people, pride, and self pity in cycles. Unless I constantly reminding myself of who I am and who God is, I become very annoying.

e. Functional groups. I’m on my way through organic chemistry now for the second time. (Repetition!) I still don’t remember the functional groups. Currently, I’m experimenting with tables and attempting to organize them into groups. Perhaps remembering will grow easier as I understand what and why each group does what it does, and as I acquire examples. I don’t know how I’m ever going to associate the names with the structures. Perhaps with–dare I say it?–Repetition!

Powered by Plinky

How to Pass Finals


Ah, the holiday season: a time when family and friends join in general relaxation and merriment–except for the odd college student sitting in the closet trying to cram. Fortunately, I am not going through this routine–yet. Here is my method for passing finals without becoming more of an antisocial klutz than I already am.

Start Early.

Now, I do not mean that you should begin studying for finals as soon as the semester begins, I mean that you should focus on learning the material at hand during the school year, so you are already familiar with the material on the test. This is not a substitute for actually studying for finals. You should begin studying for finals at least a week in advance.


So let us assume that you waited until two days before the final exam. I suppose this could happen to anyone. Outline the material. There is a slow, laborious, and quality way of doing this, which I employed during high school. The slow way is to read the entire chapter in the textbook, review any notes, and arrange the subject into two to five topics and under these place definitions and equations. Here is an excerpt from one of my high school physics outlines. (This material is © Dr. Jay Wile, Exploring Creation with Physics) Note that I appear to be creating an abridged version of the textbook.

  1. Energy – The ability to do work
    1. Potential energy – Energy that is stored, ready to do work
      1. (8.2)PE =mgh  Where “PE” is potential energy, “m” is the mass of the object, “g” is gravitational acceleration, and “h” is the height of the object above the ground. The equation follows the form (m·g) times Δx (h) equals W (PE).
      2. Potential energy is relative, depending on how height is determined.
    2. Kinetic energy – Energy in motion
      1. (8.3) KE=1/2mv^2  Where “KE” is kinetic energy, “m” is the mass of the object, and “v” is speed.
      2. The SI unit for both Potential and kinetic energy is the Joule

The quick, hurried, and less-than-perfect way is to skim the textbook, make the main headings of each chapter into the main points of the outline, and under the main headings write definitions, any equations that seem to be set apart from everything else, or lists. Here is an excerpt from one of my college theatre outlines. (This material is © Mira Felner and Claudia Orenstein, The World of Theatre) Note that it looks like I simply copied a few headings and bolded definitions from the glossary.

  1. Goals of Stage Lighting
    1. Creating Mood
    2. Providing Selective Visibility and Focus
    3. Defining Style
    4. Establishing Time and Place
    5. Telling the Story
      1. cross-fading—Slowly diminishing one lighting cue while adding another to gradually transition from one cue to the next.
      2. fade—A gradual dimming of the stage lights.
      3. blackout—A rapid and complete dimming of the lights on stage.
    6. Reinforcing the Central Image or Theme of the Play

Do Not Stress Out. Also, Sleep.

Assuming that it is now the night before your exam and all you have time left to do, whether you have prepared or not, is to skim the chapter or sleep, my advice is pick the one which you think will be most productive. If you cannot stay awake, sleep. If you cannot sleep, skim your books. There is not much you can do at this point anyway, and studies have shown that people are smarter when they are rested.


I realize that many people probably pray only when they are confronted with a situation like this. However, I still think this is a good time to take an advantage of a relationship with the Lord of the universe. In addition to being calming and reassuring, God might help out. I mean, He is the Lord of the universe. He can probably pull a few strings. (Just remember to thank Him later.)

Do Not Cheat.

Imagine you are now taking the test of your nightmares. Do not peek at your neighbor’s answers. Put quite simply, who are you to know whether your neighbor has studied, or whether the distributor of an answer key has not sabotaged the answers in order to get a higher grade than the rest of the class?

Take Your Time.

Three out of four of my professors have stated quite simply that the people who leave the exam room first are often the people who get the worst scores. (My roommate excluded, but she had the course in high school.) Things done quickly are often done carelessly so take the time to…

Check Your Answers.

One calculus test, I used my spare time to do each problem again. I had made errors on almost every single question. I did the last question three times. However, I got a 97/100 on the exam. Check. Your. Work.

Eat Chocolate.

Okay, let us assume that the nightmarish test is finally over. You cannot do anything to fix your grade, so relax. If you cannot relax, you should eat chocolate. In fact, I encourage you to eat chocolate all through the studying process. It will keep your spirits high.