Strategy 1: Figure out what drives you
Anyone who has been through any motivation workshop will know why setting goal is important, but few really find it life changing. It takes an inquisitive and insightful teacher some quality time to understand you. The teacher must ask many smart questions about you, from what you want in life to what kind of music you like. The aim of all the chit-chatting is to uncover what really motivates you in life and hold you to it. For instance, a former student who came from a family of hawkers and blue-collar workers studied hard to prove to her younger brother that their family does not have ‘the dumb genes’. Who do you work hard for?
STRATEGY 2: Establish the Game Plan
Because each of you come into the tuition group at different times, and you have your own pace and needs, a unique study plan should and will be done for each and every one of you. The plan will include these items:
(1) What are the topics you have learnt and rank them in levels of difficulties of “Level 1 – Piece of cake”, “Level 2 – Somewhat unsure” and “Level 3 – Clueless!”
(2) What are the topics you have not learnt (3) Upcoming tests / assessments / exams date
(3) The topics tested for each tests / assessments / exams
(4) What topics to cover for each subsequent tuition sessions. Be specific here and tie down each session with the topics you need to cover. Once you miss any tuition sessions, you will know exactly what you are missing.
Other than helping you to keep track of what to do for each session, the study plan gives you a lot of peace of mind, especially if you are stuck with Es and Fs and when time is running out. On the other hand, in a morbid sense, you will at least know what to expect.
STRATEGY 3: Begin each session with questions
Before you meet me, you should have tried the questions at least once by yourself. It is no use bring a blank worksheet or assessment book and do it in front of me, because you will just be wasting my time and your parent’s money. Unless you do not have the discipline to complete your work, otherwise I’d strongly recommend that you try the questions at least once before asking me for the solution. Trying anything on your own causes you to engage your own knowledge and skills; it is through this effort that you can link or synthesize the bits and pieces of what you have learnt and attain the ‘AHA!’ moments.
STRATEGY 4: Spaced repetitions
Learning experts have established that the vast majority of us learn by spaced repetitions. Spaced repetition is not just monotonous repetitions like chanting. Let me quote an example: My NTU lecturer told us to read through the textbook before coming for his lecture (1st repetition); during the lecture, he will use his notes to go through the whole topic once (2nd repetition). After the lecture, we will have to do our assignment by referring to his notes and the textbook (3rd repetition). During the tutorial class in the next few days, the tutor will go through the questions once (4th repetition). Before the final exam, we will try to remember another time (5th repetition). Even with these five repetitions, I still find myself forgetting most of the things I learnt in university, so spaced repetitions should be the more the merrier.
The 6 spaced repetitions that I recommend (that you can do for yourself):
- 1st rep: Listening to your school teachers in class
- 2nd rep: Reading through at the end of the day (by yourself, before you sleep)
- 3rd rep: During the tuition session, have an overview by the tutor, do a mind map by yourself, complete the topical assessment and correction
- 4th rep: Brief recap at the beginning of next tuition session
- 5th rep: Before class test, practice on past years ‘O’ level questions on the tested topics
- 6th rep: Before final exam, do one more round of MCQ on all topics to make sure all grounds are covered.
STRATEGY 5: Chapter Summary and Mind Mapping
A topic in your syllabus, for example, Chemical Bonding in Chemistry, consists of many smaller concepts, terms, formulas, etc. It’s easy to get confused if you just memorize them piece by piece. It’s much better to draw a Mind Map (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSJ0DuDHL5Q) on that topic.
Mind Mapping does a few things:
- It helps you jog through all the strange and foreign terms that you have come into contact through this topic and thereby helps you to remember them better
- Because Mind Maps requires you to draw arrows between small chunks of information, it helps you to see the link between each chunk – this is where ‘AHA’ moments usually appear. Also, it prepares you for longer, open-ended questions where a few related concepts are tested [Insert example]
- Because the Mind Map come from your head and not just by copy-and-paste from the textbook, you know it loud and clearly that you’re still clueless about the topic when your Mind Map is naked as a dead tree
STRATEGY 6: Overview by the tutor
Lessons in the ‘O’ Levels syllabus are usually organized by grouping related topics into chapters or units. The broad concepts of each chapter can be linked together by the tutor in 10-15 minutes. Sometimes you need a concept learned in previous topics as a foundation to understand the current topic, in which case the tutor will highlight it to you. The tutor can also clarify any of your lingering questions here. In my experience, when a good overview is given by the teacher, the topic can be literally brought to life and become so interesting and relevant. Not to mention that it will also become much easier for you to learn it.
STRATEGY 7: Study the worked examples
Remembering facts is only part of the equation for scoring well in exam. After remembering the facts, you need to know how questions might be phrased to test you. Learn from the Worked Examples in good assessment books – I like Shing Lee, GLM and Marshall Cavendish – because these model answers do pack a punch. Their wordings are distilled by professional academics and certainly beat your off-the-cuff answers, no matter how articulate you are. After your summary and overview, look through each Worked Example, understand and remember the steps and logic flow of the working. Then cover up the answers and try to reproduce them from memory. If you are stuck, take a peek at the Worked Examples and continue trying. The idea is to be a copycat here. No point reinventing the wheel – there are many Practice Questions awaiting you.
STRATEGY 8: Strategies for MCQ
When doing MCQ, there are a few response: (1) You think you know the answer and you got it right (2) You think you know the answer but you got it wrong (3) You have no clue what that question is about but you make a guess anyway (4) You have no clue what that question is about and you did not fill in anything as the answer.
If you do (4), you are not playing smart, so fill in your best guess anyhow. No mark is deducted for wrong answer, but you have 1 in 4 chance of getting it right (Higher chance if you can eliminate some totally laughable answers).
If you do (3), luck is with you, but I’ll clarify with you and understand how to arrive at the right answer. Don’t brush it aside because you may not be so lucky next time.
If you do (2), I’ll ask you to try again. If you get the answer right at the second attempt, there’s a high chance you have been careless. If (2) happens all the time for you, you have a carelessness problem and you should talk to your teacher about it.
If you do (1), good for you!
STRATEGY 9: Learning by reflective writing
A good deal of things usually happen in a typical tuition session, and some of the most precious learning points may come by chance and not captured in your summary or Mind Map. Maybe you learnt some tips about how to tackle a certain type of question, or maybe somebody shared about his experience which happens to be the answer to your secret misery. After your session has ended, the teacher will usually ask you to use 5-10 minutes to write down your learning points of the day before you pack up and leave. The reflections can be just free-style writing about what you think you have learnt, or it can be an appropriate question set by the tutor, for example “What I have learnt about avoiding careless mistakes”. The reflection should be kept and referred to when you are doing your final revision before the exams.
STRATEGY 10: Becoming an enthusiastic and happy learner
Learning need not be unwilling, hungry and boring and dead-serious. I actually believe that when you are most relaxed and happy, you learnt the best. So when I sense that you are tired, discouraged, or simply not in a state to do much learning, I will offer you a choice to take a break and do something else. That ‘something else’ can be to watch a funny video clip, to chit-chat, to share about what’s bothering you, or simply to do nothing for a while. If you get recharged soon, we’ll continue learning. If not, I’ll invite you to come back in a few days’ time for a make-up session. I try to stock up some food and drinks so that you can tame your growling stomach in my tuition session.