I almost failed my very first exam of my first graduate school class. And when I say almost, I am talking about a few points less and I would’ve failed, failed. Thankfully I didn’t! However, it made me realize that the study techniques that used to work in college are no longer effective in graduate school.
Failing a class is not an option in graduate school (ever!). You can get kicked out of graduate school a lot easier and faster than in college. Therefore, my only option (and the smartest one) was to pass the class and, LEARN from it.
Here I outline 3 tips that might help you prepare for graduate school classes:
I was the type of student that would write EVERYTHING, even the professors side jokes, because I didn’t want to miss any detail and then fail the exam. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but you get the point.
What I then realized was that in graduate school, writing EVERYTHING simply doesn’t work. Paying attention is worth more than writing everything or recording the class. The key is to be actively involved in the professor’s discussion and sharing of knowledge.
a. Focus on the main message and write down a summary or key point of the lecture.
It’s better to take home the class content of what is really important. With a notebook full of information, you won’t know where to start! However, if you focus on the main message and key points, your studying and understanding will be simplified, and efficiency will go up.
You want to be able to have time to do other tasks that are more or as important as your classes. So, focus!!
b. Make sure you understand what it is been discussed.
c. DO NOT hesitate to ask questions.
YOUR QUESTIONS, regardless of how silly you think they might be, SHOULD BE ASKED and ANSWERED. You don’t want to be pretending to understand the concepts, and then not know how to apply them.
It can be very intimidating, especially if a question is asked with other students present. However, this is not the only way to ask a question. Wait for the class to be over and talk with the professor. Visit him or her during office hours, or email, and schedule a meeting.
Do NOT memorize!
This is the BIGGEST mistake done in graduate school. It is the number one reason why graduate students -like me- almost fail (or completely fail) their class exams.
I understand why we memorize, and in a way feel comfortable about it. Nonetheless, actually memorizing concepts doesn’t get you anywhere in graduate school. The main idea should be to stimulate your brain to create new ideas that can potentially move your field of study a litter further. For that, you don’t need memorization; you need clear understanding of the concepts and those concepts can be put into practice in the here and now.
Go ONE step further.
Graduate school classes provide you with up-to-date valuable information for the development of your skills and graduate training. Nonetheless, that is simply NOT enough.
Do you want to pass the class, or do you want to LEARN from the class? My initial mistake was to focus on a grade, rather than knowledge learned. Once that mindset shifted, I was able to expand my knowledge, develop new ideas and actuality see how I could apply what I was learning.
I must admit that it was a challenge since I was trained to memorize. Yet, it was possible, and it gave me GREAT results. Remember that you are not in grad school for the degree only, but to make sure you graduate with the necessary skills and tools to be successful and achieve your goals and dreams.
Graduate school classes are the starting point
You learn to apply new ideas and even the simplest concepts learned will then help you build a solid foundation for the rest of your graduate training. Embrace knowledge and forget about the grade! Yes, you need to pass. But most importantly you need to LEARN and take into ACTION was what learned.
Graduate school classes are IMPORTANT and NECESSARY. The journey is not easy, but it is achievable. Pay attention, do not memorize and push yourself, and you will succeed!