Study Hacks on Campus: Putra University of Malaysia

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Finally at long last, the Study Hacks Malaysia group have come about to organise their  first ever official meeting. I (Daniel) as the leader had to go through a rather paintstaking process of convincing my fellow comrades in doing so after week after week of delaying it or should I say in my fellow mates perspective, hoping that I won’t jump or annoy them with this Study Hacks thingy again and lets-just-get-on-with-the-beer-in-front-of-us-instead-of-this-serious-make-believe-talk-thingy-majingy.

Nevertheless, after much persuasion I managed to get the whole group together. Below are the points regarding the 1st discussion.

  1. Time Managment System

Discussion started off with the following questions:

  • What system do you use to manage your tasks in a day ?

Lets start off with a typical day of a student. Say on Monday you have to go to 1 class, pay your phone bills, buy toothpaste, have lunch with friends, a movie date with your girlfriend, and not forgetting to revise for the upcoming Management test. What do you do?

Zaiffarally’s day management system consists of the traditional sticky note reminder system in which he will right down all the tasks that needs to be done on that day. Meanwhile, Rafique simply uses his memory to remember things. In this example, it would be on Monday. Zaiffarally’s list on the sticky note will look like this:

-Go to Algebra class

-Pay phone bills

-Lunch with mates at the mamak stall

-Buy tooth paste

-Movie date at One Utama

-Revise for next week’s Managment test

Notice that this system has 2 weakness:

  • How long will each activity take? In other words, there is no estimation on how long each activity will take ie estimated start and end time for each activity.
  • How do you remember an activity that is planned weeks in advance?

Here’s where the power of the capture system comes to play. The capture system concept here was mainly devised from Cal’s book. This article will then discuss various other techniques in “capturing” a task. However, lets start with the system that I have been using for the past 4 months. Below are the materials required for the Study Hacks task capture system:

  • A calendar where you can write at least a dozen tasks on each day.
  • A small notebook or a scrap paper that you carry around with you in your pocket
  • A pen to write down the tasks

Lets start with the scrap paper that you have to take around with you all the time.

The scrap paper from the above example then will look something like this:

8.00-10.00 a.m: Algebra class

10.00-10.30 a.m: Pay phone bills

12.00-1.00 p.m: Lunch with mates at the mamak stall

3.00-5.00 p.m: Revise 2 chapters for next weeks Managment test

8.00-11.00 p.m: Movie date at One Utama

Zaiffarally’s sticky note system now looks better. The scrap paper now holds an estimated time to complete for each activity. However, there are still weaknesses in the system which are:

  • What do you between 10.30 to 12.00 p.m. and the rest of other “time holes” not mentioned in the above list?
  • Does paying the phone bill and buying a toothpaste really take 30 minutes and at separate time frames too?

Here’s the caveat to the Study Hacks capture system though; the estimation must be an honest one (don’t lie to yourself). It’s better to have spare time than you originally intended than to be chasing for time. This is one of the methods discussed under the Zen Valedictorian Method. See http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/04/18/how-to-become-a-zen-valedictorian-decreasing-your-stress-without-decreasing-your-ambition/

Lets start with the first question raised from Zaiffarally’s “improved” sticky note system.

  • What do you between 10.30 to 12.00 p.m. and the rest of other “time holes” not mentioned in the above list?

The answer to this one is simple. Go to the library and start doing your assignments in 50 minutes chunks for each study sessions.  For example from 10.40 a.m. to 11.30 a.m you will be doing that Algebra assignment that has been bugging you for the past 2 weeks. From 11.30 a.m to 11.50 a.m you will take a short break.

This short break can be anything from checking your Facebook for a short while, reading a newspaper article, texting or playing a game on your mobile. Anything to take your mind off the the studies for that period of time.

From 11.50 a.m. onwards you will then continue from 11.50 a.m. to 12.40 p.m. for another 50 minute chunk to complete that annoying Algebra assignment. It is advisable that this 50 minute chunk pattern to not be repeated for more than 3 hours to avoid mental fatigue.

From this example, we know that every Monday, Zaiffarally has a free time from 10.00 a.m until lunch time at 12.00 p.m. This is constant for every week. Since it is still pretty early in the morning, chances are this time frame will have a low chance of being hijacked by last minute adventures or “lepak” sessions organised by other students. Thus, Zaiffarally should capitalise on this and use it to get as much work or revision done before night falls.

  • Why did I say before night falls ?

Most social activities at colleges are at night. So if you want to do well in your grades and have a “life” in college, it is imperative that you should complete all top priority tasks by night which is usually around 8 p.m. Considering you wake up at 8.00 a.m (not including that hang over you had the previous day) you should have less than 12 hours in a day after you minus lunch hours, showers, tutorials, and classes. Suddenly, you don’t have that much free time do you? It is for this very aspect time management is absolutely crucial.

Time management is absolutely important to succeed in college.

TO BE CONTINUED… (rather busy with exams at the moment)

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SHOC Malaysia had its first unofficial discussions on the 22nd (Friday) and 23rd of January (Saturday). As of now the current SHOC members consists of:

  • Daniel (Myself) who hail from Putra University of Malaysia (Physics)
  • Rafique who hail from Taylors University College (Business and Accounting)
  • Zaiffarally who hail from Lagenda College (Business and Managment)

The reason we had this pre-discussions is because Zaiffarally is having his final of finals diploma exam on the 4th week of January where he will soon be graduating afterwards and ready to enter life as an undergraduate, just like the rest of us.  He has yet to be introduced with the capture system of SHOC, thus he assumed that SHOC meetings or simply the mere mention of the cold word “meeting” will take up a lot of his time and wanted to do it after his finals. Rafique, meanwhile finished his mid-semester test on the 3rd week of January. Therefore, amid all of this uncertainty and the burning urge to get the ball rolling for this small group I decided to do an informal ice breaking session of what this so called SHOC thing is.

Below is a brief outline of what contents of the discussion were. Memo to Raf and Zap. Inaugration rituals need to be done immediately after the first official SHOC meeting. In the mean time, you guys can come up with *insert adjective here* ideas if you have any.

1. Question, Evidence, Conclusion note taking method for non-technical courses

Discussion began of what a typical first lecture would be. Usually in the first class, a lecturer would introduce himself, office hours, and the course outline. The lecturer would then give an intro to the course. For non-technical courses, we found out varying degrees of different note taking strategies implemented by the lecturers (.

  • Daniel- Given all the lectures slides in a booklet. I than have to fill in the blanks as the lecture slides are being shown.
  • Rafique- Same as me
  • Zaiffarally- He takes his reading material and makes his own marking on it

It is interesting to note that Zaiffarally has unconsciously been doing the correct smart note taking strategy. After all group members have given their various note taking strategies, the discussions proceeded by a brief example regarding the fall of the Roman Empire as given in the Cal’s little red book. Originality and practicality aside, the smart note taking can be summarised with 3 words:

  • Question

A lecturer will always begin a topic with a general question summarising the entire topic before going to more specific questions. Therefore as the lecture is going along, we have to formulate questions to summarise what he is saying. Questions is how people in academia think and are essentially the mover of a lecture. If the lecturer explicitly shows the question on the slide, write it down. If he doesn’t, figure out what the question from the lecture is and write it down.

  • Evidence

After a question is posed, evidence is shown. This is more generally known as the elaboration of the lecture and typically is the  longest part of a lecture. For example, in Entrepreneurship the evidence for the question “How to prepare a business plan?” would be operations,marketing and finance. Under the question, the word operations,marketing and finance are bulleted. Notes regarding the specific points can be added.

  • Conclusion

The final part consists of a the conclusion of the question.  If we followed question on “How to prepare a business plan?” than typically the conclusion would be “Business plan is an intersection of operations, marketing and finance principles”. Most conclusions are not straight forward like this one, therefore proper understanding of it is required beforehand.

Remarks and questions about the QEC format:

  • If pressed for time, ensure the question is written. Jot down all the evidence if possible. The conclusion part can be left as a blank and be written back again during a lull in the lecture that can happen. For example, when the whole class ends up laughing when the dude at the back asks a ridiculous question.
  • If you guys have a rather reliable laptop, take it to class and use it to type down your notes. Its better because firstly you can type faster than you can write and secondly, you can freely edit it with various symbols and sizes later for reviewing.
  • How does the QEC format fit in when the lecturer gives out a booklet to fill in the blanks based upon the lecture slides ?

2. Divide big jobs into chunks

Big jobs, should be divided into small managable tasks each day. If it takes 15 hours to complete, then if you do 1 hour per day, by 15 days you will finish. Sounds easier said than done I know, however one only has to remember the Chinese proverb.

Journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step

Or you can even put it in today’s contemporary words of Neil Armstrong.

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The point is as soon as you do something, no matter how small, the intial fear of starting and procrastinating dissapears and you find that the task is easier and less daunting to accomplish.

Ironically, when this discussion took place, Zaiffrally just did an all-nighter from 2am-4am and ended up waking at 11am. During this final week of his exams, he can only go out to maximum of 3 hours before his parents starts calling him. You see, college education has got parents more concerned about their pockets rather than their kids wellfare. Me and Raf tried to persuade him to stand up for his rights to chill productively with us (ie talking about SHOC, gals, liquor, world issues). However, he decided not to go against the current and since then we have nicknamed him “Mama’s boy”. Sorry Zap, I just can’t resist.

3. Battling procrastination

Me and Zaiffrally also had a small discussion about procrastination. Thus, this topic basically revolved around this central question.

  • How do you fight the urge of playing Facebook for hours?

Almost every single college kid has Facebook. If they don’t have it, they will usually succumb to the peer pressure of opening an account. The government in Malaysia is also monitoring Facebook. A recent Malaysian student was arrested by the police after he posted on his status he haid ties with the Malaysian church arsons. With Farmville, Fishville, Mafia Wars and a gizillion other quizzes on Facebook it is easy to fall pray to it. Heck I even see working people on Facebook.

Therefore I belive the easiest way to counter it is simply by setting a total time per day you want to be on Facebook. If you want to have 1.5 hours on Facebook per day, then divide it into 3 sessions of 30 minutes each.

In essence, this is similiar to the divide big jobs into small chunks idea.

So there you go. Mind you most of these ideas are extracted from Cal’s 2 books and only discussed in its essential form. For the first meeting, we should be dealing in detail the capture method that I, who have personally used it for 2 months now find it incredibly useful.

Some pictures stolen from the album. I forgot to take some photos during the meeting lol.

From left; Daniel, Rafique and Zaiffarally

Welcome to Study Hacks on Campus (SHOC) for Putra University of Malaysia. Our semester will begin on the 28th December 2009. Much earlier than the rest of you all !

Though, the title may seem to indicate for students only from Putra University, it is not exclusive for them only. Thus, students attending any private or local learning institutions in Malaysia are free to join too. =)

___________________________________________________________

What is Study Hacks on Campus?

Study hacks on campus is basically study techniques devised by Cal Newport, a post doctorate fellow at MIT. Interestingly, he earned exactly 36 A’s and 1 A- during his entire undergraduate years as a Computer Science major at Dartmouth College.

So how did Cal do it?

His techniques were outlined in 2 of his books which are, How to Win at College (Broadway Books, 2005) and How to Become a Straight A Student (Broadway Books,2006) Some parts of the techniques can be read on www.calnewport.com/blog

Why should you join this group?

I’m not sure about you, but I sure want to do well in college and not sacrifice other aspects of life.  Too many people have the impression that if someone is doing well he must be a grinder (a grinder is someone who studies for long stretches of hours and usually complains about his hardships to others) The key to the “study hacks” technique is efficiency.

What will the group do?

  1. Study hacks is experiment centric. Every fortnight, members will meet up and discuss what they have obtained from study techniques agreed during the previous meeting.
  2. Members will then discuss on the week’s current topic
  3. Members should come up with new strategies to experiment for the upcoming 2 weeks


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