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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Here's how I became a good student

In High School I was a bad student. My teachers always told me I could get good grades if I applied myself, but I never did. Well, it's not like I was sitting around watching TV. That wasn't the case at all.

It seemed like at the start of every Semester I'd say something like, "This Semester I'm going to study hard and get good grades." Yet, I'd start to study and my brothers would decide to play a game of football. They would need me to make even teams. So, I'd end up playing football. By the time I got to my reading it would be after the sun went down and I was too tired to focus.

In retrospect, I am glad I spent time with my brothers. Yet, I wish my parents would have helped me organize my time better.

I got C's and B's without trying much. In my first two years of college this trend continued. I made some friends real quick and they acted like my brothers, always dragging me away from my studies.

In fact, my Freshman year in college I think I actually got D's in math and English. I was a poor student who would go out and party on some nights I should have been studying. I was a poor manager of my time.

However, my room mate and best friend named Frank at that time got all A's in everything. He would party with us too, but when he wasn't doing anything he'd discipline himself and study his butt off while I would sit around watching TV.

He even went out of his way to improve the scope of his learning and read as much as he could possibly absorb. In class I would take a note here and there, but Frank would write down everything. Then, when he was back in the dorm room, he would rewrite all of his notes in a separate notebook.

This was a lot of work for Frank. But it paid off. Frank was well respected by my classmates and teachers because he was such a hard worker. He ended up graduating top of our journalism class, and ended up the Editor and Chief of the newspaper.

After we got our Associate's degree in journalism I moved on to the Advertising program. Frank decided to pursue a career in journalism, so he transferred to the University of Indiana. I never heard from him again until the advent of the Internet and email. By this time, however, I decided I needed to become a better student if I was ever going to succeed. So I started reaping the rewards of having a great former room mate like Frank.

I don't know if Frank ever had a great IQ or not. The truth was it didn't matter, because, he was just a hard worker. He was a great organizer. He made very good use of his time.

I'll give you an example of something Frank would do that others would not. During our first year working for the student newspaper the Editor and Chief would get stories from the student reporters and she would peruse them quickly after they were edited and publish them. As a result, there were usually some errors or flaws in the published paper. I would guess 90% of newspapers are published in this matter. It takes a lot of time to make a perfect paper, and since life is busy most people don't take that extra step.

When Frank was Editor in Chief, on the other hand, he took the extra step. He wanted to be the best reporter/ editor he could be. Frank would literally stand in the copy room and read EVERY single word in HIS paper. He wanted every paper to be the best. He settled for nothing less. And, every paper was the best. So now, not only did he get the best grades and have the respect of everyone, he also had the best newspaper ever made at Ferris.

Finally Frank and I graduated with our Associates degrees in Journalism from Ferris. Frank knew exactly what he wanted and he transferred to the University of Indiana to pursue journalism further. I also remember him saying one day in passing he thought it would be cool to be a lawyer some day, but I don't think he really said that thinking he'd actually do it. I said in passing I wasn't sure journalism was for me, and thought that my real calling was probably respiratory therapy, "but how do you go from journalism to respiratory therapy?" I said.

I graduated from Ferris with a Bachelor's in 1993 in Advertising. After Frank left my grades went up some, but I still think I graduated with a C. Then, after working as a journalist for three months I was fired. Journalism simply wasn't for me. That was when I realized I had taken the wrong path. Little did I know then I would end up using these skills in the blogosphere.

I ended up taking a year off. Then I got this exciting job as a hotel desk clerk. I did that for about a month before I decided I better get my life in gear. Here I was with a Bachelor's degree making less than $5 an hour.

So I signed up for the RT Program at another school in the area. I didn't want to go back to Ferris because I thought people would wonder about me if they saw I was still there five-six
years after I already got a 4 year degree.

So now, in 1995, I found myself in the RT program. I thought I would be the oldest person in the class, but I was not. It turned out that most people who go into the RT program are older people -- housewives, former construction workers, asthmatics who failed at other things, moms and dads of asthmatic kids, former alcoholics, and a few kids right out of high school.

This time around, though, I knew I could not fail. I had to succeed. So, while I was still a front desk clerk, I borrowed someones anatomy and physiology book and medical terminology book and studied them every night I was working. I wanted to have some core knowledge before the RT program started. I was not going to fail. I couldn't fail. I needed a paying job with medical benefits (I had asthma you know, and I was about to be kicked off my parent's insurance). I knew I could not fail this time. I could not go to school another four years and not get a job in return.

So I decided to take the route Frank took. Instead of hanging out with my friends I stayed in my apartment studying. I never missed a class. Keep in mind here that I know for a fact I was not good at retaining what the teacher was saying in class. So, for that reason, I would sit there and write my ass off nearly every word the teacher said. Then I'd go home and type my notes on the computer and organize them that way. Usually, by the time I had this done, I had most of the stuff memorized. But I would still at least try to peruse my notes for each class as often as possible. If a teacher discussed old material, it was right there handy too. And, whenever I needed to study, it was all right there neat and organized.

Also I should add that every moment I had open I was pacing my living room or sitting on my bed studying my notes. I had to do this because I didn't trust my memory. I don't have a 150 IQ or book smarts where I can read something once, or listen to one lecture, and have it memorized (or even understand it). Many times when I left class I had no clue what the teacher even talked about, but I had the best notes ever. I'd go home and sort things out, maybe review the topic he was talking about in one of the RT books, and voila, it would all make sense. That's basically how I studied.

By the time the test came around, I never studied 24 hours prior to the test. I made sure I had all the information in my long term memory by then. Then I would take the test (or quiz) and do pretty well usually.

There was one test early in the RT program I got 98 questions out of 100 correct. The highest grade under me was a 63. So, needless to say, I blew the curve. I didn't say anything, but since there are only 10 people in our class, it didn't take long for them to figure out who the "culprit" was. So, after that, everyone wanted me to study with them. Oh, and they all wanted copies of my notes. I could have sold them but I never did. I actually enjoyed studying with my classmates -- or tutoring actually, and that actually made studying easier. For some reason when you teach something you retain it better.

Again, I am not smart. I do not have a high IQ. In fact, I actually know my IQ. In 1985 when I was at the asthma hospital a psychologist performed 2 IQ tests on me and I think I scored somewhere around 105 or something like that. See, I'm no genius. But I read something in an IQ book once that a persons IQ does not determine ones level of success. Success is determined by how hard a person works. If I learned nothing else from Frank's success, that was it: I learned how to succeed. And, in 1997 I graduated tops in the RT program for that year. I did not have a 4 point or anything even close, but I still did pretty well. So, you can say, I earned the respect of my teachers and fellow students by working hard like Frank did years earlier.

My point here is that if you want to get good grades in the RT program, or any other program for that matter, you have to work hard. You have to sacrifice your free time and study. And you can do this knowing that once it is all said and done, and you have your job in whatever career you are pursuing, you will have all the free time that you want.

I lost touch with Frank for the next 20 years. Recently, when I found his emial address, it was on the home page of a law firm. In a recent email duscussion we marveled at how we both ended up changing to the career we talked about that one night. Frank is now a well respected lawyer, and I'm an RT.

For more tips on how to do well in school, click here.


Jayant Raghu Ram said...

Hey...grt post...

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for these great tips! I will hang on every word as I enter the RT Program this fall as a 46 year old student.

Unknown said...

Thanks for a life-changing post. You don't even know..

Nicole said...

Thank you for this great post! I definitely needed it.

Rick Frea said...

YOU are welcome. Thank you for reading.