Recently Medic created a new column called “And Now For Something Completely Different”, and I thought I’d throw my hat into that arena by writing an article composed mainly of tips I gave my brother after making through the American school system. Don’t worry though, this advice is pretty universal and basically deals with tricks I learned to improve my grades in school while putting in as little actual work as possible.

1. If you’re allowed to, take important tests multiple times. I’m talking mainly about aptitude tests where higher scores will look better when you try to attract schools at the next level of education. In America, the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is taken in high school and is a major factor in getting into good colleges. My school recommended we take the test our junior or senior year. I took it all four years, even as a Freshman when you’re not allowed to. (I don’t mean the PSAT, I took the real thing. Had to write the College Board for permission.)

And I didn’t do too hot, because I’d never even seen most of the content before. It was quizzing me on math, science, and English that they didn’t teach to freshman, I had to leave a lot of questions blank because you lose a quarter point when you answer wrong. My final score was 1530 out of 2400. But now I knew what I didn’t know. The next year, when my geometry teacher said “Class, today we’re learning about sin, cosin and tangent,” I sat up and paid attention because I remembered ‘Oooh those were on the SAT!‘ And every year my SAT score got better, until I had a 2280/2400 on my Senior SAT with no extracurricular studying, just knowing when to pay attention in class.

2. My three-step guide to reading assigned Literature books. When a teacher assigns you a book to read in English class, it can be a hassle to find the time to actually read it. Ditto when you move onto college and you’ve got assigned reading from multiple different classes. I was an English major so I regularly had to sound knowledgeable about so many new books I couldn’t possibly read them all. So here’s what I found to be my favorite way to ‘read’ these books and retain most of the useful information while still enjoying myself.

  1. Don’t use SparkNotes. Or CliffNotes or anything whose stated purpose is to let you cheat your way out of reading it. Every time I read SparkNotes I’d forget everything by the time I put the little blue booklet down. Also, your professor is going to expect students to try and ‘read’ with SparkNotes and they’ll easily spot an essay relying on it.
  2. Instead read the Wikipedia page. It sums the work up nicely so you can get a feel for the plot. It also gives you a lot of information regarding the backstory about the book’s authorship and publication, which always looks amazing when incorporated into an essay. But by no means are you ready to write anything decent about this book. Now you need the most important step:
  3. Read the TV Tropes page. TV Tropes is an amazing website that documents storytelling conventions and author techniques (aka tropes). It has two sorts of pages: ones dedicated to a specific trope (such as ‘the butler did it’) that also lists user-submitted examples of that trope being used across every storytelling genre in human history; and (more importantly for you) pages dedicated to a single work with a huge list of tropes that work uses. And the list of available works is huge. The list runs from Indian epics to Norwegian plays to lost ancient Greek works.

Together these two websites can give you a very well-rounded understanding of the book you’re supposed to read. Wikipedia gives you a basic knowledge of the work’s structure while TV Tropes teaches you its spirit, and both do so with far better detail than a website like SparkNotes ever could.

3. Talk to your professors/teachers outside of class. Find excuses to go visit them during their office hours, even if it’s just “I’m particularly interested in X, how could I learn more about it?” Adding a face to your name will help you stand out from the sea of identical homework assignments flooding their desk. It will also make them think that you’re interested in learning and want to produce the best work you possibly can. I got my first job when my old professor recommended me to the publishing firm of a sci-fi tabletop RPG, and they started paying me $8/hr to go to local gaming conventions and run showcases for fans. Another professor asked me to edit his book and landed me my first publication credit. They’re powerful people and the school system is giving you a chance to spend time with them, take advantage of it.

And that was Studenting 101 with Professor Aabicus. I might write more of these if anyone’s interested. I love all forms of writing and I love writing about writing, so I’m sure that I could come up with enough material for another article, perhaps in a setting beyond the classroom. It would be a fun challenge to try and squeeze an article’s worth of interestingness out of my years of writing technical manuals. But first I’ll need to write at least a dozen Team Fortress 2 articles to make up for how off-topic this one was.