Learning Skills

Evaluating Successes


Intentions   The most frustrating experience you will have as a student is that one day you get an A in a class and the next you get a B, or you get A's throughout a course and then a C on the final, or you get A's in one course and C's in another. This is frustrating when you can't really figure out why you're doing well on one assignment and not on another, why your first paper was a B and your second paper was a B, even though it was, in your mind, just as good. You are guaranteed to suffer this frustration for the rest of your career, both as a student and a professional, if you can't answer the question: "What is it I do exactly that produces A work? What exactly do I do in classes and assignments I learn from that I do differently in classes and assignments where I learn nothing?" In other words, you will never succeed consistently as a student unless you can figure out what it is that you do that results in success. In other words, you have to have more than a wish to succeed, you have to know the process that brings success about.


Failures   What you will be told over and over again as a student is what you're doing wrong and how you should correct it. What matters, of course, is the fact that you're not succeeding, not that you've tried really hard. The cruel fact of real life is that effort doesn't count: success counts, whether it involves effort or not.
   Your first job as a student is to not repeat failures. In other words, if you're making an effort and you aren't improving, then you're doing something wrong. You need to change your efforts, you need to do something different. Let me give you an example. Years ago I began working out in the faculty weight room and managed to lose almost sixty pounds. There were several faculty and staff that worked far harder than I did and did so more consistently who wanted to but never lost weight. They would go in every day, sit on stationary bicycle for an hour and then puff and pant on a stair climber for another hour. They would do this day after day. They're still there, four years later, on their stationary bikes and stairclimbers and nothing's happened! And they wonder why. I don't know why, but it's really clear that they're making an effort, but it's the wrong effort. You want to scream at them: Do something else! Get off the treadmill! IT'S NOT WORKING!
   If you're making an effort and it's not working, then change your effort. Do something different. Since every student is different, and every student has different goals, I can't give you any set rules for success. If you want to know how to succeed, then pay attention to what you do when you do succeed. If you want to repeat the success, then repeat what you did in the first place.


The Assignment   In line with this, I'd like you to evaluate your success in another class. I want you to tell me your most important success in another class, that is, a piece of work, either a test or an essay, that gained you praise from the teacher or professor. How do you know that it was a success? How do you know that you really learned something? Then I want you to tell me what you did precisely when you prepared for that test or worked on that essay. I don't want you to try to identify what made your work a success, I just want you to tell me what you did to produce the work or study for the test in one paragraph.
   In a second paragraph, I want you to tell me what you did differently for one of the assignments in this class that you didn't do well on. Then compare the two. What do you make of the comparison?

Richard Hooker



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Updated 9-29-97