The Study Dude – Thinking Skills, Part III

Study Tips from a Semi-anonymous Friend

How to Write Like a Top Student

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to know how to begin making models for the endless theories you one day contrive.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s article continues with Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving by John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites. Don’t shiver at the thought of spatial reasoning, especially if you want to one day mould yourself into an architect. Don’t hide under the bed from a discussion of processing data, and don’t lock the door at the mention of academic modeling. There’s no shame in admitting that spatial reasoning, processing data, and academic modeling gives even our elders a bad case of stress-induced acne. Yet, learn these aspects of critical thinking and the academic world will hunger for your input.

Let Your Brain’s Microchip Process the Data at Exam Time
A friend of mine at a physical university began classes with me in chemistry. A brilliant older student, she took to the subject matter with a passion. However, unbeknownst to her, I threatened to take the top mark in the class, based on my extreme study regime at the time. Yes, I did nothing throughout the week aside from studying, at minimum seven hours a day, and visiting an elderly person in an old folk’s home once a week for two hours. I generally took only three classes a semester. By taking three classes and studying countless hours while forgoing a life, I ended up with an undergraduate GPA of 3.92/4.00.

Yet, my newfound classroom friend threatened to take the lead in the class with her keen interest and her single class semester. I subtly encouraged her to spend all of her time studying, and that she did with a passion. However, when it came time for the first exam, she knocked herself out of the box. When faced with the first exam in adult education since being out of high-school, she thwarted her attempt at success with a lack of understanding of how to write an exam.

It was only ten minutes into the exam when she stood up, handed in her paper, and left. When I questioned her next class as to why she left so soon, she revealed that the test was a multiple guess, so, without solving the questions, she just circled the answer that felt right intuitively?she guessed.

Needless to say, I gave her a lecture on how to write an exam. So, to aid you with the process, let’s look at a few little snippets from Butterworth and Thwaites’ book on critical thinking:
– When faced with multiple-choice questions, don’t look at the answers right away, but actually solve the problem, and once you’ve solved it, then look at the choices.
– When looking at multiple-choice answers, try to reason which numbers look realistic before making the selection or eliminating completely farfetched answers.
– When you have to solve a word problem, start thinking about the solution that is required and work backward from there. Once you know what solution type is required, you can start to think about the information that you need to access and start to examine the data given for relevant bits. Throw away the irrelevant data, if any. Then make your calculation with the relevant given data and find your solution.
– Make sketches, tables, graphs, pictures, or lists wherever possible as they help you visualize or organize the data.

On a final note, in advanced university math classes, I would graph out even the simplest of graphs in neat print so that I could better visualize the data and ensure a top grade. You should, too. There’s no shame in it.

This World’s Turning 3D: Better Learn Spatial Reasoning Today
In junior high school, I almost received an award for highest grade in Industrial Arts. I pursued industrial arts instead of cooking because Dad always coughed up the funds for industrial arts equipment, whereas both Mom and Dad didn’t see the value on spending on education-based food supplies. It was kind of like the corn oil for fuel debate?it’s best eaten rather than burned. So, instead, Dad forked out the cash for mahogany wood for me to slice into and build a cool C02-fueled car (that ended up looking more like a milk truck than a corvette).

Spatial reasoning gave me the edge one semester in Industrial Arts. We took some wooden shapes and replicated them as 3-D drawings. Now, if you love to draw, you will take to spatial reasoning with ease, however, I took painstaking care to get the drawings as precise as possible, using measurement tools of all kinds.

But looking at the spatial reasoning problems in Butterworth and Thwaites, I couldn’t solve a single one. Even as the top student in math at the physical university, I often couldn’t solve a single problem of homework on my first pass and had to work through the problems over and over again, ensuring I learned the reasoning to pass with flying colors. I suppose Butterworth and Thwaites’s book requires the same treatment.

Nevertheless, some tidbits on spatial reasoning from Butterworth and Thwaites’s book follows:
– Skilled craftspeople often possess excellent spatial reasoning abilities.
– Spatial reasoning can deal with two or three-dimensional images.
– It takes practiced effort to convert a three dimensional object into a 2-dimensional drawing.
– “practice is more important than theory” in 3-dimensional visualization.
– Try to visualize the spatial model in your head before modeling it in 2-dimensions.
– A lot of spatial reasoning questions require you to answer backwards, where you eliminate each multiple-choice option until you reach the one correct solution. This is different than solving the problem before looking at the multiple-choice questions. In spatial reasoning, often you will need to run through each of the multiple-choice answers to eliminate the wrong ones and find the solution.

The Models that Turn Academic Heads
Eventually, I’ll buy a book geared exclusively for academic modeling. Why bother, you ask? Nothing excites me more academically than the idea of modelling theories and concepts with diagrams and pictures. If you like to draw or like logic?or better yet, both?academic modelling will suit your fancy.

I once read a book where a model accompanied almost every single page of his book. I pored over those models, questioning how he came to the point where turning ideas into models became second nature. Another author, Henry Mintzberg, created beautiful models that perplexed and thrilled me. (Mintzberg taught at the business school in McGill, I believe.) Ever since seeing these two author’s models, the bug bit me. Now, I’m on a quest to learn what models do and how to build them.

Butterworth and Thwaites provide a little smidgeon of insight, enough to whet the appetite for the modelling enthusiast:

– “Models can be pictures, graphs, descriptions, equations, word formulae or computer programs” (p. 119).
– Models aim to simplify data and are often used in architectural work.
– a basic math formula can be an example of simple model.
– Models represent processes and often have predictive power.
– Graphs prove essential in helping to model some problems.
– A model can be a set of implicit rules that direct a store owner on stock purchases.
– Models made from math or from graphs are very common.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Butterworth, John & Thwaites, Geoff. (2014). Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.