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Richard B. Schwartz
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Many how-to books are little more than freshly-organized common sense, with bullet points and graphics. That is not the case with this book. While it does have useful graphics and while it is commonsensical, the book utilizes a considerable amount of research. It is written with a light touch and the research does not intrude, but it is there.
One simple example: the book argues against study groups. Study groups are defended by many, particularly in business schools. Study groups (we are told) mirror the real world, where we will be working with other people, possessing different expertise, etc. etc. In the real world, however, there are sticks and carrots. Those who do more than their share can be given bonuses; freeriders can be fired. For an example of `study groups' in the unreal world, think of the `group' competitions on American Idol--a generally hellish experience for the serious competitor, one often resulting in a great deal of useless `drama'. In arguing against the use of study groups Stefanie Weisman is flying in the face of a great deal of contemporary educational ideology. On her side, however, is the research of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, whose recent (celebrated) book on educational attainment demonstrates that a great number of students in college are not acquiring the skills that their college websites tout. (Among other Arum/Roksa `detrimentals'--joining fraternities and matriculating in business schools.)
Our brains are bodily organs and while we go to college to learn, our physical needs contribute significantly to that process. Thus, the author talks about physical strategies (including diet) that contribute to learning. (Example: good students don't pull all-nighters.) Should we caffeinate or not? To what degree? The advice here is very sensible.
While the book is written in an accessible, straightforward, often humorous voice, it is complemented by statements from a multiplicity of successful students. These sprinkled quotes help enliven the text and offer different perspectives (though there tends to be a great deal of overlap in successful students' strategies).
The book is gutsy. It argues principally for determination and hard work (rather than, e.g., a student's positive self-concept, the summum bonum of colleges of education). It notes, e.g., that digital books are simply not set up for advanced reading techniques. You do much better in working with hard copies. While it seems to be a friendly and convivial book, it is actually taking stands on controversial issues and, in my judgment, those stands are correct.
There is a neat section on nagging, silly errors: its/it's, their/they're/there, etc., errors which drive graders crazy. The author also has a superb command of web resources. (So you need to memorize and you know that mnemonics can help . . . here are some websites that help you to generate mnemonics . . . .)
Bottom line: this is a book on study methods, note taking, paper writing, test taking, reading, time management and academic scheduling (among other things) whose advice is spot-on. It is written by someone who has been there and done that and it is supported by a good bit of contemporary research.
Two observations: while the book has a great deal to say about study groups it has less to say about living arrangements. Students learn from other students. Some have put that percentage of the college learning experience at a number as high as 40%. Students should seek out other students who are equally serious and who have common or related interests. Living with them, dining with them, socializing with them, discussing material with them (not studying in groups or holding up each other's flash cards) can contribute significantly to learning. Serious students can introduce one another to new forms of music, film or the plastic arts; they can share travel experiences, recommend books, and so on. This aspect of college learning represents a serious, comparative advantage for the small liberal arts college (while the majority of students today attend regional public institutions).
A related point concerns work. A vast number of college students today hold jobs, some of which occupy large periods of time. While work experience can prove to be useful in a number of ways, work that is not co-curricular takes up time and saps energy. We all recognize the necessity for work for many students, but there is no getting away from the fact that work can materially reduce the number of learning experiences that a student can have in his or her 4-6 years of college. Balancing work, study and (very important) student indebtedness is a compelling issue, one probably requiring a short book by itself and certainly a great deal of thought.
While The Secrets of Top Students cannot cover every conceivable aspect of the learning experience, it covers a great deal and it does so with skill and, in my judgment, with reliability.