#248 Learning – S1 E9 – This will not be a part of the test

Imagine the following situation.

You are studying mechanical engineering. Not because someone is forcing you to do that, but actually because you want to become an engineer. You are going there on a voluntary basis, that is for sure. Sitting in the second row, your professor will talk about this new subject for the next 3 hours. With interest you are following what he is talking about, trying to absorb everything you need to know for your future life. But then, suddenly something unexpected happens. The professor says the following sentence:

The following topic will not be a part of the exam.

How can he do that? What!? This is not important? What is going on?

As 95 % of all the people I have met at university would clearly react, if something is not a part of the test, why should they listen to the old man any longer? They will start to talk to each other, checking their phones or do what ever they want to do. Sure, why should they listen to that, it’s obviously not important?

But what is that for a strange mindset we have? Who decides if something is important or not?

As future engineers learn very early on in their time at university, our nature always follows the easiest way through life. And well, it seems like students do the very same thing. For them, not the “learning something for life” part seems to be interesting, but instead the part that will be a subject matter in the test.

But who can blame them for this mindset, right?

Students do not follow their interests, their passion or their feelings, but actually adapt themself in such a way, that they will survive. Because that is the most important thing after all.

For sure, 95% of all the things you learn at university doesn’t matter in your future job anyways, but the thing is, you have absolutely no clue about the fact, what the 5% are.

Therefore, what do we do? We take the easiest way!

I have seen that in the last four years. There might be some really interesting subjects, but if others tell you that the exam will be too hard, or the professor doesn’t like giving good grades anyways, you better choose something else, even though you really liked the other topic.

When learning 100% isn’t an option.

During my bachelor years this internal discussion was always something I struggled with. On the one hand I wanted to learn of course everything there is to know, but on the other hand I had only a limited amount of time and energy. Therefore, I most of the time stopped midterm to study everything I thought was interesting and basically focused only on the things that were actually considered as being a part of the test.

But is that how it is supposed to be? Is that what a university is there for? From my perspective, they do miss out on one really important point. And this is the fact that they might teach you knowledge, but in such a strange environment, that people start to limit their potential. People could evolve so much during that time, but the pressure around the exams topic is destroying everything.

This system feels so wrong after all. In my eyes, it doesn’t represent the 21th century state of the art any longer.

But can I change that? Of course not! Therefore I need to adapt. For my master I wanted to stop this behavior from occurring. I started to ignore the fact, that something might not be a part of the test after all, but still study it for the sake of understanding this for my future life.

To be honest, studying in a regular way and not in a dual way as I have done in the past, for sure, I really had the time for doing that. But still, I was falling back into the old mindset. The closer you get to the exams, the harder it actually feels to withstand that inner drive that wants you to focus only on the exam related topics. For sure, this might differ from one person to the other, but in the end, an exam is an exam.

But the answer to that problem might be clear already. At the end of the day, no-one cares about the fact if you still know something from your time at university or not. The only thing they focus on are your level of degree and your grades.

But the results of a test do not really tell us something about an individual person. You do not know if that person was just lucky in the test, had learned everything in the couple of days before the test and can’t remember a single thing about the subject any more, or if the test was just too easy or too difficult.

In engineering class you basically learn one important thing all the time, that actually helps you do identify the problem we are having in our system. If you want to compare two different cars, the test procedure needs to be equal. But if the test conditions are not the same, still comparing these cars will result in a false conclusion. Everybody knows that, and wouldn’t accept such a wrong behavior if their money is on the table, but as it seems to be the case, a lot of companies actually do that.

Therefore, students need to choose between two alternatives. Either you follow the rule from our mother nature and take the easiest way through your time at university, or you might actually learn something for life, but can not compete against all the other ones that will have way better grades then you can ever achieve.

During my time in the bachelor, we didn’t had that problem. Basically, every subject was already chosen for us. Therefore, everyone was attending the same courses at the same time. That way, the test procedure was identical, but if you study in a normal way, that is definitely not the case.

But where is the reason behind having exams anyways?

Most of the time, they just ask you to talk about something you have learned by hearth, but not really testing if you have understood the issue at first hand and can actually solve the problems that might result out of that.

But for sure, as Albert Einstein has said in the past.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein

From my perspective, there is only one way how we can solve the problem. Instead of focusing on exam based test procedures, we might start to focus more on doing projects. In reality, no-one needs to know everything by hearth. Come one, there is google! Everybody can find the information, but the thing you need to do, is to actually use this information and adapt it to your special case and problem you are dealing with. I personally think that working in projects will help the student, to actually understand what it really means to do a certain task.

For example, I was supporting the formula student racing team during my bachelor time at university as an active team member. The moment you do something like this, you basically have your project right in front of you. Instead of just talking about the top ten skills you need to know for project management, they through you into the cold water and show you how it really works in real life. Where problems will come up, that no-one tells you something about. Where you actually need skills, you would have never thought that they will be necessary.

Today, I will get my results from my last semester. Let’s see how good or bad the professors thought I was. But of course, in the end these are just numbers. And numbers do not mean anything, until we start to compare them with others or think that we want to reach a certain level.

As my old math professor used to say:

Noten sind Schall und Rauch!

old math professor

Meaning, that grades are not important after all.

See you next time!

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