The three types of students

When I was a student in Raffles Institution, I totally flunked my Higher Chinese exams in Sec 3, not because I was not a good student (I’d like to think), but because i could not see the point of memorising all the different zaozu phrases for each and every of the words. 

Some of my classmates, on the other hand, took the effort to memorise all the words and the “ideal” full sentences they can use the words in for the zaozu component. Some other students even memorised entire paragraphs of chinese text for the essay component. #truestory. Trust me when I say that RI boys are actually not much better than the general population in Chinese, we are just more hardworking and willing to do what it takes to score well.

Different students have different attitudes towards learning and dissimilar goals when it comes to school and exams.

Meaning Orientation

I am more of a “meaning orientation” kind of student, and whenever I learn something, I need to take a deep approach and explore the limits of how one can apply a material. If any of you remember the recent australian math problem about the crocodile, the problem and the standard solution is outlined here:

ai) is not quite clear gramatically, but we can safely assume it just means x = 20. A simple substitution gets us the answer.

aii) is also not clear, but let’s just assume it means that the crocodile swims at right angles to the direction of the river (ie upwards). That means that x = 0. Again, a simple substitution will do.

aiii) is the most interesting. Calculus is very good for calculating the minimums and maximums of functions and here since we are give T(x) all we need to do is find dt/dx, set it to zero, and solve for T. Problem solved.

But it turns out there’s a clverer way to solve the problem. I shall excerpt this from the original post:

Isn’t it amazing that different strands of knowledge can yield us the same answer?

That whole digression was a test, by the way. If you are college educated and you bothered to read through the entire explanation, you are probably a meaning oriented student. Such students enjoy finding out the links between their different areas of studies, are curious, and have a strong passion to learn different things. At Basecamp Learning Centre, we cultivate such an attitude by showing them different perspectives to issues and taking a global approach to our instruction, beyond the sequential approach taken by schools.

Reproducing Approach

Other students have a reproducing approach to their studies. Those with such a tendency tend to only take a surface approach to their studies, and rely a lot on rote-learning, robotic substition, and monotonous memory work to get by with their work. There is little to no attempt to understand the material at hand. 

There is an explanation for why many students in Singapore actually have cultivated such an attitude to their studies: overly heavy syllabuses and unrealistic expectations.

When students are faced with too much information in school, and an emphasis on doing well in graded school and national examinations, they experience a non-productive form of cognitive overload and resort to rote memory work to cope.

The symptoms of such overload should be familiar with some of our readers: a sense of dread when it comes to exams, an obsession with acquiring more notes and questions to memorise and practise on, and quick decay of recollection of material that students should actually still remember.

One way of reducing such cognitive overload is to teach students to learn via different approaches, which is what Basecamp Learning Centre achieves by instructional design which explicitly takes into account students’ different learning styles.

Strategic Orientation

Other students take a more strategic approach to their studies, doing what they can in order to get the highest grade possible. They are ok with either taking a reproducing approach or a deep approach, whichever is most expedient.

When I was at Raffles Institution, all of my classmates basically took this approach: memorise whatever you can to do well for the Higher Chinese papers, and study properly the “important subjects” such as math and sciences. It was common to hear my friends encourage each other: don’t drop Higher Chinese, if we get A1 or A2 we will never have to take it as a subject again. (In Junior College, those who did well for Higher Chinese for the O Levels need not continue to take Chinese for the A Levels) In short, Higher Chinese was seen to be so taxing and rote-memory based that my peers decided to play the suffer now and get it over and done with strategy.

What kind of student are you? Let us know in the comments below.

At Basecamp Learning Centre, our goal of instruction is to equip students with the skills associated with every learning style category, regardless of the students’ personal preferences, since they will need all of those skills to function effectively as professionals.

We are the only centre in Singapore to license the Index of Learning Styles test.

What do you think? Leave a comment