The Price is right? – Value for Money Education

The Price is RightThe idea behind the price is right was that you had to guess the price of an everyday object. Not a complicated game I admit but by game show standards a successful one, it ran from 1984 to 2007. But how do you know if something is the right price? What does “right price” even mean?

 

Easier in a market where there are many similar products all providing a similar service or experience, not so easy when assessing the value is subjective, comparability difficult  and getting it wrong  expensive. This is exactly the situation you might find when trying to choose a course provider, a college or university. How do you know if you’re getting value for money, if one provider is more expensive than another is it extra profit, inefficiency or a measure of quality and so value?

What do you want?

The first question to ask is, what do you want from the course provider and how will you measure success? On the face of it the answer may seem obvious – it’s to pass the exam or get as high a grade as possible. But learning is about so much more than the exam result, isn’t it?

What about the skills you develop and the knowledge you acquire, what about the people you will meet and the inspiration, motivation and direction you will receive? These are difficult to measure and are often ignored yet in the long run are probably far more valuable than the passing of an exam.  Also would you be happy with knowing just enough to pass and then afterwards forgetting everything, is that what you pay for, is that value for money?

A high quality provider will teach content and explain concepts so that you not only retain knowledge but develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

So it’s all about passing?

You may want to pass but what method of study will give you the best chance of passing? How much contact time do you The price of everythingexpect? Are you sufficiently self motivated that you need little or no help, do you want the convenience of studying online or the discipline of having to go to lectures? You may be aware of the method you prefer but many students aren’t. The better provider will know enough about you as an individual, and if they don’t they will ask before making any recommendations as to what method of study is best.

Risk and cost of failure

How important to you is passing, or passing as soon as possible? It could be a false economy to go with the provider who suggests the course can be covered in 10 weeks at a cost of £1,000 when another suggests 15 weeks at £1,500. The longer course with the higher price could well be good value for money if you pass first time. Equally when the stakes are high you don’t want to make a mistake,  consider something like eye surgery, would you go to the cheapest provider where the risk of getting it wrong could be life changing.  Of course expensive does not always mean value for money. You will need to do some homework first. Below is some advice as to what to look for when choosing a provider before you part with any money.

What to look for in a course provider

Fundamentally it’s about trust and confidence in the provider. Education is not a commodity, it’s not homogenous, it’s personal and too important to get wrong

Here are a few things to look out for and questions to ask.

  • Experience and quality of the Teachers/Lecturers – having a stable and experienced lecture team is an indication of quality. Ask how the college ensures their staff are up to date, do they have a formal training scheme? What research credentials do they have?
  • Long term player – How long has the organisation been in existence, ask them what their long term strategy is for learning or at least what they think the future might hold.
  • Where do they rank in league tables – maybe they have industry awards or accreditation by external bodies.
  • Investment in the future and level of innovation – what do the premises look like, are they well maintained? What technologies have they introduced recently?
  • What are the range of different study options (length of course/F2F contact time etc) and levels of personalisation – for you to have the best course the provider should be able to offer some degree of personalised learning.
  • Ask if you can try before you buy – What have you got to lose they can only say no. Oh and ask them how easy it is to transfer to other courses and get your money back if you’re not happy.
  • And finally one of the most useful ways in making any decision is to ask friends/colleagues what they think or experiences have been, and don’t forget to check them out on the social media sites.

Conclusion

There is a lot more to this debate and the topic is certainly worthy of another blog. Value for money is a big question in education. I have not for example even mentioned the cost of education in the context of employability and student debt. Nor which subjects have the highest employability statistics etc.

The purpose of this blog was to highlight the complexity of choosing a provider and to give some advice as to what to look for.

In summary, clarify exactly what you want from your course provider before you start looking, ask some of the questions above and dependant on the answers you get make your decision. And if all goes to plan you will you end up with the right provider, at the right price and so great value for money.

PS Happy New Year everyone – I think as far as learning and exams are concerned 2015 is going to be as interesting and as uncertain as 2014. I am looking forward to it.

 

Are exams fit for purpose (part two) – what are the alternatives?

You dont fatten pigs 2

Last month’s blog came to the conclusion that examinations* are fit for purpose or at least “a purpose.”

They provide the student with a clear objective to which they can direct their efforts and focus attention and are a transferable measure of competency that can be assessed at scale. The “at scale” point is important as there are many ways of assessing competence but few that can cope with the need to test thousands of students all at the same time.

The main problem with examinations is that they don’t always examine what is most valued; the method of assessment often has significant limitations as to what it actually tests and the results are presented in league tables that give a far too simplistic view of success.

I am not sure we can resolve all of these but it might be worth exploring other options, specifically alternative methods of assessment. For example If you change the method of assessment from a formal, often timed written exam to say a portfolio of work, not only do you change the method of assessment but you will change what is being examined, two birds with one stone perhaps.

Different methods of assessing competence

Open book exams

Open book assessment offers a way of testing application rather than memory. Students have access to a text book that contains information relevant to what they are being asked. It’s the use of knowledge that is important, not the knowledge itself. The idea of open book could easily be adapted, why not allow students access to the internet during the exam, they could look up anything they wanted. Is this not more representative of what happens in the real world?

Take out exams

Similar to the above the so called “take out exam” allows the student to take the exam away to work on at home using whatever resources they prefer, books, internet etc. They return the next day with a completed answer. This can work better than you might at first think so long as you have a robust mechanism to detect plagiarism. There are several very good software packages that can spot the most sophisticated types of copying.

Case studies/simulations

A case study provides an environment for the student to demonstrate they can use their knowledge to solve problems and or offer advice in a virtual world. Most case studies tend to be written but this is one area that we could see some clever and affordable use of technology to better simulate the real world.

Performance tests

In a performance test students are required to demonstrate a skill/process, create a product etc while being observed by the assessor who will evaluate the performance. A great example of testing ability to apply knowledge but suffers from the subjectivity of the assessor and has limited application at scale.

Portfolios

Portfolios are most often collections of the student’s work that demonstrate their ability to perform a specific task. These can be simulations of the real world or portfolios of work actually undertaken on the job. A portfolio can include written documents, emails, audio or video recordings, in fact anything that provides evidence as required by the assessor.   Portfolios are perfect for assessing application but the process of assessment is expensive and not without bias.

Viva Vocal – (living voice) Oral exam

Often used to test PhD students, an oral exam gives the assessor chance to question the student. This is a very effective method where you are looking for higher level skill and depth of understanding. As identified last month it’s probably one of the oldest forms of assessment.

Digital badges – capturing the learning path

Being awarded a badge as recognition of achievement is something many will be familiar with especially if you were a boy scout or girl guide. But digital badging is new and becoming increasingly popular because of the internet. A good example would be linkedin and the badges awarded to you by others as recognition of certain skills.  Many of the assessment methods above provide a first past the post type of assessment, you pass and that’s it. Digital badging on the other hand is a form of lifelong assessment that evolves along with your career.

Digital badging for me is one of the most exiting forms of assessment and I am not alone Nasa have been using digital badging since 2011. Read more about digital badging.

Assessment in the future

Scanning for competenceThe list above is far from comprehensive and many other equally valid types of assessment exist e.g.  Role plays, Slide presentations, Assignments etc but what might assessment look like 15 years from now. Well how about using MRI scans to identify which parts of the brain are being used?  Not sure it will catch on but it would provide some interesting evidence as to how the student is getting to the answer, simple memory or a genuine and deep understanding .

*Examinations defined as a written test administered to assess someone’s level of understanding, knowledge or skills

Are exams fit for purpose? (part one)

take-the-same-testI have written in the past about what passing an exam proves but have never questioned if exams achieve what they were originally designed to do, are they fit for purpose?

Firstly let me define what I mean by an exam. A written test administered to assess someone’s level of understanding, knowledge or skill that results in a qualification if successful. This is in contrast to a test which is a method of assessing someone’s level of understanding, knowledge or skill often as part of a course in order to provide feedback. A test does not have to be written. Although exams don’t have to be written either, many are and initially at least I would like to keep the definition as narrow as possible.

In order to answer the question, are exams fit for purpose we must first take a step back and look at how we got to where we are now.

 

A brief history of examinations

The first standardised test is believed to have been introduced by the Chinese in 606 AD to help select candidates for specific governmental positions. However most examinations around this time would have been oral, requiring the candidate to recite a dissertation or answer questions. Although there is evidence of written exams being used as early as 1560*, it was not until the 1820’s that many Universities began to adopt the practice. From 1850 onwards the written exam became the norm in most UK Universities. In 1854 under the Gladstone government selection of Civil servants was based on their ability to pass an exam, this time however it was written.

Bureaucracy – In 1917 to help bring some order to what had been described as chaotic the Certificate and the Higher School Certificate were introduced. Then in 1951 we had the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations, more commonly known as Ordinary ‘O’ level and Advanced ‘A’ level , these were normally taken at 16 and 18.

In the 1960’s the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) was born, opening up qualifications for all, not just those that went to Grammar school. However this two tier system was thought divisive and so in 1988 under the guidance of the then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph both sets of examinations were replaced by the GCSE. The GCSE was graded and contained credit for course work.  In 1991 the General National Vocational Qualifications, (GNVQS) were established intended to incorporate both academic and vocational elements, by 1995 these were accepted as ‘equivalent’ to GCSE.

In 2014 we find change again, gone is the course work and written examinations once again become the main method of assessment, although there will be grading, 1 to 9 with 9 being the higher mark. The exams will still be called GCSE’s, although officially they are known as GCSE (England). This is to avoid confusion with Wales and Northern Ireland, who are not changing.

Yes they are

Historically at least it would appear the purpose of the exam was to provide a recognised and transferable measure of competency in a given subject or discipline. The lack of transparency and consistency of the oral exam resulted in them being replaced with written ones and a more formal bureaucratic structure was developed to administer the process.

And in many ways there is very little wrong with this.

The problem is not with the exam itself, but with what is being examined. If as a society we value “thinking and creativity” for example, then should we not be examining these rather than subjects that require the candidate to do little more than rote learn facts.  Perhaps we should explore different methods of assessment, the written exam has its uses but hand written papers are looking increasingly outdated in a world that communicates electronically not only in short texts and tweets but with video and photos . In addition the way exam results are used in league tables to show winners and losers is divisive. It looks like a measure but has in fact become a target that schools and teachers must hit or be considered failures.

Please watch this it’s very funny…..and thought provoking

Not on the test

 

 

 

 

 

In the second blog about exams I want to look more closely at some of these points, in particular what other ways we can assess what people know.

*Assessment around this time was through debate between a number of learned people all at the same time and lasting for two hours or more.

Teaching to the test – Interesting research but the fat lady is still in good voice

Fat lady still singingThis week researchers from the University of East Anglia released some very interesting findings that resulted from testing 594 bio-science students in their first week of term at five universities.

The students selected would be considered by many more than competent in their subject, almost all had a grade A*, A or B in biology at A-level. Yet when they were given 50 minutes to answer 38 multiple choice questions on cells, genetics, biochemistry and physiology from their A level core syllabus, they only got 40% correct. The period of time between the students sitting their A levels and the test was three months.

Lead researcher for the study, Dr Harriet Jones, said: “What our research shows is that students are arriving at university with fantastic A-level grades, but having forgotten much of what they actually learned for their exams.”  She went on to say that the trend to teach to the test, to ensure good results for schools’ reputations, was the problem.

The schools are to blame then

The facts of the research are clear, students who had successfully passed a test, were unable to pass a similar test three months later. The conclusion reached is that the students did not understand (see my blog on understanding) their subject well enough and passed their A levels probably using little more than memory. And who is to blame, the schools of course, for teaching to the test. Why the school do this is worthy of further debate, but government pressure and the impact of league tables will certainly be in the mix.

But do employers not accuse Universities of delivering up similar ill prepared students. The test is different but from the employers perspective the result is the same. A University student who professes to know something but when tested “in the real world” doesn’t.

Does this mean that Universities are also teaching to the test!

It’s about the test etc

The problem is not in teaching to the test; the problem is with the test, the pass mark and possibly the marking. If the test was more Testing but for what!aligned to what the student needs to know/do at a fundamental level, the pass mark sufficiently high and the marker having some degree of autonomy to form judgements, then the results would probably be different. It could of course be that the exams are easier – Exam chief: ‘you don’t have to teach a lot’ for our tests.

The big criticism of teaching to the test is, it results in a narrowness of understanding, little in the way of depth and does not push students to think in abstract and creative ways. But if the test, which incidentally does not have to be in the exam hall or on paper/PC was able to “test” for these qualities then teaching towards it would perhaps be more acceptable.

Bottom line

Teaching to the test is unlikely to change, in fact given the popularity of league tables  in education just now it may well increase, but with more effective testing the results might be better students, happy Universities and even happier employers.

 

 

Eureka – I Understand Understanding!

I Understand!If you understand the subject you are studying your chances of passing the exam must be good.

A simple and perhaps obvious statement but what does understand mean and what do you have to do to truly understand something? Of course understanding is a key part of passing but it is not enough on its own, you can understand something yet fail because you run out of time, misinterpret the question, thought you understood but didn’t! etc.

To understand

The dictionary defines to understand as, to know what someone or something means, to grasp the meaning, to be familiar with, make sense of etc. Understanding is clearly different to knowing, for example, you may know that gravity is a force that pulls objects to earth but that does not mean you understand what gravity is or how it works. Of course you need both knowledge and understanding, the one is no good without the other. Examiners try to test for understanding by asking questions that require you to compare, contrast, explain, interpret etc.

Understanding is not a Eureka moment, it has different levels. It might seem that there is a point where you didn’t understand and then suddenly you did, a Eureka moment. In reality what you have done is move closer to gaining a better and fuller understanding. Ask any lecturer or teacher, often they will tell you they never fully understood something until they had to teach it, they just thought they did.

Proving you understand – The 6 facets of understanding

Understanding by design, Wiggins and McTighe (1998) is one part of an instructional design process that provides a very helpful framework we can use to explore the depth of understanding and perhaps more importantly what you can do to develop a deeper understanding. Think of it as a hierarchy with the easiest one first, the greater you’re understanding the higher the number.

1. Explain, the classic exam question – Explain to someone what the concept/idea means and say why. Explaining out loud to yourself or making a recording can be just as effective.

2. Interpretation – Relate the concept/idea to your own experiences, tell a meaningful story. Try to add something personal into your explanation. To do this you will need to reflect on past events, whilst attempting to find parallels with the concept/idea.

3. Application – Use the concept/idea in a different context. The ability to apply knowledge in different contexts (transfer) is a key milestone in learning as well as understanding. It should result in you never being caught out by a difficult exam question. Understand to this level and it doesn’t matter what the examiner asks.

4. Perspective – Read around the concept/idea, get other people’s views, and see the big picture. If your struggling with understanding, read another text book or my favourite is to go onto you tube and watch a video. The internet is great for discovering alternative views.

5. Empathy – Try to get inside another person’s feelings about the concept/idea. This is difficult as it requires you to put aside your feelings about the concept/idea and accept that it is not the only way of thinking about it.

6. Self Knowledge – Ask questions about your understanding, ask what are the limits of your understanding, what are your prejudices, become aware of what you don’t understand. Often called metacognition, the ability to think about thinking.

The Eureka moment

Understanding, like Eureka moments are not of course the result of sitting in a bath and suddenly finding you understand something you had previously found confusing. It is the gift of hard work and long hours of study, hopefully by trying some of the techniques above your depth of understanding will only improve.

Ps apparently the jeweller was trying to cheat the king….

Understanding by Design

Want to know more about understanding by design, watch this. 

 

 

50 Shades Darker – How much to test

How much to test

In August last year I wrote how Professional accountancy bodies believe that competency can be measured by a candidate scoring 50% and failure if scoring 49%. This all or nothing approach seems neither fair nor useful; hence the idea that grades of competence could be introduced e.g. 50% pass, 65% commendation, 75% distinction etc.

But the mark a student gets in an exam is only part of the story when it comes to measuring competence. Can a student be considered competent if the exam they pass only includes questions from say 75% of the syllabus? Yes the whole syllabus might be covered in an 18 month period but in any one exam 25% is not tested. Equally the 75% is often considered core and so examined every sitting, this means that a student need only focus on the 75%. Admittedly if the pass mark is 50% they need to score 50% out of 75% (67%) but with practice this is possible. One final observation, it is unlikely the student will score 0% on the non-core part of the syllabus. They may get say 5% or even 10% out of 25%. Not a great score but the 67% pass mark now becomes 58%. This logic sits at the heart of the exam driven approach.

Objective testing might be the answer?

Objective tests (OT) – test that are relatively short and can be unambiguously marked, are considered by some to be a weaker form of assessment, they are part of the dumbing down of examinations. The beauty of an OT question is that the marking is completely accurate, no marking bias at all. This is often ignored in traditional exams and not seen as a problem largely because it’s not that visible. But the OT does not solve the “how much to test” problem, in fact it makes it worse. If you are asking for less then you are examining less. So if the only benefit is the avoidance of marker bias why are more examining bodies using OT style exams, is it just about saving money…….?

An example

Imagine that you have 4,500 OT style questions that cover every aspect of the syllabus, let’s also assume that the student only has to answer 50. The 50 questions are randomly picked from the 4,500 in the question bank. Is it fair that a student is considered competent if they are only being tested on 1% of what they need to know?

I think the answer is Yes, because in order to be sufficiently prepared to answer 50 questions from a bank of 4,500 when there are no core topics you have to have be capable of getting all 50 correct (assuming a 100% pass mark) and because you don’t know which 50 are coming up this effectively means you have to be able to get all 4,500 correct. The examining body can of course control  the effectiveness and level of difficulty by changing the pass mark.

All OTs would be OTT

This is not an argument to suggest that all examinations should be assessed using OT type questions, they should not. For example they are not Less-is-Morevery effective at measuring a student’s ability to communicate or evaluate complex and ambiguous situations, but they should be considered part of the tool kit that examining bodies have in assessing competence.

So on the face of it OT’s may look like a soft option, anyone can tick a box but they are certainly not easy to get right. Maybe less is actually more…..

50 shades of Grade…..Measuring students worth

I don’t often write specifically about the market that I am most closely involved, that of accountancy training and education. But there does seem to be an anomaly in the way the accountancy world measure success that isn’t the case in many other professions and examinations.

To become a qualified accountant in the UK (ACCA, ICAEW,CIMA etc,  yes there are more) you have to pass a number of demanding examinations and submit evidence of practical experience. The exams are taken over 3 years and everything rests on a number of exams of 100 marks each, of which you need to get 50%. The pass rate for accountancy students varies from paper to paper but is around 60% In training and education terms these exams are often referred to as High stake exams. For some failure is not simply a setback in terms of time, it could result in a lost job.

50% good – 49% bad

The purpose of such exams (including the practical experience) is of course to ensure that those that pass are competent. But how competent….?  It seems that you are either competent or not, if you get 49% you are not competent, if you get 50% then you are. This makes the margin for error very high, many a career has taken a dramatic turn based on 1 mark. Now of course in any exam there has to be a point where someone succeeds and another fails but does competence not have many shades to it, is it not a continuous process rather than a discreet one.

Shades of Grade

You may be one of thousands of students (>300,000 actually) who have just had your A level results. But of course you don’t just pass or fail, in fact this has not been the case since 1963, even before then there was an indication of the mark. You are given a grade from A through to E and all are considered a pass, 98.1% passed their A levels this year.

And the grades refer to the marks e.g. E is 40%, a D is 50%, a C is 60%, a B is 70% and an A is 80%. A similar grading exists for Degrees, 2.1, 2.2 etc and for Law exams, Pass, Commendation, Distinction.

No pressure for excellence

So why is this not the case in accountancy? To be honest I am not sure. But by introducing grades above a pass you not only provide employers with a better indication of competency, you encourage colleges to teach to a higher and deeper level, motivated by the students who want to learn more. And that for me is the most important point; you create an incentive for students to try harder. At the moment if you are scoring 55% then why put in more work, a pass is a pass, but a distinction well that will make you stand out from the crowd.

Of course the market will adjust its perception of what a pass means, for example employers may only want students with a distinction rather than a simple pass, but they have always looked and will continue to look for differentiation, at least this is a meaningful one.

What it does not do is fix the 49% you fail problem, and careers will still hinge on 1 mark, but that unfortunately is the way with exams and the reason exam technique is so important.

So to all the accountancy examining bodies why not introduce grades – grey is good and isn’t it an accountants favourite colour?

Tipping the exam is bad….right?

No TippingFor me holidays are not a treat, they are an essential way of  recharging your batteries and provide an opportunity to re think ideas and put things into perspective. I am writing this particular blog whilst visiting Washington DC for a few days before moving onto the real America, Disneyland!

 
 
 

Exam tipping
Now whether its because I was having to get my head around the whole US tipping culture I don’t know, but I found my mind wondered to a conversation I had just before I came away as to the merits of predicting topics that will be on the next exam, so called tipping. This is a fascinating question, and one that is at the heart of the exam focused approach. The logic of the exam focused approach is simple (see  earlier blog for more detail) if the main objective is to pass the exam then the best preparation is to practice The questions that will be on that exam. But on the basis we don’t have The actual exam, then the next best preparation is to practice questions that “you think” will be in that exam, hence the tip.
In many other training environments this approach is common and well accepted. My daughter was taken on the routes most used by the driving test examiner. Although on the day she didn’t know exactly which route it was going to be. As a result of the training and familiarity she felt well prepared, more relaxed which in turn built her confidence, and I am sure this improved her performance on the day.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that if taken to an extreme, teachers might only teach what they think will be on that particular exam, the so called “teaching to the test”. This results in students not receiving a sufficiently broad or in-depth coverage of the subject and exposing them and their chances of passing to risk, heads you pass, tails you fail.
Application – Focus – Prioritisation 
However exam questions are great tools for application, focus and prioritisation. If a student is taught something and then set a question on that topic, they very quickly appreciate its relevance and value. It certainly helps with concentration, focus and  putting topics in order of importance. The, you can’t learn everything so stop worrying and get on with this question approach…..
Its all about time
If students have sufficient time they should of course learn everything. Although if you think about it you can’t learn “everything”, so there is always some degree of prioritisation.  But in the professional education sector, they don’t. Many hold down demanding jobs by day and study is part time. They look to the educator to give them some degree of priority in what to learn. This comes into sharp focus in the last few days before the exam, and that’s why they will ask for what is most likely to be on the exam, the tip.
So should the teacher tip
It’s all about degrees, at one end of the spectrum, it is very risky and narrows a students learning, at the other it gives focus and application in the last few days before the exam. Personally I would like to see  research on this area some solid evidence to focus the debate. There may be something out there but I have not read anything on this specific question.
But in the absence of such research my view is not to be too dismissive of tipping, it is very easy to completely write it off, leaving the choice of what to focus on just before the exam to the student, when the teacher is probably in a better position to give advice.
and if your interested – How to predict exam questions

 

And finally my  Holiday books 
I have just started Sal Khans The one world school house – very easy to read summary of how Salman Khan got to become “Bill Gates favourite teacher” and the logic behind what the Khan Academy does.
Thinking fast and slow and The chimp paradox are still as yet to be read.

 

Now where’s that bill or is it cheque….20% tip!

Thank you for the music – listening to music when revising

May and June are the traditional months when students around the world lock themselves away to revise for their exams.

In China for example over 9 million students will be sitting the university entrance exams.

Last May (2012) Teenagers at Xiaogang school in Hubei province were pictured hooked up to bags of intravenous fluids hanging from the classroom ceiling to boost energy levels during the revision period. An extreme action by anyone’s standards, but perhaps an example of how much pressure students feel this time of year.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog my daughter is currently caught up in this May/June exam frenzy. So once again I found myself looking to her for inspiration. What was she doing, how did she revise? This is not because she is a perfect example of a revision student, in many ways she is not, but I do think she is typical of many.

What does Beth do?

  • Makes notes from her notes – This is a standard exam skill, reducing content down into measurable and personal chunks. She does use mind maps (possibly my influence) but not exclusively.
  • Prepares as if she has to teach someone else – this I find interesting and has certainly not come from me. She writes on a white board the key points as if she was going to teach that subject. I like this idea, as many teachers and lecturers will tell you nothing focuses the mind nor motivates you more than having to teach it to others.
  • Practices past exam questions…of course!
  • Studies while listening to music – now this is the one that intrigued me and as a result I have devoted the rest of the blog to answering the question …..

Is it a good idea to revise whilst listening to music?

As ever the science needs much interpretation.

It’s a bad idea

Researchers from the University of Wales, tasked 25 students with memorising lists of consonants. Some were shown the letters while sitting in silence, others while listening to music by their favourite bands or by groups they had a strong aversion to. The conclusion was that listening to music, hampered their recall.

So it’s good then

Scientists at Stanford University, in California, believe there is a molecular basis for music known as the “Mozart Effect“. It was discovered that rats, like humans, perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart Sonata in D.

But then there is the evidence that suggests that switching attention when trying to learn as might be the case with listening to music slows down the cognitive process.

Yet you cannot ignore the research that clearly shows music has the ability to alter your brain and induce relaxation which in turn helps create an ideal state for learning.

Watch what happens to your brain when you listen to music.

Hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusions

  • Listening to music puts you into a more relaxed frame of mind and that is of course good for learning. So listening to music before or after revising can help.
  • If you do want to listen to music, avoid music that requires you to shift your attention. This would suggest you should not listen to  music with lyrics  as it can mean you need to think about what is being said nor should you listen to something new that you may not have heard before. This is one of the reasons classical, in particular baroque music is the preferred choice of many students. Also don’t play the music too loud, keep it as background noise.
  • If there are specific facts that you simply need to know, then avoid listening to music completely, give it your full attention. But you can’t concentrate at this level all day, only for short periods.
  • On the whole be consistent don’t keep changing the type of music, you need familiarity.

Music to help you study

The internet has many websites that offer relaxing and helpful music, here are a few that might help.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question – Learning by questions

Ask questionsThe Greek philosopher Socrates was born 469 B.C in Athens, and died in 399 B.C. He is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest thinkers. He is known for the Socratic Method and the pursuit of knowledge. The Socratic Method involves asking a series of questions until a contradiction emerges invalidating the initial assumption.

Socratic questioning does not seek to find THE answer, there are often many answers. The primary goal is to explore the contours of often difficult issues and to teach critical thinking skills. This method encourages you to go beyond the simple memorising of facts, enabling you to develop a higher level of understanding.

Socratic questions

1. Questions for clarification – Why do you say that?
2. Questions that probe assumptions – What could we assume instead?
3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence – What would be an example?
4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives – What is another way to look at it?
5. Questions that probe implications and consequences – What are you implying?
6. Questions about the question – What was the point of this question?

If you can formulate a question – you have 60% of the answer
When you pass one exam the bad news is you are often faced with another. Exams at times can seem endless. But as you progress, what you are asked to do will change. When you first start studying a subject you will be asked relatively simple questions such as, what is the capital of FranceChildren are good at asking questions. To answer questions like this you need little more than a good memory. However when you get to the final level, examiners are more interested in understanding and application, not simply knowledge. What they really want you to do is think….

And so you may need to form an opinion, a view of your own. I am sure that you have many opinions now, but how informed are they, what facts support your view and how much have you thought around this view sufficient that you can deal with challenge.

This is where asking good questions can really help. When studying on your own, if you can formulate the right question you are more than half way to answering it yourself. Because to even get to this question, you will have had to think deeply about what you are trying to do, how it might work, what resources you might need, why has no one done this before etc. And only when you have thought this deeply will you be able to ask your question.

The next step is to post your question on the internet, someone will have the answer, the interesting thing is, by the time you come to do this, you may have the answer yourself!

Questions really are a great way of learning.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Voltaire

The last word will go to Scott Adams
If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?

Or should it!