How to Study for Knowledge, and Not for Grades?

When I was in university, I faced a personal crisis that led to a significant mindset transition. From the time I was in primary school until SPM, I thought I was a smart student. My exam results convinced me that I was.
Then I entered university.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my intelligence was more towards memorizing than understanding. I knew that I had the ability to understand things, but that wasn’t what I trained myself to do from primary school until SPM.

For so many years, I had been memorizing facts more than I tried to understand what they mean and how to use them in real life. It came to a point where I wanted something much more than that.

I wanted to understand. I wanted to learn.

Like, really learn.

The first two years of my university were rough, because this new thought was growing in my head. I was battling between continuing my old ways of memorizing facts and this newfound desire of understanding and applying what I learned in class.

I made the hard choice of prioritizing understanding than memorizing. Slowly, I started to feel a sense of satisfaction creeping in. When my intention changed to understanding what I learn so that I may use it in my life, my view of the class changed as well.

I view the class with a sense of curiosity about what I will learn, not with a sense of agony about what will come out in the exams. I view the teachers as gatekeepers to the understanding that I seek, not as gradekeepers that I need to please.

Everything about my classes became about pure learning. I asked myself questions about the benefits of what I was learning and I already imagined myself using the knowledge and understanding to transfer the benefits to others.

There’s meaning now to what I pursue, beyond my own personal gains. It made my university experience sweeter and sweeter, as each semester passes by. But the battle inside was still happening, and just like any battles, there were casualties.

My grades were hit.

Thankfully, I didn’t crash and burn. I was still able to perform well enough to keep my scholarship and graduate with a degree scroll. As rebellious as I was at the time, I am glad that I had the sense that I still need to preserve my grades.

There is no point in pursuing something you desire, if you can’t stay afloat.
But still, if I were to show you my university transcript, you would understandably be shocked. I’m not proud my grades, but that experience is not something that I regret. Whatever that I have went through in my life made me who I am today.

You have to start with making a big decision, and that decision has to be your own. It’s not easy, and it’s not pleasant. This decision will affect not only you but your parents, how you deal with people, and people’s perceptions of you.

But, this decision is your decision. This is your life, and you are old enough to make this decision for yourself. You might not be a full adult yet, but you are already an adult. As an adult, before you make this decision, you have to think about it very carefully because the effect will be long term.

If you decide to focus on studying to understand, there is a chance that it will affect your grades negatively like what happened to me. However, maybe there is chance that you will have both, where it is possible that you can have understanding and grades.

Good for you! But, I wasn’t as lucky.

In any case, let’s just say that you make this decision and you say to yourself, “From this day forward, I am going to class focusing on understanding what I learn, enjoying the proses of understanding this knowledge at the deeper level, and applying this what I understand in my daily life to benefit me and others”.

Decision made. Good.

That decision affected my grades, so it wasn’t an easy decision. I would be lying if I say that I don’t feel any sense of regret. I would be lying if I say that I don’t want to travel back in time and memorize the crap out of my textbooks.

But, the regret was temporary because although I lost my grades, I gained my passion. The decision I made reduced my anxiety about my grades. Even if I don’t fulfil people’s expectations about the grades I should get, I will prove to them that I can still become an asset to the community and contribute what I learned.

But enough about me. That is my story, and it is not yours.

I’m telling you my story not because I want you to copy me. I want you to make a decision about your life that is your own decision. I want you to think deeply about why you do things in life, especially studying. I want you to find your passion and use it to benefit yourself and others in your life, and beyond.

You have to make that conscious choice when you go to class the next time, you are going to have a different intention. That intention will shape how you see your experience in and out of the classroom.

“I’m going to get on the dean’s list!”

That’s not a bad intention. That’s great! But think about how that intention shapes how you learn. Do you care about the knowledge more than your transcript? Or, do you care more about your transcript than the knowledge?

However you answer that question, I hope the answer is your own.
AIMAN AZLAN, #YouthMentor
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