Chris Mott
Professor of English

I asked a UCLA Academic All-American how she maintained a stellar GPA at the same time that she very successfully competed in intercollegiate athletics. She told me the key was to study smarter rather than simply studying harder. I told her that I’d heard that before but didn’t really know what that means in terms of practical advice. She elaborated: if she goes to the tennis court and hits balls for 6 hours, she might not improve her stroke at all, especially if she has a hitch that she is unaware of. In fact, she might be doing more harm than good be reinforcing a mistake. On the other hand, if she invites a coach to watch her swing, it will take about ten minutes for her to improve based on the feedback she receives. She actively seeks out others to provide her with feedback for two reasons: others can see things that she can’t, so getting as many perspectives as she can increases the chances she’ll spot a flaw, and others have different strategies, different ways of playing the game. She realizes that improvement means change, trying out different strokes and strategies. She told me that she applies the same approach to academics.  Whether she’s writing an essay or trying to solve an accounting problem, she will share her understanding of the principles involved and her strategies for solving the problems with as many people as she can. She’s found that time spent sharing ideas has produced more insights an allowed her to make more corrections than hours and hours of isolated study (she tried that for her first year; frustration sent her in another direction).

The take-away: in college, you will spend more time studying than you did in high school, but to make that study more effective and productive, seek out feedback on your ideas. Seek it early so that you have time to try out new corrections and strategies. Finally, don’t be snobby about the folks you ask for feedback. Go to your instructors, to be sure, but try roommates, teammates, classmates, people in line at the bank. You can benefit from anyone’s perspective, and you can learn from everyone’s perspective.