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Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Example from IPPT on How to Get First Class Honours in Economics

An Example from IPPT on How to Get First Class Honours in Economics

Alright, today I am going to write about an example from IPPT, on how to get first class honours in economics, or for that matter, how to get first class honours in most majors at NUS in general anyways.

[This is in reference to the original, specific article I wrote a few months back which was the most popular article of all my writings: obviously, simply, and very aptly titled: How to Get First Class Honours at NUS. People apparently liked that more than religion, science, mentalism, magic, psychology, and other magical intellectual hobbies of mine.]

I've been receiving a lot of emails on that post, with people asking me about how to get first class and other related topics about academics, on how to study, how to do well in exams, and all that kind of thing. And so I've decided to "pander" to my readers and write a single illustrative story, which, when understood, will help you gain insights into performing better for tests and exams in general, and will definitely contribute to you getting first class. It's all in the moral.

It's a moral that we all know but need to reminded here and there, and now and then.

Most likely if you're a good friend of mine you've heard this story a million times, and I apologise in advance.

I was training for the IPPT some time back, and in any case had been passing it ever since I left full time National Service. However, for one reason or another, during that one particular period, I had a string of failures in a row, and my birthday was fast approaching.

This was weird - my training routine hadn't changed, and I was doing the same methods which had gotten me the "pass" incentives, so what was going on? (I ended up in RT for that year, by the way, so there's a poem I wrote on Eye Pee Pee Tee. Pity!)

I trained every day, and yet was going nowhere. I just "couldn't hit the cow's backside with a banjo".

One day, my brother happened to pass me by to take a phone call, when he saw me doing push ups. When he was done with his call, he told me what the problem was.

I'll try to recreate this, it was some time back: "Hey man, what are you doing?" he asked.

I said, "Pushups! To train for chin ups. I'm going to do 40, like when I passed the last round."

He said, "That's not how you do it! You're just going through the motions. You have to squeeze the back muscles, and use this part, and that part..." and he promptly jumped to the floor and did it, the "proper way".

"Doing 20 proper push ups is better than doing 40 rubbish ones," he intoned severely. "You didn't do it like that last time, when you were younger, anyways," he said, "You'd do all the exercises properly rather than as if they were chores and you had to rush through them."

That was it! Voila!

To cut a long story short, I passed my IPPT that year, after doing the first phase of RT. I got the point of the story, and it's stayed with me ever since. It's something we all know but we don't do.

It's the same with IPPT and it's the same with studying for Economics examinations.

The moral is this: when we train for IPPT with passing in mind, we don't just do the training half heartedly, or just do it for the sake of doing it. We will exert maximum effort. We will make sure the part of the muscles we are training get the full brunt of the effort. To put it one way, if you're doing the bicep-curl at the gym - you make sure it's the biceps that are doing the work and you're not swinging your arm up and down to make use of momentum.

Same goes for studying, and especially for Economics.

I am pretty sure that most of my classmates learnt the same things as I did in Economics class, but they didn't get the first class because they just couldn't score in the examinations. CAP was the main problem. Why?

[I'm generalising here. Not all were like that, of course.] They could do the tutorials because they copied them from their classmates. Some of them formed study groups, but didn't really, really study. They went through the motions in class, and only parroted what the lecture notes said. They sat in classes and daydreamed. Some of them read their materials and took it face value. Some of them dropped out of economics in their third year with a pass or merit degree. Some made it to honours year by smarts.

So when it came to answering thinking questions in the exams, or answering harder questions, they all got murdered.

Here's the attitude of the first class student:

How can I do the tutorial, by myself? What are the mistakes that I have made here? What are the different methods? If I don't know, who knows? Who can I ask? Let me try this again. What can I do?

Let's take a simple case, profit maximisation.

What are the different methods of solving this? The first is to use a graphical method. The second is to use the Lagrangian method. The third is to use the constrained to unconstrained method.

A good student will know this and apply this. An average kid will stick to one method and use it all the time. The poor student didn't even know about the various techniques. But what about the first class student?

The first class student will know the various assumptions behind why it is like that; what assumptions need to hold before the FOCs can be taken like that. He will also know which method is quicker for various questions, because he practised them already, over and over again. He can use the various methods at will - and understands the logic of the various methods. He might even know the preference ordering theory, WARP, the various mathematical conditions of monotonicity and continuously differentiable indifference curves, and all that kind of stuff behind the simple idea of profit maximisation. In other words, he doesn't take this for granted. He checks things out, he learns more than what lies on the surface, and he is interested in his studies.

So the moral of the story is, to get first class honours, it's all about the way you approach the subject.

It is not purely about raw hours you put in; in those hours did you really understand the subject and get the logic, memorise the steps, do the problems, try exam questions, look at textbook problems, and work them all out yourself, using various methods, and cross checking your solutions when using different methods or approaches?

Or did you spend those study hours talking with friends, chatting, doing only tutorial questions, and basically going through the motions of real, diligent, hard work? Or did most of the work, but when the hard questions came by, you ignored them or left them blank? I think the moral of the story is quite clear!

Hope you liked the moral of the story. Good luck with IPPT if you came by because of that; good luck with your studies and examinations if you came by thanks to the "Get First Class Honours in Economics" :) :) Thanks for reading and cheers.

PS Yeah, I pander to my readers sometimes. I admit! But here we call it demand-and-supply curves.

Anything that interests me!