“But Why Do I Care?”: The Most Important Study Tip There Is

Good morning humans! Look at this! I finally completed my own joke and bought myself a certain book:

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I’m about 110/200 pages through and I have thoroughly loved and been impressed by every page. Looking back, I’m glad I made a tongue-in-cheek reference to this memoir in my blog title even before I’d read the source material. It’s really worth referencing. And it turns out I’m not the only one who’s a “Tuesday person”–there are other people out there who make the time every Tuesday to sit and dispense all the wisdom they’ve collected throughout their life thus far in whatever medium suits them best.

For Morrie Schwartz, it was talking; for me, it’s writing–

…sorry, what?

What do you mean “it’s not Tuesday today”?

Oh. So it isn’t.

I hardly noticed–I’ve been so busy with finals week that time has no meaning anymore. I’m not the only one. Everywhere I look I see my peers frantically chipping away at the veritable mountain of marble that is their course material, trying to sculpt out the statue of a decent grade hiding somewhere inside. (I also see people’s metaphors are getting more and more strained. C’est la vie.)

Now, as we already know, grades shouldn’t be the be-all end-all of studying. It should be about having the chance to learn something, to pursue your interests, to slowly but surely become an expert in a field, a master of a topic. Studying–and higher education in general–should be about rekindling the passion for learning that so many of us lost in earlier levels of the education institution.

It should be. But sometimes you’re just bored out of your gourd instead.

Like I was yesterday.

Let’s talk about that real quick.

 

 

How to Re-Engage in Your Studies: Connect to What Already Matters

I’m gonna lay something on the table right now: no matter how much of a hardcore nerd I am when it comes to linguistics, no matter how fascinated I am by every single tiny aspect of language and its use, even I have limits.

Like sometimes I just don’t want to spend five hours reading about prototype analysis of passives and the correlation between the passive voice and reflexive/reciprocal grammatical constructions, okay?

boooored
Your eyes are glazing over halfway through that sentence, aren’t they.

Well, as my high school French teacher used to say, tough nubbies. You need to pass, so you’re gonna do it, and you’re either gonna spend every minute of it full of spite and frustration with the words but do I really need this degree though buzzing around your otherwise-empty head–or you’re gonna find some reason to care.

Because once you’re invested, it stops feeling like a chore and starts feeling like the privilege it’s meant to be.

So I have a full 90 pages (let me say it again: NINETY PAGES) of material to study on passive constructions in language. I look through the first two pages of the one 30-page article and it’s not looking too pretty. I send my partner a Facebook message that went something to the effect of HELP I CANNOT FIND A REASON TO GIVE A CRAP ABOUT ANY OF THIS.

BOOOOORED

I told her what I was studying and, to my combination satisfaction/dismay, her response was “…I wish I knew how to make that interesting.”

So I sat there and thought–what would make this interesting? What would make me care? Is there anything in this load of information that I can easily relate back to my own personal life? Is there anything I feel I can connect with at all?

I found my answer: “If only the question could be changed from ‘how/when do we use the passive voice’ to ‘WHY do we use the passive voice'” I said, “I’d be much more intrigued.”

It felt like something that any human would be better off knowing–why the heckity heck do we even have such a thing as the passive voice in language? Why do we use it? And don’t tell me the passive voice is used to reduce the semantic valency/manipulate the argument structure of the verb construction because my pre-frontal cortex is taking a backseat to my lizard brain right now and my lizard brain says WHY DO I CARE.

Well, turns out there was a section further on in the article explaining exactly that. I found the why–both ‘why do we use the passive voice’ (and it turns out that it’s really cool okay) and ‘why do I care’. And once I started caring, once I connected my own immediate life to even one aspect of what I was reading, five hours went by like that.

In All Things, Passion = Action

My advice to students everywhere: when you sit down to study, find why you care. I don’t mean “because if I don’t know this stuff I’ll flunk my exam”, I mean “because I can relate to topic X on personal level Y”. Apathy is the enemy here (protip: it usually is). Take five or ten minutes digging through your brain and through your heart until you can make a connection between yourself and what matters to you at the moment, and the material in front of you. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s a bit of a stretch, but the brain is built to make connections–and the truth is everything is related to everything else. All it takes is a bit of creativity to see the threads.

And while we’re at it, my advice to teachers/professors/educators everywhere, too: make sure your students know why this matters. (‘This’, she says, waving her hand indiscriminately at whatever syllabus is on the desk at the time.) Some profs are excellent at consistently relating seemingly abstract/obscure information back to Life As We Know It; they know how to connect students to their studies in a way that feels meaningful and practical and useful. And some profs, bless their hearts, are too passionate about their material to consider that there is anyone in the room who doesn’t get why it’s Important Stuff. But sometimes the connections need to be made a little more obvious.

Make them obvious for yourself. Then, when you see people bored out of their gourd in your classes, try to make them obvious for others. Because if you find why you care, you stop studying just to pass an exam, and you start studying for the sake of knowledge and personal development and, if you’re lucky, for the sheer enjoyment of it. You might spend a whole Tuesday doing it. And you might not even mind.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the kind of learning I want to be involved in.

YOU CAN DO IT.

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