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Every once in awhile a final comes around that just plain kicks you in the butt, no matter how long you’ve prepared or hard you’ve studied. Here are the Bookbyte team’s worst finals experiences.

Holly

My worst final was my hardest, but not necessarily the one with the lowest grade. One of the projects I had for a Layout class was to design and produce a magazine, with each person in the class in charge of one spread. I elected to be editor of the magazine, and spent many long days in the computer lab making sure that the magazine was taken care of. We went through countless rounds of revisions, and since I was in charge, I had to be there the whole time. I’m pretty sure I had several 12+ hour days, working on it between my classes and my job. I barely remember sleeping. It was such a relief to be done with it at the end of the term!

Chris

My worst final goes back to high school. While I definitely took harder tests in college, this was the only time I gave up in the middle of taking something. It was the AP Government exam. Our teacher was close to retirement and had totally checked out. He would cut out early almost every Friday afternoon to play golf. His classes often started on the topic of government, but would drift off into college sports or unrelated life advice. Needless to say I learned almost nothing, and this was largely reflected in the answers on my test. I finally snapped when I reached a question that said: “Define the term ‘logrolling,’ in the legislative sense.” I wrote: “Logrolling is the process by which lumberjacks transport timber downstream.”

logrolling

Jesse

By far, the worst final I ever had to take was in the one and only online class I took while in college. It was my Statistics course, the last math requirement I had to take, and we simply had to have everything completed by x date by 9am. Well I decided to wait it out and take care of the other classes that I perceived to be more important and not do any studying or reading. So in the span of six hours I had to take 12 quizzes, a midterm and my final. After each quiz and test I would get my score and my cumulative grade would show so I could see my progress. I finally completed all the quizzes and the midterm at about 4:30am with four and a half hours left before the deadline. But I’d still need to ace the final in order to get an ‘A’. I decided to sleep for two hours and then just try to crank out the final. It was the epitome of cramming, procrastinating and sleep deprivation all coming to a head. I’d never felt so satisfied with getting a ‘B’ in my life!

Jaime

I took course in Conservation Biology one year, but the professor who normally taught the course wasn’t around that year. So, instead. it was covered by a professor who wasn’t too familiar with the subject. During the course, he omitted a ton of stuff from the original professor’s lesson plan. But during the final he still used the original professor’s final word-for-word. Meaning everything he omitted from the lesson plan still showed up on the final. Everyone failed it.

Doby

The worst final exam I have ever taken was for my Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy course. I was the only student in the large class who was not a biology major or pre-med (I was an English major at the time). I was way out of my element, so I had to accept that I would be at a constant disadvantage. It was bloody hard work, especially for just a damned elective, and I found myself in a grim state of mind during dead week as I faced a final exam unlike any I’ve taken before. Before me was the prospect of learning the Latin names, origins, and insertions of >80% of a cat’s muscles, and I had to demonstrate this ability by locating them with tiny pins on the lab specimen I had meticulously dissected over the last month. It seemed an impossible task. I was in the class only because I thought the evolutionary history of vertebrates was ‘cool’.

What did I do? Something out of character: I studied with a classmate. Hitherto I had never studied socially, but I was in over my head and I reluctantly agreed to host a study session with a nice girl who sat next to me in lab. I felt a weird confidence rising in me after hours of her pedagogic scoldings, and after the intense, collaborative study session I had none of the pre-exam angst that had been haunted me. The fear of abject failure had been replaced with a confidence bordering on arrogance.

How did the exam go? It went well. Very well in fact, better than many of those pre-med kids and biology majors.

It was the worst final exam I have ever taken because it was my first experience with exam-induced fear so demoralizing that it causes paralysis and extinguishes any hope of (academic) survival. But, it was the best exam I had ever taken as it taught me that, with a friend to help me along, when the scholastic shit hit the academic fan I could duck & roll and come up swinging. The caffeine helped too.

You don’t really “Like” everything your friends post on Facebook. Whether it’s a commemoration of a recently deceased pet, a “_____ is now single” relationship update, or something that enrages your inner activist, there’s plenty of potential interaction on social networks that isn’t built into the native application.

You might have heard the rumor that Facebook may be adding a “sympathize” button for these sorts of situations. I’m here to tell you that, while weirder things have certainly happened, I wouldn’t hold my breath for this new feature anytime soon. Why?

Simple. Companies can’t use it.

Facebook’s long-term strategy has always been to prove that it is essential. It’s done that socially. As long as you know more people with Facebook accounts than without, it’s a vital part of modern life. Even if you’re a bigger fan of Twitter or Tumblr, you probably still keep that Facebook account around just as a way to stay connected.

But Facebook hasn’t yet 100% proved its value to companies, and companies give Facebook money. Sure, Facebook has ads and promoted posts. (Bookbyte runs a few.) It gives companies access to user data and a platform to reach them. But many companies are still wary about the effectiveness of these ads. Ads on Google are designed to lead people right to what they’re looking for. Ads on Facebook are designed to make somebody Like something they haven’t yet. There’s a lot of value in that, but it’s harder to explain.

A “sympathize” button, which I guess would look like two people hugging or something, doesn’t really connect with company goals. It’s too nuanced, and companies aren’t looking for nuanced reactions. They just want people to Like what they’re doing.

I really have no idea what the "Sympathize" icon would be. A sympathetic flower, or something?

I really have no idea what the “Sympathize” icon would be. A sympathetic flower, or something?

If you remember the old days of Facebook, you used to have a number of fields where you were free to enter whatever information you want. Your profile might have looked something like this:

  • Movies: Either horror or romantic comedies
  • TV Shows: The Sopranos, telenovelas, some reality shows when I’m bored
  • Music: Pretty much anything I can dance to

With the introduction of fan pages, all of this information was wiped clean if it couldn’t be categorized and linked directly to a page. The above information then looked like:

  • Movies: 
  • TV Shows: The Sopranos
  • Music:

The nuance was removed. You simply Liked a page, or you had nothing to say about the topic. “Sympathize” would add a new interaction but not add any way to quantify it.

Liking on the other hand, provides a glimpse into how a person might want to spend money, even in ways Facebook has yet to do. Imagine if companies could target you based on the content of the posts you Liked. Did you Like that video of a 90-yard punt return touchdown? Maybe you’d be interested in buying the team jersey. “Sympathize,” on the other hand, there’s simply no way to monetize it.

Honestly, I don’t mean any of the above as a knock on Facebook. Companies are always going to try to make money, no reason to hate them for it.

And to tell the truth, I’m not crazy about the “Sympathize” button idea either. If you really sympathize with someone who’s going through something tough, you can take the time to write them a comment telling them so.

800px-UofOsign

Back in the summer, the Oregon State Legislature agreed to a plan that would allow students to attend public universities and community colleges for free. In return, the student agrees to pay a small percent of his or her income after graduation.

It’s more or less an interest-free loan. After all, from the government’s perspective, the biggest problem with student loans is that they cripple graduating students with debt right as they become fully functional members of the economy. While the terms of individual loans vary, they also all work more or less on the principle that getting a degree means you’ll soon be making money. Recent grads know that’s not always the case.

The consequences of these painful interest rates are far-reaching. The higher interest rates get, the longer it takes graduates to move out of their parents’ house, to buy cars, and to buy homes instead of rent them. Nobody but the lenders benefit.

That’s the reasoning for Oregon’s plan. As the number of students needing to take out loans increases, there’s greater incentive for the government to make sure these future members of society aren’t economically handicapped right out of the gate.

The proposal isn’t without its flaws. The length of the percentage payout is a whopping 25 years, and since it’s based on a fixed (though small) percentage, graduates will presumably pay more as they go along. Even if, statistically speaking, this plan saves you money in the long run, those savings are based on the assumption that you’ll only be making so much money over the next two and a half decades. That’s a hard concept for a lot of people to accept. We all want to be millionaires at some undisclosed point in the future.

There’s the additional problem of enforcement. The state government will have to track the income of every student as they move to different states and different countries. And there are actually restrictions on what data educational institutions can collect on students. More restrictions in education than for credit companies, believe it or not.

But Oregon is moving forward with the pilot regardless, and hopefully they’ll figure out better solutions to these problems as they go along. A number of other states — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio — have filed similar proposals with their legislations. So who knows? This weird idea might become the new normal.

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

How is doing research for a paper like procrastinating? Both existed before the internet, but now you can do them both so much faster.

Imagine you’re a college student trying to put off working on your finals in 1992. All your on-hand entertainment is restricted to physical media. Your CD of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Your VHS copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Your Super Nintendo with Super Mario World. Fast forward 21 years and you can stream thousands of songs instantly through Spotify, watch hundreds of movies instantly on Netflix, and buy hundreds of games instantly through iOS or Steam. It’s a procrastinator’s dream come true and greatest nightmare.

If you can watch a movie instantly instead of putting on your coat, driving to Blockbuster, finding a movie, and coming home, that means you should be able to spend less time on your movie break, right? Even if you know that’s technically true, it’s hard to force your brain to accept that logic.

Our brains will always seek out the path of least resistance, which leaves students with two options: (1) drag your brain kicking and screaming into forced productivity or (2) trick your brain into thinking it’s not working on that thing you don’t want to do. Here are a few ways to pull off option #2.

Approach your work from a new direction

Let’s say you’re working on a paper. You’ve been sitting in front of your monitor for the past two hours and all you’ve managed to do is type, delete, and retype the first sentence about 100 times. Stop what you’re doing. If you know you’re not getting anywhere, there’s no point in doing the same thing over and over again.

Instead, ask yourself new questions: How will the first paragraph after the intro begin? How do I want my paper to end? What citations am I going to use? How do you format an online article in APA style again? Don’t worry about whether or not what you write is final, just search for that point of entry. It’s always easier to work on a paper after you’ve started.

Change your surroundings

The ideas you have in your dorm room are not the same as the ideas you have in the library. When you start feeling stagnant, consider a change of scenery. This can be an effective way to slide from procrastination into increased productivity. Bring your laptop on your coffee break and set up a new work space in the cafe. Just make sure to commit at least an hour or two to the new setting, otherwise you’ll just get restless.

Unlock achievements

The video game industry has figured out that people crave feedback from the things they accomplish, however meaningless. Use the same trick on your own brain. Come up with a list of achievements for your paper. Write 500 words. Complete 5 pages. Finish the bibliography. You can do the same for studying. Memorize 50 Spanish verbs. List all the regions of the brain. Keep a checklist next to your work space and make a mark each time you “unlock” an achievement. It sounds silly, but you might be surprised at how quickly your brain is tricked into registering each achievement as a reward.

Give yourself more (yes, more) things to do

Taking finals is the academic equivalent of a marathon. You have to maintain a steady momentum if you want to make it til the end. That’s all the more reason not to burn yourself out focusing on a single, seemingly insurmountable task. Instead, make a list of around 6-10 things to do. You don’t want too few, because then it’ll be too easy to put them off. You don’t want too many, because then you’ll feel overwhelmed.

Your goal is to maintain the feeling of constantly moving forward. That’s essential to keeping your brain from rebelling. Even if one of those things is something as minor as cleaning your dorm or apartment or selling the textbooks you don’t need anymore, you’re still squeezing a little bit of productivity out of your procrastination.

Put one last thing on your list you’ll never get around to doing

I’ll admit it, this is kind of a weird one, but it’s always worked for me. Maybe there’s just some part of my lizard brain that is always happy with getting my things-to-do-list down to “good enough.”

Whenever I’m planning out the day, I always put more on then I’ll be able to do. That way, I always feel like I’m slightly behind, which, strangely enough, always helps me stay on track. It’s a way of preserving momentum from one day into the next. I’m never completely finished, but I’m always completing tasks as a way of putting off other upcoming ones.

A huge outburst of charity always follows a terrible disaster, but that can fade as the news cycle moves on to fresher news. It’s important to always remember the road to recovery is long, painful, and expensive. Sometimes the biggest impact you can make is to donate to charities well after the disaster has passed.

With that in mind, here are eight different charities still helping to rebuild after devastation hit the Philippines.

Philippine_Red_Cross_logoThe Philippine Red Cross is the logical starting place. A little trickier if you want to write a check, since you’ll have to mail it to Manila, but you can also just use Paypal. Don’t be confused when the provided link suggests giving to Typhoon Yolanda relief. These storms are one and the same (Haiyan is the Japanese name, Yolanda the Philippine).

oxfamOxfam is one of the most powerful and reputable non-government charity organizations, and is typically a good bet if you want to make sure your money is used appropriately.

logo

Medecins Sans Frontieres, known in the US as Doctors Without Borders, tends to be more upfront about the fact that your donation dollars sometimes go to help all sorts of projects, not just the ones that prompted you to donate in the first place, but their missions of providing medical treatment to those who can’t afford it is always in demand and always worth donating to.

crs

Catholic Relief Services is focusing on providing clean water,  temporary housing, and other basic needs to displaced refugees.

worldvision

Another religious-based organization, World Vision‘s efforts have gone toward food and clean water, focusing primarily on families with children. It has established a separate fund just for typhoon relief.

Saving_Lives_WFP

As the name implies, the World Food Program, run by the UN, focuses on providing food to those in most need of it. They also work to keep the basic communication and transportation infrastructure operational, so resources can get where they need to go.

americares

Americares has sent $1.4 million in medical supplies and care to the Philippines so far. That number sounds impressive, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed.

mercy_corps_logo_detail

Another incredibly easy-to-donate-to organization, Mercy Corps provides a variety of humanitarian services and is very upfront about how it spends its money.

hfh

Habitat for Humanity is focusing its efforts on literal rebuilding. The donations it collects go toward providing tools and assistance to piece back together the homes Haiyan took away.

Warhol-Campbell_Soup

OK, this last one isn’t so much an organization, but you should really make sure you give cash, not canned goods or other resources you’ve collected. Charity organizations are very good at stretching every dollar as far as possible. Canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup isn’t quite as flexible. Let the charity organizations decide the best use of your money.

Of course, there are many, many more options available that aren’t listed here. Just be sure to always take special precautions to make sure you’re not donating to any scams. Awful as it sounds, they do exist, preying on the generosity of others.

Posted by Reddit user snerro

Posted by Reddit user snerro

A thread on Reddit with the above image kicked off an interesting discussion by teachers and students on the value of memorization in education. As often happens with stuff we find on Reddit, we carried the discussion back into the office, and not all of us were on the same page. Here’s what we thought:

Gavin

I’m a big promoter of practical testing. I don’t think ‘multiple guess’ tests really show anyone what you know or how well you can apply that knowledge, but mostly if you are a good test taker or not. Out in the real world you are rewarded for your ability to problem solve and find the answers, rather than knowing an answer from memory. Furthermore I am also a fan of portfolios vs. test scores to showcase one’s knowledge and achievements. I would say I strongly agree with the puffin.

Jesse

While having an open book test could encourage resourcefulness, you still have to know, roughly, where in your notes or text the answer can be found.  To me, it sounds like you’re taking the risk of spending more time on the back end, during the physical test, than on the front end by actually knowing and understanding the material. If I’m having open heart surgery do I want my surgeon to have an anatomy chart open on the table while he’s cutting me open? Or how much time does it waste when your cashier has to look up each and every code of every item you purchase? I’ll take my chances on a med student that’s been forced to memorize everything or general edu student that’s taken the time and effort to memorize their class materials over someone who hasn’t.

Justin

I’m not a fan of standardized testing as I don’t believe it accurately reflects one’s intelligence. People in the real world are allowed to use their resources, pool their knowledge with others, collaborate and problem solve to come to a conclusion. I think the meme is accurate in that memorization is not education; memorization is just one of many tools that you have. One’s score or overall intelligence shouldn’t be solely tied to that.

Holly

Textbooks can be a convoluted mess. I always thought that I would do a better job on a test if it was open book, but I spent so much time searching for answers that I would skirt the line of completing a test on time. Cramming for a test only helped me to take tests faster. Memorizing enough information to answer correctly or with an educated guess always proved successful for me, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I disagree with the advice puffin. Yes, it’s true that in real life you have an opportunity to ask someone for help. But it’s also important to have a base knowledge in place.

Chris

I don’t think this issue is as much about the merits of memorization as it is about whether or not a test is well-designed. The point of a test is to apply knowledge, sure, but writing a persuasive essay, making an educated guess, and solving for X are all different valid ways to apply knowledge. That variety is important, since each type of test exercises a different skill set. I wouldn’t ever argue that all tests should be open book, but I think they get too needlessly stressful when they’re designed in a way that tries both your ability to recall and your ability to apply, like an art history final where you need to remember exact spelling for Islamic art and artists. (This one happened to me, extra ridiculousness points because those names and terms were transliterated from Arabic anyway.)

What do you think?

readingbabyThere’s a problem that always seems to be at the root of the debate over education policy: When do we standardize and when do we personalize? If we don’t standardize enough, there’s no guarantee that everyone will receive the same opportunities and the same basic education. If we don’t personalize enough, we can ignore some really basic common sense in the interest of keeping everything “equal.” This post is about the second problem.

The institution of the Common Core Standards in most states tries to find measurable ways to ensure schools are meeting their state standards. For math, that’s not too hard. You just set the grade you should know your multiplication tables and the grade you should tackle geometry. For reading, things get trickier. That’s where the Lexile system comes into place.

The Lexile system runs the text of a book through an algorithm to assign it a difficulty level, from 0 to 2,000, based on the complexity of the individual words and overall sentence structure. The Cat in the Hat, with its deliberately limited vocabulary, is ranked 260L. The historical/ethical/literary classic Plutarch’s Lives comes in at the significantly more intimidating 1560L.

My knee-jerk reaction is that it’s an incredibly stupid system. Sentence and vocabulary complexity is in no way equal to literary complexity. Otherwise our fourth graders should all be reading For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Road, just because Hemingway and McCarthy like curt, direct language. Sure, a 9-year-old could read a William Carlos Williams poem and comprehend the words, the sentence structure, and the syntax, but no one thinks 9-year-olds should be studying early 20th century poetry.

Now before you panic enough to write an editorial about The Hunger Games outranking The Grapes of Wrath, keep in mind that the Lexile system is just one aspect of the Common Core Standards. Nobody’s taking this as a perfect indicator of the quality and complexity of writing. It’s not incredibly stupid if you just take it with a more than a few grains of salt. A football game isn’t won or lost purely based on the quarterback’s rating, right? It takes a lot of moving parts to make it all work.

But it is managing to trickle into education more and more as a subtle influencer of curriculum standards. That gets to be troublesome when you read articles like this one from The Atlantic, bemoaning the fact that teachers are refusing to assign difficult books. The measure of “difficulty” in the article? The Lexile system. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to quantify language, there is something wrong with thinking that ranking equals value or even grade level.

The effort to consistently challenge students fairly across the board is a noble one. But maybe some things just can’t be quantified.

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