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How to be better than your professor

Do you want to be better than your professor in class? Well, it’s difficult to be better than someone who has put in many years in the field and who has encountered every debate and critique available in the field.

So actually what we are going to learn today is how you can be better prepared than your professor before you go to any class. Even this is difficult. But if you can’t be better prepared, you can be as prepared as your teacher.

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This is doable. I’ve done it. And you can do it too; because I’m going to show you a simple way to achieve this seemingly impossible task.

There are obvious benefits of this technique. You will be more active in class. You’re no longer going to be overwhelmed, going to class should be fun and you will truly gain mastery of your subject.

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Let me just tell you how I implemented this technique when I was a student. So that it easier for you to learn and you can just do as I did.

Before  class, I went to the departmental or the general library to read the books and thoughts of five to ten authorities on the topic. That was the first step.

The next step was to note down at least one sentence summary of their conclusions on the topic. If you like you can stop here. This is enough for you to go to class. Although you may not be as prepared as your teacher at this stage, you can be better than almost all your class mates. Ask yourself how many students will learn from ten experts on one topic before they go to class.

If you have time however, you can implement the third step. Here you arrange the thoughts of the these authors according to their agreements and disagreements and then state your own opinion.

Here’s a simple template you can use:

“Since the beginning of the century, there has been a controversy over topic X. Authors A, B and C agree with the theory that blah blah blah. While experts D, E, F have expressed strong opposition against this concept, believing instead in blah blah blah. My own opinion is that…”

That is it! That is step three. Isn’t it simple?

Sometimes I only made a mental note of steps one and two, but I strongly encourage you to write something down. Our memories are not created equal.

Let’s see an example of the implementation of this template:

“For centuries now, there has been a controversy about the nature of economic theory – especially about the strength of its two work horses: equilibrium and the assumption that humans are rational beings.   Dan Ariely, Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler have all kicked against this assumptions and instead believe in, as Thaler said, “economics done with strong injections of good psychology.”

“Others however balk at the alleged brazen assault on the classical economics by behavioral economists. Foundation for Economic Education for instance, doesn’t share that enthusiasm; and David Gal simply dismissed behavior economics’ popularity as a triumph of marketing.

“It is my opinion however that you cannot dismiss the ideas of behavioral economics. The most recent validation of the field was the Nobel Prize in economics that was given to Richard Thaler, one of the founders of behavioral economics. This is to say nothing of the same prize received by another founder of the field, Daniel Kahneman.”

It is as simple as that.

Yet, some students may argue that they don’t have rich libraries from which to read books on every subject. To them I’ve good news: YouTube. YouTube has become a search engine, a library and a knowledge forum rolled into one giant showcase.

There is a video of whatever you want to learn on YouTube – from the mundane to the choicest of topics. Therefore, not having libraries is a good problem to have in this day and age.

So, before you go to class, go to YouTube and watch 10 videos on the topic. Here you have to use your discretion because not all the so-called experts are experts. Also, some videos are short – about only a couple of minutes and others are more than an hour long. So consume according to the time available to you.

The three steps above are enough to be better prepared than most of the people you will share a class with – including some professors.

If you still have time however, you can use the fourth step which is more powerful than the foregoing steps. It was the secret weapon I used in school. Indeed, you can employ it as a stand-alone technique if you don’t have time.

Here’s what to do: take whatever topic you have and go to Scholar.google.com and type the topic plus the word critique.

For example, if the topic is emotional intelligence, you would type “emotional intelligence + critique” without the quotes.

Google Scholar is a place you can easily access academic papers from around the world which means you’re likely to find a critique of any idea or concept there.

For instance after searching the above keywords, I discovered four robust critique of emotional intelligence. And the good thing about critiques is that they include all the arguments. Therefore you will know the strengths and weaknesses of all sides of the debate.

Following the above four steps is a fun way to get prepared for every class and an easy way to overcome the usual overwhelm. Because of this strategy alone, some of my professors asked my opinion on most topics they were teaching: “Ibraheem,” they would say, “what do you think?”

Now you have the same powers.

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