what studying has taught me

After months of study, I took my exam in criminal paralegal studies earlier this week. It will be a couple of weeks before I know my result. The exam date, 20 May, has been effectively tatooed on my brain, one of those dates after which everything could be safely postponed, and before which my panic would rise like a tide. Truly, my thoughts about an impending exam are akin to those of Edgar Allan Poe, on premature burial, except maybe more mournful and morbid.

It has been a long time since I have done any proper studying, the sort of studying that is examined afterwards. So what did I actually learn?
1 obviously I might have learnt a little about criminal law
2 studying took much longer than I had anticipated. The subject is one of those that largely, does not fit into neat boxes, it inter-relates, one topic merging into another. This entailed making the effort to get a fair chunk of it into my head, so that it could make sense. Like driving a car, or being dead, you cannot just be a bit dead, or mostly know how to drive. It is either or. So, quite a few days here and there catching up with my reading, and reading ahead.
3 the source material sucked. The subject is all over the place, with common threads. There are also countless different ways to refer to things. Our textbook had apparently been written quite quickly by a variety of people. It lacked an index or glossary, and was haphazard in using and defining terminology.
4 the lectures were great, particularly once you got a feel for what was useful colour and what was examinable syllabus. However scheduled from 17.00 to 19.00 on a Wednesday evening, I am getting a bit old for those sorts of hours nowadays.
5 it was necessary to plan how I was using my time, continously. For example, I took notes of class lectures, then wrote them up, then checked them against the text book. This was taking too long, and falling behind, so I took time off to catch up. Some work I had to do more quickly just to keep on track.
6 sometimes you need to cut your losses, as the exam neared, it was clear that I was still struggling with some topics, and I was better off aiming to pick up a few extra points on something I found easy, than battling with something I found impenetrable.
7 one approach did not work for everything. There were key facts, that were in my fifty pages notes, and even then extracted into a shorter note. Those just needed to be rote learned. There were also stories and things to understand, that were easier for me to learn, as long as I could find a way of understanding them.
8 my personal learning abilities, are very reliant on me understanding something. If I don't understand something, then I find it incredibly difficult to learn.
9 prioritise and decide on what to study right up to the wire, make decisions on what is the best use of your time. For example a little rote learning, or reading more generally.
10 past papers are your friends, learn to master past papers, but don't rely on getting an carbon copy exam. We certainly did not!

But most of all, I learnt about the sheer wierdness of trying to learn something. Would that you could just pour the knowledge in somewhere. Or run a mental programme that undertook to stick all this knowledge into your head.

Maybe the answer is difficult, because the question is badly framed. Learning is not a single process. It includes different tasks, and actually novelty of approach makes things memorable, routine makes them less so.

Learning is about
rote learning of facts - dates, names,
understanding - knowing how concepts interact with each other, and how you can apply them to problems
weltanschuung - German term for a view of the world - each subject has its own view of the world. This is one of those things that is so big, that you tend not to notice it. You probably won't get told what it is. But in order to pass the exam you need to tap into what the teachers expect you to be able to do, and how they expect you to approach questions. There is no point answering an accountancy question as you might an English question.

For learning as an individual, there are probably a variety of tasks
studying to rote learn.

The more different ways you try and get material into your head, and the more you manipulate it, summarise it, explain it in your own words, the more likely it is to be retained. Hence a chat after class about something, might help it to stick, when reading it in the text book again did not. As above, novelty helps.

It is also important to recognise that some subjects are just infinite. Criminal Law could easily be a four year degree course. We studied it in two months. So we could not know everything, and although there was a slimmed down syllabus for us to study, it was haphazard, and there was no guarantee that it covered everything in the exam. By the end, I just had to accept that I would never master everything in the syllabus, but with application I could know enough to pass.

With luck I will have passed by a decent amount, my target was just to pass, but getting above 60% would be gratifying and above 70% would be fantastic. Professionally it does not make any difference, and actually knowing about the subject is more important, but I suppose I just rise to the competition.