The overarching paradigm that has driven my success in self-study is a meticulous focus on optimization.
If you think about the traditional school environment, many teachers have never taken the actual exams they teach. They also have to teach to a class of 20+ students usually tailored at the median level, meaning that high performing students and weaker students are relatively neglected as teachers seek to do the best for the most people. Additionally, teachers have different views on the extent of exploration around the edges of curriculum they should or shouldn’t do.
All of this compounds and the result is that content delivery in schools is extremely inefficient. I would often find a whole 1 hour lesson that could have been taught in 8 minutes or faster. I would also find teachers spending a ton of time on content in a fashion that was extremely disproportional in nature to the weightings in the final assessments. While “teaching to the test” has its limitation, most students have the primary goal of achieving a strong exam score and a secondary goal of broader extension AND you would assume the student usually is taking the subject in the first place, because they enjoy the subject. All in all, a lot of very complacent teaching takes place under the defense that “teaching for the test” is a sin, when in reality, the teachers are simply not taking the time to optimize their content delivery, often repeating the same things again and again for many years.
The net result of all of the above made me conclude that I should shift the responsibility mentally from the teacher to myself in terms of who drives the content into my mind. If I assume the teacher is the person who is going to do this, I will miss crucial content, I will spend far too long learning basic points and I will be wasting a lot of time. Time is of the essence!
Over several years of developing my self-study framework, I developed many crucial processes, systems and approaches that helped me crack the 10 A Levels and 12 NZQA scholarships I sat, while preparing for applications for 25+ universities all while having an absolute blast!
Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Use an amazing tutor. I had tutors in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, English and Mathematics. I was the top student in my school in most of my subjects so why did I use tutoring? A tutor is not just to help you catch up. A tutor who has mastered the content, crushed the exam and is focused on your personalized tests dramatically optimizes your learning experience. I could learn 140 hours of course content in 40 hours or less with a tutor. A tutor can also focus on your needs i.e. my goal was to be Top in the World in English Literature and that was exactly what I achieved. If I simply left it to the high school 20+ person classroom environment alone, it would be impossible to get the intensity of specific advice I needed to make this happen. Amazing tutors who have actually sat the exams before have a very strong idea of what is necessary to excel in the test and you can focus on the most important content.
2. Choose subjects which are bliss to learn. I love all the content I study. If you are choosing subjects you are very excited about either because the material interests you or it paves the way for you to enter a career or education trajectory you are excited about, the self-studying process will be a lot easier.
3. Ignore most advice on the matter of self-study from teachers Teachers are incentivized to make sure you “get by” whether that means do reasonably well, get some basic university outcome success without risk. This is totally valid as they each have 100+ students often they are accountable for and if you are doing a lot of extra things and taking on more “risk” in their eyes. The reality is the teachers at schools have never tried to self-study a lot of subjects, nor are they aware of the massive benefit the process can have for overseas university admissions or even your personal development (if taking the subjects means a lot to you!). If I listened to all my teachers, I would have taken far less subjects, not gotten into Harvard and many of the other schools I applied for and have less knowledge today. Be critical with what advice you listen to. Ask me or one of our self-study gurus at Crimson.
4. The busiest students often do the best! When you are pressed for time because you have a lot of engagements, subjects and things you need to do, you force yourself to be the most efficient and the barrage of deadlines usually helps you dramatically reduce procrastination because you frankly don’t have the spare time. Many students underestimate what they can handle because they are so used to studying and learning taking so many excessive hours because of their inefficiency, lack of tutoring and conformity to the status quo.
5. English/Argumentation as the gateway. I focused intensively on mastering English and became very strong at constructing fast analytical arguments across English Literature, Language, Debating and Model UN. This foundation gave me massive leverage and enabled me to take subjects like Geography, Physical Education, Media Studies, Thinking Skills, Global Perspectives etc and crush them because they all revolved around the same skill set of assessing information and constructing a thoughtful analysis or perspective around it.
Hope that helps! Email me at email@example.com with your specific situation if you like.