One trend that any attentive CEGEP student will surely notice, and which is somewhat contrary to what one might expect, is that students’ R-Scores mostly stay within the same range from semester to semester. Yes, there are some exceptions, such as people who either start taking their studies seriously later on and see their marks increase dramatically, or the opposite, a severe drop in effort. However, in most cases, a student who seemed highly motivated to achieve high marks will get a disappointing 31 R-Score in their first semester and only a 32 in the second, while a student who studies at the last minute and managed to “get lucky” with a 34 R-Score in his first semester will get a 33.8 in the second. Conversely, it is extremely rare that someone who put in a decent amount of effort during their first semester and achieved a 31 will then get a 38 in their second semester, even if they decided to go crazy with the amount of time they invest.
This raises an interesting question: could each student’s R-Score be somewhat “pre-determined”, based on their personality, abilities and intended time investment? The above observation suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly after careful reflexion, that time investment, or effort, is only one of many factors that influence a student’s R-Score, some of which are hard, perhaps impossible, to change. Here is an educated guess at what those factors might be:
- Academic skill
- Systemic advantage
While recent studies make clear that intelligence and academic success are only partially correlated, the former is clearly a limiting factor for the latter. It is not particularly bold to state that some students are just not bright enough to gain the deep understanding of material required to achieve high enough grades to get into a medicine program. While notions taught in CEGEP are usually not very difficult, the advantage to being more intelligent is manifested by the time it takes to learn them. If a high-achieving student is able to learn a concept thoroughly in an hour, while another struggles to learn it in 2 and a half hours, it is nearly guaranteed that the former will have more academic success regardless of the amount of time each of them puts in.
Intelligence, in the context of the parts which are necessary for academic success, is dizzyingly complex and is beyond the scope of this article. Other elements such as fact retention also have a huge impact, and intelligence is also correlated with the academic skill and systemic advantage described below. It is, needless to say, not something the average student can control, but it would be foolish to deny its effect on that student’s R-Score, from the second he walks into the classroom.
As was described in the introduction, effort is most often thought to be most correlated with R-Score, and thus one where students invest most of their energy, up to a point where it become inefficient. Uncontrolled effort will often yield minor results; the key is using your academic skill to focus it on specific, high-yield points that will produce the best results towards your R-Score. Simple example:
Alex wants to have a higher R-Score to get into law, so he decides to study everyday, for the whole semester, and have no social life. He reads the PowerPoints and textbook before every class, during class and after every class. He takes notes of everything the teacher says, and reads them over and over again, hoping it will stick once exams come. By the second month, he is already burned out mentally and cuts the amount of time spent reading his notes (the only way he knows how to study). His grades fall, he becomes depressed and even more burned out, and this fuels a vicious cycle of hatred for school and depression over his future.
Ben also wants to get into law, but, knowing he learns better by himself than with a teacher, decides to stop going to most lectures, showing up only for quizzes. Instead of going to class, he goes to the library, reads the textbook/PowerPoint, does a few exercises, and is done learning in half the time. Instead of using Alex’s notes, he creates flashcards and studies from them while commuting to school. The rest of the time, Ben is either working at his part-time job or hanging out in the student lounge with his friends. With a balanced lifestyle, Ben still manages to get a good R-Score, a good CV, and a good time during his years in CEGEP. At the end of CEGEP, Ben is admitted to McGill Law while Alex isn’t, and concedes that the ease around strangers that he developed at his job and when hanging out at school significantly helped him in his interview.
Although rather extreme, this example goes to show that effort and R-Score have no direct correlation; instead, there’s a weak correlation, overshadowed by the other factors.
3. Academic Skill
Academic skill, in simple terms, is the combination of being able to retrospectively analyze a situation to find the ideal pathway, while seeking efficiency by applying the minimum effort for the maximum rewards. In life, you sometimes have to be pragmatic: you have a very limited amount of time, and any time that you further spend on improving something could be better spent on something else.
We refer to academic skill as anything that yields a better performance for the same time investment: for instance, many teachers in CEGEP will allow students to submit an essay draft to them a week before the deadline and will give them feedback on it. As well, some students are better than others at picking up on the style that the teacher likes, and are able to answer prompts better because of that. Yet again, some students are able to build a relationship with their teachers through their personability and positive attitude, and reap dividends because of it, not necessarily through a directly improved grade but through more willing help from the teacher when they need it.
While those previous examples focused on subjective aspects, the principle of academic skill and efficiency also extends to studying more objective subjects. For instance, some students will insist on doing every single practice problem which a teacher assigned for an exam, while others will do less of them, aggressively keep track of the ones they got wrong, and redo them to make sure they never repeat that mistake. While the former set of students might feel like they’re being more responsible (“yeah, Mom, I should be ready for the exam since I did all the problems”), the latter set of students might spend less time studying and yet perform better.
Academic skill is one area which is often thought to be the exclusive dominion of “suck-ups” or “natural straight-A students”. We disagree, and think it is a skill that anybody can learn, and even eventually come up with their own techniques to develop it. In future blog posts, we will aim to propose more ways in which you can skillfully improve your performance through strategic behaviour without putting more effort in.
4. Systemic Advantage
Whereas academic skill starts applying on the first day of class, systemic advantage is the set of conditions that define the academic playing field, and how cleverly you were able to choose them to maximize your performance with the smallest time investment.
For instance, creating an optimal schedule is an example of systemic advantage: when picking their classes, students try to forecast which teachers and time allocations will most benefit them, either through their superior teaching or easier grading. Even the choice of CEGEP, while difficult to make objectively given the limited information available, can grant a systemic advantage or disadvantage: according to the way the R-Score works, the most advantageous CEGEP would be one where all students did excellently in high school, but stopped studying altogether in CEGEP.
We urge you to keep these four factors in mind in order to avoid oversimplifications and thus keep an open mind such that you’ll notice opportunities to improve your performance. We have heard academic performance alternatively reduced to each of the factors on this list: that people who get into med school or top colleges are ridiculously smart, are endlessly hard-working, are very good at knowing what teachers expect, or take the easiest classes. In reality, most will be outstanding at a combination of these, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you can improve in all facets and thus overall rather than just in one.
What we haven’t covered
Due to their personalized nature, some key points related to this article would be best discussed in a one-on-one meeting with you. Those parts include:
- Finding points where to focus your efforts, and which activities where you should decrease your involvement;
- Analyzing and enhance the weaknesses within your academic skills;
- Improving your systemic advantage by choosing the right teachers and schedule. For Marianopolis students, we also offer a schedule registration bot, which will garantee the classes and teachers you want.