Sunday, February 23

At UCLA, slow and steady won’t win the race

In the timeless fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the slow and steady tortoise unexpectedly defeats the overly confident hare in a race.

However, if this story were to unfold at UCLA, the tortoise’s victory would have been a little more dubious. Mr. Tortoise would soon discover that in the competitive environment of UCLA, it is not the slow and steady who win the race, but those who most efficiently allocate their energy.

By the end of their first year at UCLA, most students realize that good grades are not a simple output of effort invested into a class. Instead, it is the efficient allocation of the most limited resource at UCLA: time.

Diana Kao, a second-year ecology and evolutionary biology student, recalls having read the entire book assigned for her “History of Jazz” General Education class when she first arrived at UCLA as a freshman. Although she did well in the class, today she no longer studies in this manner.

“I don’t think it is effective. First, it takes a lot of time, and second, I don’t have that time,” she said.

When she is not studying, the remainder of her time is devoted to the Kappa Delta Pi sorority, Bruins for Animals and a pre-medical society.

Experience has taught Kao to skim and highlight the main points. Finishing all her reading assignments is no longer a priority.

Every fall and winter quarter, UCLA offers Education 92F, a course that seeks to adjust new students to college experiences, both academically and socially.

Bruce Barbee, the director of Academics in the Commons and instructor for the course, introduces students to the notion of the “hidden curriculum.”

According to Barbee, the hidden curriculum is often not explicitly stated in the syllabus, but it is what you really have to know to do well in class.

He also recommends that those who desire to be more effective students discover what type of learners they are, whether they be auditory, visual or kinesthetic.

“If you don’t understand how you learn, you will end up wasting a lot of your time,” Barbee said.

If any lesson is to be gleaned from the recent economic crisis, it should be that not all investments lead to gain. Moreover, poor investments may even lead to a loss ““ recall subprime mortgages.

Similarly, substantial time invested in certain coursework does not ensure the highly sought after A. On the contrary, the significant amount of time reading the dense course reader may be more of a hindrance to getting the desired grade because it takes away the potential time that could be devoted to a paper due this week.

“A lot of times when articles are put in a reader they are put there in its entirety because it is borrowed from another source. But it may not be the intention of the instructor that you know everything about it,” Barbee said.

This leads us to one of the most fundamental concepts of economics: opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a decision is what must be foregone as a result of the decision.

Scarcity of time forces UCLA students to constantly encounter trade-offs in every decision that they make.

Thus the problem with reading the course reader is not only the time that is lost, but also the time that is lost to work on that more urgent paper.

Like Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., UCLA students should consciously invest most of their time into the work that will give them the greatest returns, otherwise they face a potential loss.

Yet adopting leaner study habits does not imply that students are justified in putting minimal effort into all of their studies. To reiterate, the point of studying more efficiently is that it frees up valuable time that can be allocated into more urgent activities with more foreseeable benefits.

When Jason Muse, a fourth-year philosophy and linguistics student, is short on time, he focuses on the things he found more difficult to grasp in class.

Nevertheless, he said that he is aware that cutting corners can be detrimental to developing smart study habits in the long run.

Not all morals found in fables should be accepted as definitive truths. The tortoise won the contest because the lazy hare overestimated his abilities.

In reality, slow and steady will hardly get you far at UCLA, but an efficient strategy may. Successful habits do not lie solely with the slow tortoise or the lazy hare.

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