Tag Archives: Reading

Read as if You’re Presenting: A Backdoor Argument for Oral Exams

In my experience, the best way to retain the material you’re reading is to be giving a presentation on said material. That might sound a little odd, but consider it for a moment. If you have to present on a topic, when you’re reading about that topic, you (should be) reading just a little bit closer and maybe a little bit harder such that when you’re up in front of a crowd, you’ll be more inclined to remember what you read.

It turns out, this anecdotal experience has been studied:

A recent study in the journal Memory & Cognition showed the effect that reading with intention and purpose can have. Two groups were given the same material to read—one was told they’d have a test at the end, while the others were told they’d have to teach someone the material.

In the end, both groups were given the same test. Surprisingly, the group that was told they’d have to teach the material (rather than be tested on it) performed much better:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

Having a clear question in mind or a topic you’re focusing on can make all the difference in helping you to remember and recall information.

Intuitively, this should make sense. When some folks read “for the test,” they’re not necessarily reading with the intention that they’re going to remember the information after the test. Put differently, they’re almost always not reading the material for an oral exam. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

In that post, I was suggesting that there be a rebalance from written exams to oral exams — in part — because in my experience, there’s a deficit in the oratory skills of students in university. Even if we ignore the epidemic of fear of public speaking, most students don’t get nearly as much time practicing their oratory skills as they do their writing skills.

As luck (?) would have it, should there be this shift from written exams to oral exams, not only would the education system be strengthening people’s ability to communicate, but there would also be an effect in having people better remember some of the things that they’re learning.

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To be honest, when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea that I was going to be strengthening my argument for having more oral exams in university and that’s — in part — one of the arguments from the article I initially referenced:

Association is a peg upon which you hang a new idea, fact, or figure. When you know where the peg is located, it’s a lot easier to find what you’ve hung upon it. As you read and come across new ideas and thoughts, you’ll want to connect and associate these with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new. There are many different ways to create associations in your mind, from pairing new thoughts with familiar objects, to creating acronyms.

So, next time you sit down to read your saved article on Pocket, catch up on a book on your Kindle, or read the Sunday Times, consider that the best way to retain some of the things you’re about to read might be if you were to pretend you were going to be giving a presentation on the material.

Should We Be Reading Instead of Binge-Watching?

If you’ll recall from yesterday’s post, humans are wired for binge-watching. I wonder — are we spending too much time “vegging out” binge-watching when we’d be better off reading?

The map above comes from a post from Gizmodo earlier this month. It might be a bit hard to read the numbers, but it shows the average amount of time spent by each country reading. India comes out on top reading, on average, 10 hours and 42 minutes per week. The US, by comparison, reads a little more than half as much as India at 5 hours and and 42 minutes per week. Canada’s not much better at 5 hours and 48 minutes.

I wonder if this data is affected by the availability of TV or maybe more specifically, the cultural availability of TV. Let me explain: in countries like the US, watching TV isn’t just something that’s an option when you’re trying to figure out what to do when you come home from work or school, it’s the norm. People have whole rooms dedicated for just TV watching. I’d suspect that this isn’t the case in other parts of the world where space is a premium. If I think about a country like India where 4 times as many people than there are in the US, I wonder if going off and reading a book somewhere might be a more desirable activity than trying to watch TV with 4, 5, or 6 other people. In the US, there’s the joke about who gets to have the TV controller — the husband or the wife. I wonder what the equivalency would be when you’re fighting for the controller with 2 aunts and uncles, along with your cousins.

Regardless, as I alluded to in the second sentence, North Americans might be better off taking after the rest of the world by burying their heads in a good book. Or, maybe it’s time to hit the gym.

What Do You Do When You’re THAT Much Better Than The Competition?

The Miami Heat have won the last two NBA championships and they’ve been to the finals for the last three years (losing in Game 7 of the finals before winning back-to-back championships). So far this year, they’re one of two teams in the Eastern Conference (as of this writing) to have a winning record. The other team being the Indiana Pacers, whom many think will challenge the Heat for the best team in the Eastern Conference this season. If we take a peek at the Western Conference, we see that there are quite a few more teams with winning records. In fact, there are five times as many winning teams in the West than in the East.

I’m not here to talk about the parity in the NBA conferences, even though it’s clear that there is, but instead, about the Heat and their competition. That is, they’ll play most of their games against the Eastern conference, of which there are only two teams with winning records. Given that the Heat have been an elite team for the last three years, it’s not surprising that a they’d have to resort to “games within games” to stay focused.

After reading that article on SB Nation, I thought to myself how difficult it must be for the Miami Heat coach (Erik Spoelstra) to keep his players focused, not only as each season wears on, but as each game wears on and each quarter wears on. The Heat have played 23 games so far this season and have won 17 of them. While they’re not in first place in the conference (that title belongs to the other winning team in the East, the Pacers), they’re well above the 3rd place team in the conference. For a team that plays that much better than its opponents on a nightly basis, one can see how it might be easy for the players to lose focus. Heck, it’s possible that a few of those six losses came as a result of the team losing focus after having outplayed the other team through the first few quarters of the game.

The reason I’ve raised this issue is because I was thinking about the success of a “games within games” strategy. For instance, let’s say that the “game inside the game” for today’s game is that we’re going to try to get the ball to the guy down low. That is, the strategy is to beat this team by using a certain player in a certain way. I wonder what happens when it gets down to near the end of the game and the score is close — do you abandon that strategy? And if you do, how do you get the players who hadn’t been as involved ready to go now that it’s the key time in the game?

A games within games strategy can be successful, but I worry at what cost.

This also reminds me of one of the chapters in Michael Sandel’s book that we reviewed about 6 months ago — the idea of fines and fees. In particular, the idea that parents pay their kids to read. By doing so, parents are incentivizing a certain behaviour. The worry, from some, is that by paying their kids to read, the kids will no longer derive the same joy out of reading if there’s no incentive involved. If we apply that to this situation, I wonder if the strategy of using the one player in that one game might pervert the incentives for the team. And not just in that game, but over the long haul. Maybe the players don’t then have the same incentives as before when there aren’t games within games.

Of course, I’m not an NBA basketball coach (or even a high school basketball coach), but I think it’s still an idea worth considering.

Why I’m Reading the Classics and You Should, Too

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from Arianna Huffington from one of the sites that I often frequent: Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The tweet was a quote that came from one of the posts that Eric Barker (the author of the site) wrote:

Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world — while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets and other incessant interruptions.

I don’t know about you, but that was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I do my best to stay current with a number of twitter lists (not so much with the texts because I don’t currently use a cell phone). I didn’t realize how exhausting it can be trying to keep up with everything. I don’t know if you noticed, but two days ago ended a streak of 111 straight days of me writing a post for this site. That’s nothing compared to the 5000 that Seth Godin has written (though I don’t know if his were consecutive). In fact, yesterday was the first day in quite a long time that I didn’t tweet anything or post anything to Facebook. Even when I’ve got nothing to share to Facebook, I usually have posted a quote of the day and a picture of some sort. And Twitter, I’ve almost always got a tweet scheduled for a time when I know I won’t be near the computer. Not yesterday. Nothing. No posts. Nada. As I mentioned in one of my last few tweets, I was trying to take my own advice and rest.

In this restful time, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the same kind of relationship I have had with the online world. Yes, I’ve learned a great deal about a number of different topics from the way I’ve interacted with the internet, but I think it’s time to transition. Seeing Eric Barker’s quote also reminded me of someone else who shares a similar ideal: Shane Parrish.

Parrish is the author of Farnam Street and as you’ll see from glancing at his reading list, he reads — a lot. According to Parrish, the question he gets asked the most often is where he finds the time to read. Here’s part of his answer:

Where do I find the time?

Let’s look at this another way. Rather than say what I do, I’ll tell you what I don’t do.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season where I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

These choices are deliberate. I don’t even have cable TV. I watch NFL through gamepass, which also saves time (if you don’t watch games live you can watch the full game in under 30 minutes).

I live downtown; I can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.

If you presume that the average person spends 3-4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2-3 hours a week shopping, that’s 25 hours a week on the low end.

25 hours. That’s 1,500 minutes. That’s huge. If you read a page a minute, that’s 1,500 pages a week.

Eye-opening, eh?

With this newfound energy for introducing a healthy diet of reading books, what are the best books to read? Should I read the recent best-sellers, the classics, or some combination of both? It turns out, Parrish also answered this question in a post in August:

If something is still ‘in print’ today and it’s been around for a long time, we can assume there is a reason. The most likely reason is that there is something useful to the book. We can further assume that whatever is useful in the book will continue to be useful in the future.

If it’s useful in the past, useful now, and likely useful in the future, there is an argument to be made that we’re probably dealing with something simple – the basics. Anything fragile gets weeded out by time. … so you’re at least dealing with robust ideas … This is something we should be reading to maximize ROI for reading.

This isn’t perfect, of course. But it seems like a decent heuristic.

Most of what’s new and best-selling today will expire rapidly. If you’re reading things that ‘expire’, you get trapped into a Red Queen situation; you’re running faster and faster but staying in the same place. Or in this case you’re reading more and more but not getting much smarter.

You read more and more of the new stuff (e.g., best-sellers) but your knowledge doesn’t improve because you’re learning things with expiry dates … (narratives, studies based on small samples, or something that’s niche and specialized). When reading anything recent, it’s hard to distinguish if what you’re reading is fragile or not. And the base rate for fragility would be huge – almost everything printed today will prove to be fragile.

(The niche and specialized will improve your knowledge, for sure, but only within one particular domain, it won’t increase your broad based worldly wisdom. So these are useful but possibly not in the sense of maximizing knowledge accumulation. And you’d want to think about half-life of knowledge here too.)

Basic knowledge and ideas, however, don’t expire, which is why reading something like Seneca gets you out of the red queen. You learn more, you learn simple ideas, and those ideas don’t change over time so your knowledge actually increases.

So there you have it. A compelling case for reading the classics. I’m still planning on writing posts here on a variety of topics, but they may not be as frequent as they were before. Some will be of a more academic flavour, as I was just accepted by Research Blogging, some will continue in the same fashion as providing a new perspective, some will be observations, and some will be new ideas.

Women Read More Fiction: Is That Why They’re More Empathic?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a rather informative tweet:

 

When I first saw that, I was a bit surprised. Statistics tells us that for every 100 females born, there are 105 males born. So, there should be more boys than girls and as a result, we might expect that more boys would be reading than girls. Of course, there are so many other factors involved, but from a volume standpoint, I’d think that more boys would read than girls. I thought I’d click-through and read the report, but it’s behind a wee bit of a paywall to the tune of $799. As a result, I won’t be able to (maybe you or someone you know can?) read over the statistics. Nonetheless, I had a different direction I’d like to take this post. Empathy.

I’ve written before about how reading fiction can boost empathy. This very important human skill needs to be cultivated and one of the ways to do that is to read fiction. In addition, we all know the ‘stereotype’ that women are more empathetic than men. However, when there’s data to back it up, I suppose that it’s not so much a ‘stereotype’ as a likelihood. So, in putting these pieces together, my thought was that maybe this empathy gap has grown because women are more likely to read fiction than men. Sounds plausible, right?

In doing research for this post, I came across something from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. That post was talking about whether women’s empathy is the result of nature or nurture. It cited a few studies supporting both sides of the debate. I wonder if we could then add the data point of women reading more fiction to the nurture side… or the nature side? Nature side, you ask confused? Well, in saying that women read more fiction leading to greater empathy, we’d have to test whether women reading more fiction leads to a greater empathy or if women having greater empathy prefer to read. If you know anyone doing empathy research, this might be an interesting study.

Chapter 1 – When is it OK to Jump the Line: What Money Can[‘t] Buy, Part 1

I recently read a post from somewhere (I want to say that it was Farnam Street or Barking Up The Wrong Tree, but I’m not sure), that talked about “how” to read. That is, the essential point was that most of us don’t remember most of the things that we read. Instead, we read them and forget about them. To rectify this, the research shows that we need to engage with each chapter to really register the material with our memory. So, I thought what better way to experiment with this than to start a new series!

One of the books that I’ve started reading: What Money Can’t Buy. I already wrote something a few weeks ago about a passage from the introduction. Let’s call that the prelude or maybe the foreword? Today, however, I’m going to share thoughts on Chapter 1. In the coming weeks/(months?) I’ll share thoughts on the remaining chapters when I finish reading them.

The first chapter was all about jumping the queue. When is it fair to jump the line? Is budding never fair? There were some intriguing examples put forth about some people who purchase the services of people who are ‘handicapped’ to be their tour guide when they go to amusement parks, so that they can head straight to the front of the line. Is that ethical?

What about those towns/counties/states that allow cars to purchase stickers that permit them to drive in the carpool lane even though they’re driving solo? Is that ethical? How about doctors that sell their services to the highest bidder?

The first chapter was a good introduction to differences between markets and queues. I don’t know that I have anything profound to say about the first chapter, but some examples sure made me think about what I thought was right and wrong and what other people might think is right and wrong. It reminded me of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. I wondered how people who were at different stages might react differently to the perceived injustices.

If I had to summarize chapter 1, it’d be that some “goods” are better suited for markets and others are better suited for queues. Though, I don’t know that it’s easy to tell the difference. That seems to depend on the person and the person’s philosophical bent. I presume that in future chapters, Sandel might help guide us to a solution.

What Money Can[‘t] Buy – Everything and Nothing

Now that the semester has concluded, I can get to some of the reading that I have put off for some time. One of the books I’ve been excited to read for a while, but wanted to wait until I had time to chew over the issues discussed is a book by Professor Michael Sandel: What Money Can’t Buy. I’ve previously talked about how much I enjoyed Prof. Sandel’s online course “Justice.” This is part of the reason I was excited to read his latest book. I just picked it up from the library yesterday and have already zoomed through the introduction. Here’s an excerpt that I thought was particularly on point for the subject:

If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to buy yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would not matter very much. But as money comes to buy more and more — political influence, good medical care, a home in a safe neighborhood rather than a crime-ridden one, access to elite schools rather than failing ones — the distribution of income and wealth looms larger and larger. Where all good things are bought and sold, having money makes all the difference in the world. (p. 8).

There are certainly going to be other passages that I’ll want to talk about, so look for other posts on this book in the coming weeks/months.