Tracking my way to a 28AA and obsessing with "why?"

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I believe that scores like this are achievable by anyone with the right studying approach. Mine was an approach centered around tracking my progress, improvements, and errors. I also developed an obsession with learning WHY things are a certain way. My aim was always to gain an intuitive understanding so things just become obvious. It is not easy but I find it a lot less stressful that to try to cram things into your memory by rote memorization. Hopefully, if you do things this way, you may even enjoy learning.

Finally, I want to emphasize I am no genius. I had a 3.2 by my second semester. But it climbed after adopting a philosophy based on understanding. I suppose studying engineering will do that to you. Memorizing equations will do you no good if you can't apply them. And to apply them, you need to know how and why an equation is used in a certain way. Derivations of these equations from governing principles became second nature. All of this demonstrated the importance of arriving at some more complex idea from fundamental concepts. This is why I obsess with asking "Why?"

Study Logging
When learning, the single most important thing you must do is learn from your mistakes. To do that, you need to track your mistakes and improvements. You need to make notes on what mistakes you made, why you made them, and how to avoid them in the future. To do that, I prepared a study log for DAT Destroyer but you can use it for questions you encounter from any source. Here's the structure.

  • 1st Column: Question number and in-depth notes to for myself to think things through at a really deep level.
  • 2nd Column: Not really important but I used it to track my highest "understanding" rank
  • 3rd Column: I use this to categorizevarious questions I want to make not of.
    • "R" means review. It means something I recognize or know but definitely want to review it again.
    • "N" means new material. I need to go back to review it.
    • "C" means confusing. I use this to indicate something that I felt was oddly phrased or something I felt was out of place.
  • 4th Column: This is the topic of the question. I only noted it for questions I categorized. I would not bother putting it down for every question since it would get mess and convoluted to look at.
  • 5th Column: Asterisks * for making marks of things I needed to review while during my current pass through Destroyer. Maybe it's something I wanted to review again but didn't quite merit categorizing. I treat this as temporary marks rather than a long term category.
  • 6-10th Columns: Understanding ranking. I used conditional highlighting for this. 1 means poor understanding or something totally new. 2 means I'm know the material somewhat but am not strong with it. 3 means I've mastered the material. I know the material like the back with my hand, all its nuances, and can mentally reason my way through every single answer choice and can even jump to discussing related topics.
  • Last Column: Quick notes or comments for quick reference.
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Study Philosophy: Obsess with "Why?"
I am NOT encouraging you to brute force memorize Destroyer. Do not think you are guaranteed to do well just because you went through it three times. Rote memorization is a stressful way to learn. Understanding and appreciating the fundamentals behind concepts is a much more pleasant, even enjoyable, experience. It boosts morale to track your improvement.

Always aim for a fundamental understanding of WHY things are a certain way and WHY they aren't another way. It's been 3 months since my test and I still remember a whole lot of content. I chalk this up to the fact that I know WHY things are a certain way so it makes as intuitive sense as 1+1=2. In biology, most everything has a very good reason for being a certain way. Ask yourself how evolution could possibly explain things. WHY, for example, do the bryophytes need moist environments? One of those reasons, I found, was because they have flagellated sperm and how else can they swim around except in moist media? Frequently, I would also do a lot of Googling and research to get detail unnecessary for the DAT because I felt this depth would help me achieve an intuitive understanding.

For organic chemistry, I focused on learning exactly how form relates to function. I would study and compare reaction mechanisms to learn how changes in structure influence reactivity. Eventually, I gained an intuitive understanding and things just make sense purely from a knowledge of periodic properties and structural relationships. In other words, "Why does this particular reactant structure react a certain way?" I strongly encourage you to do the same. Things were hard when I initially thought of organic chemistry as a bunch of reactants to memorize. But once I started learning like this, things just start to make intuitive sense.

When I went through Destroyer, I did so slowly. For each question, I would dwell on it and just think through EVERY single answer choice and even related topics. I was in effect quizzing my own knowledge and understanding. If some question was asking about T lymphocytes, I would think about the answer and work my way through it. Then I would expand my thoughts to all of the functions of T lymphocytes then I expand further to think about all immune cells then about all of immunity. In a sense, I was creating a mental Wiki site where one thing is always linked to many other things. In other words, never learn an idea in isolation. Try to fit it into your existing knowledge.
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