William: What Have I Learned During the Five-month Application Season?



Class of 2022, University of Oxford

The application season is a precious period in high school life. Its function is to transform a high school student into a college student in all aspects. We will gain a lot of things during that period. From the summer vacation in July to the end of the application season in November, I learned a lot, which greatly influenced my later study and life. Sometimes I think that maybe the results don’t matter. The effect of the process is permanent. I hope you can gain something of your own  from what I have gained in the past five months. I also wish you can keep your application season fresh and fruitful.

Learn some shortcut keys:

1. Studying for a long time is not effective and can cause stress. What we call six hours at a desk is about half the time wasted in inefficient study. When we do something that requires a bit of brain, it’s easy for our attention and mind to start to wander after an hour or two. If we continue to do this, we are moving ourselves.

The good news is that this bad problem is easy to fix. After two hours or so of studying, 10 minutes of completely mindless activity can restore much of your focus. Reading books, watching short videos and engaging in nourishing conversations are not good choices. It is better to engage in unnourishing conversations, stare into space or take a nap.

The even better news is that the amount of intense focus can be gradually increased with exercise, finding your exhaustion point, and slowly increasing the amount of time.

2. Learning something new or reviewing something old starts with a blank sheet of paper. We like to take notes when we study, and we like to look at them when we review. But this way of learning is not healthy, but people still enjoy it. Because taking notes and looking at notes creates the illusion that I’ve got it, I can do it. But if you confiscate your notes and then ask to write them down by your self, your mind will go blank and it will be overwhelming. Therefore, a slightly more correct way to learn is to start from a blank sheet of paper, start from a certain concept, write down all the knowledge related to it, and keep supplementing, expanding, and even constantly meeting and overlapping, until finally to check the notes and make up for the gaps. The only downside of this approach is that it’s a very high psychological hurdle, and we can’t accept the fact that we haven’t learned anything, that we haven’t remembered anything, that we can’t face the blank space in our minds. But the benefits of this approach are even greater. In addition to understanding something more deeply, learning something more deeply, we are imaginative about the expansion of our knowledge, arousing curiosity, and opening up unknown areas related to it. It’s easy to shut yourself down when you’re learning physics by putting out a family tree like this, but it’s very useful, you can touch the fuzzy boundaries that you wouldn’t normally touch.

3. Learning Physics (and possibly other subjects) starting with the simplest and most familiar concepts. During application season, I study a lot of physics, but did not rely on any competition, test outline, just purely study physics from middle school, high school, university, whatever. I found that sometimes the most difficult concepts to understand were those I thought I was most familiar with in junior high school, but they were full of flaws and contradictions. Those are the things we get used to, but don’t understand, and don’t really think about the contradictions. The application season gave me five months of free play. And such loophole analysis method of the most basic physics concepts turned out to be an unexpected weapon (the interview asked some of these types of questions to deliberately trick people and make us think).

4. Be clear about the purpose of brushing and when to use it. If it is to pass an exam or mechanical testing, of course, is the best choice. But when it comes to serious study, brushing questions is the worst option. Although brushing questions can increase the application of certain knowledge points, if I only rely on brushing physics questions rather than independent thinking to learn physics, it is inevitable to be restricted by the examination questions, and will suffer from brushing questions dependence. Of course, it may be possible to solve the mechanical exam without brushing up on the concepts (as long as the purpose is not the perfect score kind). I took the risk that I could not pass my conditional offer in the A2 international exam to do the experiment. Finally, we can see what the experiment result is like.

5. Play is an important part of learning. Whether we view learning as pleasure or pain, play is a legitimate part of learning. Here we define play as something that relaxes us. For happy learners, learning and reading are part of play. For those who find studying more or less exhausting, having fun after study can eliminate discomfort and fatigue and greatly improve the efficiency of learning. Half a day of play and half a day of study is usually a very reasonable combination. There are also many difficulties in learning to play, like being unable to face their own nature of entertainment or grasp the degree of play. In fact, if you can correctly face your own needs to play, give yourself enough time to play, it is difficult to appear to lose control of the situation of playing, although it seems unlikely, but they are connected by some power.

Truth that may not be universal:
  1. Before doing a challenging task, you may be better to blindly draw conclusions and make so-called perfect plans later. Do the research first so that you have a full understanding of the whole thing. For things like preparing an application, gathering information, knowing your level, knowing the difficulty of the goal, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and making the plan specific in combination with yourself will make the whole application easy and convenient. It will also relieve pressure. After all, you know what you are doing all the time. The next thing is to believe in yourself. The process of implementing the plan is long and painful, and it is difficult to stick to it if you cannot firmly believe in your own judgment.
  2. Don’t define yourself firmly. Under normal circumstances, we will inevitably have to compare with others and set their own level, even to their ability to learn and make a lifelong judgment. But this self-positioning will limit one’s imagination of oneself, it is difficult to accept the big leap will happen to oneself, it is difficult to jump to the so-called high positioning. I was fortunate not to have competed or participated in many activities, so I had absolutely no idea what level I was at in school or in many applicants. During the application season, I was lucky enough not to be overwhelmed by any anxiety. I didn’t feel inferior or better than anyone. I only focused on whether I learned something new and how I handled the challenges. Although it may sound a bit closed minded, it actually means to forget limitations and truly be myself.
  3. A friend once criticized me severely. When I feel lost, that means I read too little and think too much. I think it’s absolutely true that thinking is sometimes bad, or that thinking alone doesn’t always lead to good results without reading. As individuals, we tend to question and think about the so-called real world. Usually, these questions are extremely difficult and inconclusive. If we are not looking for the pleasure of thinking in the fog, we can just go to the thinkers of the past to communicate, stand on their shoulders to find what we believe, regain the common sense and reason of life. In spite of conflicting, fighting or confuting of critical thoughts, we can take some comfort in the fact that we make choices, that we cling to, that we are independent of one another. Gaining real comfort in this world of nothingness.

Conclusion: Some of the above will last a lifetime, but some will last only in high school. Constant change is a funny thing and also a hard thing to get bored with, and hopefully we can all be dialectical about it.