Go for an A or a 100? I had entered my first semester in the seminary, wondering if I have enough smarts for my pre-theology classes. I have been an overachiever and always sought perfection. Many friends encouraged me. But still, I doubted.
Father Tom had reminded my fellow postulants and me that the grade isn’t the most important. It’s whether we understand the material. One insight during my August retreat and days of reflection is that I will learn from all this philosophy and theology classes so I can build the skills to help others. But that “A” looks so good on a test.
Early semester trap
The first few weeks in the semester could lull a seminarian into thinking that this would be easy. I fell into that trap. The professors are taking it easy on the students with the assignments. Then came the quizzes and tougher assignments. If you’re unprepared, here was a rude awakening. Mine didn’t come yet. I managed to ace my first Spanish quiz. But I was unsatisfied with how I was studying the material.
A good way to learn a language is using flash cards. I didn’t like flash cards when I was younger because of the hassle of writing them and handling all those cards. Leland, a fellow postulant, suggested Anki, an online flash card system. The electronic cards were a huge help. I can access them on my phone and on my computer. I don’t have to mess around with a stack of cards. I studied Spanish every day with them.
Midterms punched me in the face. I studied for them with the class handouts and my own study sheets. In the philosophy midterm, I ran into an essay question on Aristotle. I remembered only half the answer. I spent most of the exam time trying to reconstruct that missing answer. I looked after my study sheet after the test. I found that the answer was there. In the logic exam, I missed an entire section. I didn’t realize my oversight until dinnertime when that section was mentioned. I spent nights tossing in bed that I bombed both midterms.
The logic exam came back first. Despite missing a section, I received a 90. The philosophy exam had a grade of 91. The professor didn’t mark why the grade was so. But I was relieved that I hadn’t received lower grades.
Reflecting on the results, I was wondering why I aced Spanish and struggled with everything else. The only difference was that I had used flash cards only for Spanish. I decided that for the finals, I would build flash cards for each class.
A few weeks before finals, I started building my flash cards. Every class was easy to build except for philosophy. I expected the same format as the midterm (short answers and essays). But I couldn’t unravel all ideas in practical philosophy. I turned to Leland for help to map out the threads of thought. He invited Joel, another postulant and classmate, to the study session. In the study session, Leland asked questions and mapped out the ideas. Leland captured the bird’s-eye view on the topics. From those sessions, I created my flash cards.
I went into finals week more confident than for midterms. Each successive final took more time and writing. But I wasn’t stumped as I was before. When I completed my philosophy, I was relieved to have the semester behind me.
In my reflections, the flash cards are only as good as the information put into them. There were a few terms and definitions that I had overlooked. But those cards helped me remember.
- Flash cards are lifesavers.
- It’s good to study alone. But group study can unravel interconnected and complex ideas.
- I’m in the seminary to help people, not become a professional student.
Will I still strive for that A and 100? Yes, but I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this because God wants me to help others. This is the way he has pointed out to me.