Student tip: Be more like Marple & Nash

Dec 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It's the end of the fall academic term.  The time when a few students ask...

What can I do to pass this class?

Now is not the time to ask that question.  The time to ask that question is the first day of class, not the last week of class.  And, of course, there are deeper philosophical questions involving the purpose of college, the nature of knowledge - blah, blah.  Let's focus on the "What can I do to pass this class?" question.

There are the standard things.  Go to class. Do all the homework (graded or not). Stick to a study schedule. Go to office hours.  To some students, that might sound like...

Students, here is some advice that (perhaps) you've never heard before...

Be more like Miss Marple and Steve Nash!


Allow me to explain....

Miss Jane Marple doesn’t look like your average detective. Quite frankly, she doesn’t look like a detective at all.  But looks can be deceiving... For a woman who has spent her life in the small village of St Mary Mead, Miss Marple is surprisingly worldly. She has every opportunity to observe human nature – as she often points out, “There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.”

[Miss Marple, official Agatha Christie community website]

What type of  wickedness could possibly occur in Miss Marple's quiet little village of St. Mary Mead?  Well, there was that time Tommy pulled the ol' frog-hidden-in-an-unexpected-place prank.  A prank that helped Miss Marple crack the case of The Body in the Library.

‘Oh yes, I’ve got an explanation,’ said Miss Marple.   ‘Quite a feasible one.  But of course it’s only my own idea.  Tommy Bond,” she continued, “and Mrs. Martin, our new schoolmistress.  She went to wind up the clock and a frog jumped out.”

‘…I got an idea – it seemed, I don’t know why, a good idea at the time – I thought: I’ll put her in old Bantry’s library.  Damned pompous old stick, always looking down his nose, sneering at me as artistic and effeminate.  Serve the pompous old bruit right, I thought.  He’ll look a fool when a dead lovely is found on his hearthrug.’  He added, with a pathetic eagerness to explain: ‘I was a bit drunk, you know at the time.  It really seemed a positively amusing to me.  Old Bantry with a dead blonde.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Little Tommy Bond had very much the same idea.  Rather a sensitive boy with an inferiority complex, he said teacher was always picking on him.  He put a frog in the clock and it jumped out at her.’

‘You were just the same,’ went on Miss Marple, ‘only of course, bodies are more serious matters than frogs.’

[The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie]

Miss Marple looked at new problem and saw parts she knew how to solve.  One part was why and how a body got into the library of her friend's house, which Miss Marple solved by remembering that ol' frog gag.  There are several other parts Miss Marple also solved by applying things she'd learned in St. Mary Mead.  Miss Marple then assembled all those solved parts into a single solution.  Students, you must do the same thing.

Your St. Mary Mead is every lecture, textbook chapter, homework problem, lab experiment, etc.  It's all an opportunity for you to carefully observe and learn, like Miss Marple.

Say you're in a chemistry class.  You learn that all substances have density, which is defined as mass (g) per unit volume ( mL or cm3; L for gases).  A short time later, you learn about molar mass (MM) is defined as the mass (g) of 1 mole of a substance.  A few weeks later, you 1 mole of an ideal gas will occupy a volume of  22.4 L at  standard temperature & pressure (STP).   Here is an exam question you may see...

  1. Consider a gas with a density of 1.25 g/L at STP.  Calculate the MM of the gas.

This may be a new problem, but it's nothing you haven't seen before...



We teachers are assessing how well you know stuff, so every problem is actually stuff you've seen before - IF you've been paying attention like Miss Marple.  On assessments (quizzes, exams, lab practicals, etc.), you must do two things: (1) recognize the parts of a problem you know and (2) assemble those parts into a single solution.  You must be Miss Marple.  You can, however, skip the incessant knitting.

Being like Miss Marple will help you score big, but don't overlook the small stuff.  You have got to work on your free throw percentage.

The free throw is the single most important shot in the game of Basketball, as close to twenty per cent of all points in NCAA Division 1 Basketball are scored from free throws. The shot becomes more important later in the game, as free throws comprise a significantly greater percentage of total points scored during the last 5 minutes than the first 35 minutes of the game for both winning and losing teams.  The free throw should be one of the easiest shots in basketball, since the player is all alone, 15 feet from the basket, with no defense and no close distractions. All the player has to do is get ready, aim, cock the ball and shoot. A skilled intercollegiate team should shoot at least 80 per cent from the free throw line, but very few teams are able to accomplish this task.

[Mechanics of the Basketball Free Throw by Marion Alexander, PhD]

Three pointers, shmee pointers.  Two point basket, shmasket.  The one point free throw is the most important shot in the game.  Free throw points in classes can add up to cost you an entire letter grade - or more - over the course of the term.  Many class assignments and assessments have free throw points.  Points that should be the easiest to get.

  • A professor requires a paper be formatted in a particular way - 12 point Time New Roman, 1-inch margins, double-spaced, and five pages maximum.  Your paper running long, so you fiddle with the format.  Your fiddle costs you 10 points.
  • On an exam, you're asked to calculate the number of grams of a product that could be made.  You do the problem correctly.  Well, "mostly".  You did not give your answer in grams, but kilograms.  Also, your answer has the incorrect number of significant figures.  Sure, you were "mostly" correct - but "mostly" cost you 3 points.  "Mostly" correct answers to the exam's questions cost you a total of 6 points.

Those 10 or 6 points may seem like a pittance if an essay is worth 150 points or an exam 100 points.  Image loosing 6-10 points on each assignment or assessment.  It could mean the difference between a C (continue with subject class sequence) and D (retaking the class).  It could be the difference between a B+ and A-.  All coming down to points that are the easiest to get.  Instead of throwing away points, throw like Steve Nash.

Steve Nash is the NBA free throw leader (OF ALL TIME) with a free throw percentage of 90.4%.  By comparison, LeBron James' is at about 74.5%.  Steve Nash works at this free throws. To Steve Nash, here  is no "but it's only 1 point" or "I got it mostly in the basket".  A point is a point and the game is to get points on the board.

To score the most points, you need to be like Miss Marple and Steve Nash.

Class dismissed.

One response so far

  • chall says:

    Great post! I've always liked Ms Marple 🙂

    "On an exam, you're asked to calculate the number of grams of a product that could be made. You do the problem correctly. Well, "mostly". You did not give your answer in grams, but kilograms. Also, your answer has the incorrect number of significant figures. Sure, you were "mostly" correct - but "mostly" cost you 3 points. "Mostly" correct answers to the exam's questions cost you a total of 6 points."

    oh if I had a penny for all the students back when I was TAing that did this. -> read fine print/details since they matter. Details matter. That was my main comment in the beginning of every semester since all those small cut offs counted together made a HUGE difference for them in the end.

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