No. 2:  The Rule of Importance

    In any class, on any topic, in any part of life, some things are more important than others.  That's certainly true in this class, and it was true in every class I ever took.  It took me a while, but eventually I discovered that if I could identify those important things, I could do just as well in a course (or even better) AND save a lot of time.  

    How do you identify what's most important?  In the classes I teach, I try to set up a rule of importance and follow it.  The rule is simple: the importance of any fact, principle, or problem solving skill is defined by how much of the subject (or the course) you would lose if you lost that fact, principle, or skill.  

    Finally, a warning.  What a professor tells you they want you to know, and what their exams or papers actually require, never match exactly, in my experience (this includes me).  Apparently, it isn't easy to test in a way that precisely matches the course goals.  Whatever the reason, you need to learn for yourself what's important--both what's important for you in order to understand the class well, and what's important for you in order to do well on the exams or other assessments.  (Hopefullly, what's actually important, according to the exams or papers, actually does match the professor's goals reasonably well.)

OPTIONAL EXAMPLE -- If a third of a course is on Basic Genetics, and if DNA and Genes are the fundamental units of genetics, then if you don't understand DNA and genes, then you're going to missunderstand a third of the course.  So, questions that require knowledge of DNA and genes are virtually certain.  On the other hand, a lecture may have also have spent time upon one type of RNA, 'interference RNA', and discussed how it can block the expression of a particular gene.  If you forget about interference RNA, you've lost an understanding of one way of blocking gene function, but you may still understand almost all of genetics.
     So, you have easy decisions.  First make sure that you understand DNA and genes.  Not only are they more likely to be on the exam, they are more likely to be a substantial number of points on the exam.  Once you really understand DNA and genes, only then learn about interference RNA.  Interference RNA might matter, but interference RNA is only one of many secondary aspects of genetics that might be on the exam.  Even if you know that a professor concentrates most exam questions on these kinds of secondary topics in a course, you still need to understand DNA and genetics in order to understand how to answer questions about  interference RNA.

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Last updated  9/01/2009
College of William and Mary, Department of Biology