Friday, April 28, 2006


Just in time, a link to a short piece that I wrote last fall, with five tips (or five tips and three sub-tips) for finals-takers:

How to do well on a final examination
Or as we say in Brooklyn, how to do good.

When I submitted my dissertation in August 1985 ("Heavy in July, light in August"), I remember that it occurred to me that I'd never have to take another final exam. As a student, I dreaded finals, never having any idea what they'd look like. Why, they'd be comprehensive. What more would one need to know? As a prof, I take pains to make the structure and focus of a final exam clear to students in advance.

A reader of this post who disagreed with the suggestion to overprepare suggested that "studying a lot leads to poorer grades." Yes, it's futile to try to memorize massive amounts of information at the last minute, but with this general claim about studying and grades, I can't agree. It's based in part on psychologist George A. Miller's rule of seven, which has been decontextualized into a general claim that most people can't take in more than seven bits of information at one time. If you're curious about the rule of seven, the link below is to an extended discussion from "Ask E.T." at Edward Tufte's website. The discussion includes Miller's comment on the uses and misuses of his rule and a link to the text of his original essay.

      » The magical number seven, from

comments: 2

Eustace Bright said...

Is the title of your thesis a pun on the title of that wonderful novel by Faulkner about Lena Grove?

Michael Leddy said...

Hi Joseph,

No title there, though now I see how it could read as just that. I meant that expression as a joke -- I was heavy with thesis in July and unburdened in August. Faulkner explained the title of Light in August in terms of late-summer light, but he apparently (I've been told) took it from an old expression, "heavy in July, light in August." I.e., if you breed your animals properly, they'll be giving birth in August, before it's time for the harvest. (Lena gives birth in August, of course.) Strange though -- I just Googled this expression and my blog entry is the only thing that shows up.