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Study, Forget, Rinse, Repeat

March 8, 2011

Today there was one of those convergences that sometimes happens. First I read about högskoleprovet in DN. Then ChartsBin had a map with the number of researchers per million inhabitants by country. Mixed feelings; Sweden was quite high at 7th place but on the other hand every other Nordic country was ahead of us. And how we have dropped in recent years.

Högskoleprovet draws nearer (April 2) and this year I’ll be doing it for the third time. The reason why is mostly because they are doing a rehaul of the test come autumn. The maths portion is said to be extended to about 50% of the total test. Even as this wouldn’t disfavour me, change is change and change is always a source of anxiety.

The results from högskoleprovet are valid for five years, with the currently highest result overriding the others. So if you score 1.6 one year and 1.3 two years later, the 1.3 score wouldn’t attain validity until three years later (5 years after 1.6). In the reverse scenario where you get a higher score on the second one, it of course is valid immediately.

My luxury problem is that my latest result was the maximum 2.0. This means I have to get the same score unless I want my active score to bump down in two years or whenever it is my old one expires.

Of course I will probably do the new version anyways, just to see how it’ll be. But the security of a result in the backpack would ease the stress.

People around me keep telling me I should go to university to study. When I remain hesitant to the whole affair I am generally met with considerable perplexity and a great frowning of faces. That’s usually when I defend my lack of scholastic ambition by saying I have no idea what to study. They ask what I am interested in and I say “pretty much everything” and then they tend to fall back to saying I should study “something with computers.”


But I guess they might have a point. University courses are neat to put on the resumé and this society is under the impression that education has more than a coincidental relationship with competence. To me, going to school has never been about learning things and always about killing time and getting a piece of paper claiming I know things.

The Swedish school system is essentially two parts; one obligatory 9-year part (“grundskolan”) and one 3-year voluntary part (“gymnasiet”). Let’s call em GR and GY.

GR used to be split into 3 stages à 3 years, but is now split into 1-5 and 6-9. Grades were not set until the 8th year, and since only the grades from the spring semester of the 9th were relevant for applying to GY, my careface was well-used throughout GR.

My suspicious attitude towards higher studies is built from the experience I had whenever I transitioned between stages. At end of year 3, they said “oh in the middle stage, there’ll be homework everyday so no more funny business and no two ways about it!”. Same with year 6… I think. My class was caught in the transition between the old 3 stage system and the new 2 stage one. It was definitely said at the end of GR; GY was supposed to be study study study everyday for hours and srs bsns all around.

A lie of course.

GY was the easiest thing ever. I went to fewer classes than I ever had before and mostly just spent my days in a computer room or playing chess in the library. Still my grades significantly improved compared to GR.

So when university is talked about as if it matters I remain sceptical. I go ahead and jump to the conclusion that university is only good for the piece of paper, just like every preceding scholastic unit. I expect no personal growth or quantum leap of knowledge.

So my motivation is not exactly high.

And it’s funny how I’m still getting flashes of understanding of things my grades say I already understood long ago. I hardly understood the steps when our (very good) maths teacher taught us why the formula for calculating the area of a circle is as it is, but a few years ago I could deduce it from only hazy recollections.

So I mostly parrotted knowledge at tests and transformed other people’s insights in essays. I can’t say real understanding ever entered the picture. To be fair I wasn’t exactly looking for that either; I was just there because in GR they could sic the police at you if you didn’t come (one girl in my class actually had that happen to her at the start of first grade; she was an example to us all), and student allowance was withdrawn in GY if your absence was too high.

The Swedish education system is undergoing a crisis; children don’t learn what they should and now the political right wants a firmer, unforgiving hand and the political left wants a grade-free, happy-go-lucky sort of thing.

I’d just be happy if they started teaching instead of wasting time.


From → General

  1. The main problem I have with today’s school system is that they focus too much on test results and too little on what kids actually know. The most striking example I have for this is math. Our math tests would consist almost entirely of exercises we did before in class but with different numbers. All you had to do was memorize your exercises and you were guaranteed to pass.

    Same deal for all subjects, really. Memorize everything before the test, score big results, then forget everything you memorized the next day. I forgot absolutely every single thing I learned in middle school: science, biology, history, geography, etc. All I have are vague snippets of recollection. But I got great results for almost all my tests.

    As for uni, I must admit at first I was as skeptical as you are. But apart from the “having a uni diploma on your CV” thing, which btw is kind of a huge deal nowadays, for some reason; studying something you’re interested in is kind of fun. Imagine having to study your favorite subject in school without those pesky other subjects that you hated but had to study if you wanted to pass.

    Personally, I’ve also found that the focus is less on tests and exams and more on what people actually know. Most exams consist of multiple choice questions and seem really made more for the purpose of pretending to have some sort of exam than actually verifying how well you memorized your course. You are also heavily encouraged to do a lot of personal research and bring new stuff to the table (in other words, be original and creative).

    Well, in the end, I guess it depends on the uni and on the teachers.

    • The problem is that I didn’t really have a favourite subject. When something was fun it was usually because I happened to have a good teacher. Sure, some things interested me more than others, but it was still more fun to do something else somewhere else. Another problem for me is my ever-decreasing amount of patience. If the teacher can’t get to the point quickly, my mind wanders.

      And I have to say, multiple-choice questions are the worst and I’m glad I never had em.

      • I didn’t have a favorite subject either. So, what I did was go to several uni websites and look at the list of courses each subject had. The subject that had the most courses I found interesting won :p

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