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Studying and diminishing marginal utility

  • Studying
  • Thread starter Simfish
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  • #1
Simfish
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Of course, as with everything else, I've felt that studying for a test often yields diminishing marginal utility. I sometimes get really frustrated when I talk to students who are obsessed with trying to get 4.0s (and who aren't happy with grades in the 3.6-3.7 range, even though these grades are good enough for most decent grad schools and since that range is also around the level where returns start to saturate with each additional hour of studying. )

But I'm just wondering if others feel that way too (it's possible others may have counterarguments too - it could work differently for different people, of course). Personally, I feel that *most* of the time, the number of hours needed to raise a grade point by 0.1 is much higher on the 3.8-3.9 range than on the 3.3-3.4 range. Recent research does show that test-taking is actually the best way to learn. Of course, you should still study for tests by taking practice tests. But for most classes, there are really only a finite number of practice tests, and then beyond that, additional gains are possible, but come with diminishing returns with time (time that can be better used for research, self-study, or anything you want). Furthermore, the midterm you take will be useful for learning too. But you're not going to learn much out of it if you're already going to get 100% on it.

That's not to say that tests should be used as homework problems. Many people end up solidifying their foundations on all of the topics in class if they take tests rather than do take-home exams, since they have to study for everything they do want to take a test. But they can pretty much do that through practice tests as well. (if the class as a decent supply of practice tests to begin with, of course)
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
fss
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I sometimes get really frustrated when I talk to students who are obsessed with trying to get 4.0s (and who aren't happy with grades in the 3.6-3.7 range, even though these grades are good enough for most decent grad schools and since that range is also around the level where returns start to saturate with each additional hour of studying. )
Why? This doesn't have any effect on your grades, so I don't see why you should care. If someone wants to spend all those extra hours with the hope of getting a good grade they have every right to, and in my opinion it's not really your place to criticize them for it.
 
  • #3
Simfish
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That's true - it's not really in my place to criticize it. I get frustrated due to certain insecurity issues I have (of course this is where I have to try to find creative ways to try to care about this less). But also since sometimes I think that I might be wrong?
 
  • #4
I don't necessarily speak for others, but I'm one of those people who studies ridiculously, and is obsessed with getting particular grades (I'm in the UK so no GPA, but aiming for 90-95%).

I agree with the law of diminishing returns, because those extra few grade points are usually going to be for some very small detail, where as the bulk of the marks are for the broader methods (that's what I find at where I study, anyways).

I do it because I believe that it's better to spend way too much time on it and eke out an extra few tenths of a %, than risk spending too little time on it and losing several or even tens of %. Basically, I don't think I could ever feel truly ready/prepared for a test, there's always something more you could know. So really, it's due to insecurity on my part.

On the other hand, sometimes I don't understand the material properly until it comes to exam time, and I start to notice things I don't get and force myself to work them out before I put them in revision notes. So it really does benefit my education rather than just my grades (if you see what I mean).

You should always aim for what you're happy with, regardless of what other people are getting - I aim high because that's all I'd be happy with.
 
  • #5
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I can't accept anything less than my absolute best. There certainly are diminishing returns, so you pay the price with lots and lots of your time. And I just found out it got me into Carnegie-Mellon so apparently it worked.
 

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