There's a Simpsons episode that begins with the family celebrating an A Bart received on a test. When asked how he accomplished this, he recounts how he found himself reading over a chart of the universe repeatedly in an attempt to block out the sounds of Skinner and Krabappel's make-out session. He concludes: "So when I took the test, the answers were stuck in my brain. It was like a whole different kind of cheating!"
I have what I sometimes call a "sticky memory," which is to say that I remember a lot. Without much effort. Sure, it's not quite what it used to be, a result of continuing sleep deprivation and a mother's preoccupations, but information still has a tendency to get locked into my memory without too much effort.
As a student, this ability--to take everything in and store up lots of details I had not made a specific effort to remember--served me well. But when I started to realize that remembering facts did not come easily to everyone, to most people in fact, I began to feel a little guilty. Like I was cheating. Somehow, it was an unfair advantage (and I was very big on "fair") that learning required so little effort on my part.
Not that I was lazy. I truly loved learning for the sake of learning. Even if a teacher didn't offer me extra enrichment (and they often did, in the form of more difficult spelling lists and math challenges), I was always reading, a mix of fantasy and non-fiction. Still, I couldn't help but feel that it was cheating that I could breeze through anything placed in front of me.
Something that probably confirmed and increased this feeling was the realization that other people didn't really want to know that I could usually score 100% without any discomfort. Coupled with that was the "dirty little secret" that I enjoyed expending the effort that I did to learn. (Which, of course, is no small part of why I could learn so easily. It's not that I put forth no effort, but rather that it was not an effort I found disagreeable.) And so I began to keep quiet about how I was doing, sharing my grades with no one, feeling almost embarrassed by my successes.
This has been so ingrained in me that I find myself nearly flinching to write this next statement: I have almost never been academically challenged. Not in a "how will I ever cover so much material in so short a time?" or a "here's a new concept I need to practice with so I can understand it more fully" way, but in a truly brain-stretching, "not sure I'll ever figure this out" way. Not even now, in a doctoral program, in a field that is considered by some to be particularly difficult.
Why this now?
I took my last class-related exam today. My calculations told me that I would be fairly safe if I scored a low B- on it. And so, given everything else I'm dealing with right now, I decided that I would not knock myself out in studying. I was gambling on the likelihood that I'd be able to recall enough details from my presence in class to fill out essays to the proper length. I did do some review for the translation portion, but again decided to leave a large portion of it to chance and my ability to puzzle through even a difficult passage without any aids.
The upside is that I'm pretty sure I won that bet. In fact, I suspect that the lowest grade I'll receive is a strong B+, thus giving me a little more wiggle room in the quality of the paper I'll be turning in soon (last class-related paper). But I thought I'd feel a greater sense of accomplishment or closure, something other than the slight tug of guilt and... blah.
I know that this feeling is mostly irrational and that this isn't grade school anymore. In fact, one of my friends said to me before the exam, when I confessed to her that I had not studied appropriately, "But you'll remember what you need to." And she said it as a positive, not the dirty little secret that I've treated it as.
Maybe in a couple weeks, once the paper is finished and our stuff packed and everything else satisfactorily concluded, I'll be able to turn this around and find some small happiness that I didn't have to drive myself crazy with days on end of studying. I can already accept it intellectually, but maybe I can finally start to convince my conscience that a good memory is not a form of cheating.