John Duckworth brings his authorship to a new guide for studying, with a vengeance. Duckworth targets typical errors and easy “hacks” in studying methods not employed by the majority of exam-takers in an easy-to-digest guide for anyone else in the world who finds themselves using textbooks for self-percussive therapy over actual study in Studying Evolved: One peculiar British gentleman’s guide to accelerated learning as an adult student – the straight A habits, study skills and memory hacks you need to master any subject.
The first point to make about the book is perhaps unexpected: it’s hilarious. I don’t use the word too lightly here – keep in mind that I am myself British – but this read was unexpectedly and completely played to the right comedic tune for me. Similar books only manage a facsimile of humor, one which tends to develop after a long stretch of age or academic curing; meanwhile the author here is neither of a particularly advanced age nor a strict academic background, instead being a gentleman of poor school grades who eventually re-entered into examinations as a self-studying adult. This makes a huge degree of difference when compared to similar books, while also eschewing the tiresome “gentleman”, masculine-directed persona that similarly-named reads might go for. Let’s face facts: most people who study are not naturally suited to the methodology presented in school. This is a rare book that honestly understands this and doesn’t act above the fact, doesn’t evangelize, and admits that we are all well-meaning, probably procrastinating idiots at the heart of the matter.
So what does the book do? It tackles common problems from a relatable perspective. It introduces examples with off-the-cuff character that still have a quirk about them that gives them some human element for us to sympathize with; it gives examples from the author’s life that are easily connected with your own experiences, spun with a delivery common to stage comedians more than authors; it looks at every mistake the author and people the author knows have made, boils it to core, key points, and tells you why they’re good or bad to consider without any useless, overwrought fluff you’re used to in a textbook.
Most, if not all, of us have experience of education; and most, if not all, of us can look back and think about just how useless a lot of that experience was for us in later life, especially with memories of fretting and failing exams. This book is for you – that is, most of us who were not gifted with absolute academic brilliance – and it does not short-change you. It never tells you there’s an easy way, but it does tell you exactly what to do to turn a horrendous experience into a manageable one without somehow bragging about it.
There’s an odd error here and there but really nothing I could see close to a mistake anyone but me, an eager vulture-critic with literary OCD (hence my profession), would really take notice of during a normal read.
The cover is lovely, and simply summarizes the tone and purpose. At the end of things, it’s a funny, focused, well-delivered life-saver of a book that will at minimum entertain and on average assist at least a few tweaks in your usual learning habits.
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