The secret to academic success is that there is no secret. Just as your parents told you and their parents in turn told them, hard work is the only way to achieve a report card that glows like that briefcase from Pulp Fiction when you open it. But as it so often does, science calls bullshit on everything your parents ever said, because recent research reveals that you can improve your grades the study-less way by simply ...
Picture this: Sunday, 11:00 p.m. Your college dorm room. You've just spent the last 24 hours pulling extra shifts at work (where "pulling extra shifts at work" is code-speak for "heroically grappling with a keg monster until it wheezed its final hoppy stinkbreath"). You have an 8:00 a.m. final tomorrow morning, you haven't even opened the textbook for this class all semester, and panic is starting to set in. OK, time to hunker down. First step, get rid of any potential distractions -- find a quiet space, turn off your phone and your TV, close the 23 open tabs of porn on your computer ...
"Your secret is safe with me, perv."
Actually, wait. Maybe you shouldn't close those tabs quite yet. At least not all of them. Maybe just the ones with butt stuff. In fact, now might be a good time to look up even more porn -- but only the "classy" kind, because that's the kind that science has proven can improve your test scores.
In a study at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers gathered a group of heterosexual male college students and submitted them to a speech and math test in an experience that was purposely designed to be stressful. While they were waiting to take the test -- probably while planted actors whispered about how the test was "such a bitch, bro" while shivering and sweating a lot -- the students were asked to participate in a survey, which they were told was unrelated to the test because, again, scientists are sneaky little bastards. In the survey, half of the students were shown images of partially nude couples doing some fuckin' (but, you know, classily), while the other half were shown images of couples engaging in non-sexual behaviors such as unfuckily drinking wine together. After the survey, the students' stress levels were measured and they were given the aforementioned anxiety-inducing test.
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"Empty again? I thought I just refilled this damn thing."
The students who were shown the semi-pornographic images exhibited lower levels of stress and scored an average of one-and-a-half times better on the math portion of the test. The scientists concluded that viewing "mildly erotic" images helped to calm the students' nerves and thus improved their subsequent scores on a stressful test. It's not as ridiculous as it sounds -- it's actually fairly basic brain chemistry. Stress releases chemicals that wreak havoc on your ability to do, well, anything. Stimulating the pleasure centers in the brain blunts their effect.
Obviously this will not help you if, hours later, you glance up from Redtube and realize you've missed the class entirely.
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"Ms. Martin, the test began at 1 p.m. I don't care if the actors were dressed up like pterodactyls."
Unless you're some kind of academic Eagle Scout, you've probably had to scramble to finish an essay at some point in your life. And God forbid you pad that puppy with, say, quotes from Battlestar Galactica just to make the word count -- college professors pride themselves on having top-of-the-line, built-in bullshit detectors.
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Sort of like how you hire a criminal to catch another criminal.
Or, not. Statistically, you can usually get a better score just by adding words. Any words. Les Perelman, a director of undergraduate writing at MIT, was astonished at how easy it is to predict grades for the essay portion of the SAT based on length alone. After finding that longer essays scored better than shorter ones 9 times out of 10, he said, "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," presumably while adjusting his monocle in disgust.
And yes, whether the essays were factually correct was irrelevant: One essay on the Civil War claimed that it began with "the firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862." A correct version would be something closer to "the firing of 4,000 shots during a 34-hour battle at Fort Sumter in early 1861," but who's counting?
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"It was only after Gandalf arrived with riders from Eomer that the tide of battle turned in favor of the Confederacy."
Technically, the SAT graders are counting, just not in the way you'd expect. In order to get through the shit-tons of SAT tests, essay graders are under the gun to grade 20 essays per hour. That means they're spending a whopping three minutes on each one, less if they want a bonus for pulling off a 30-essay ultra combo. When dealing in that quantity, graders aren't looking for quality -- they're just making sure you can string a bunch of sentences together and sign your name in the general vicinity of the line. They're already on to the next essay well before they have time to realize that yours is a thinly veiled Game of Thrones fanfic.
And, in almost every case, your professors are in the same boat -- they're under the same time pressure when grading this shit that you're under when writing it, and it's easy to just give a pass to the students who seem to have put in a lot of work (as indicated, of course, by their impressive word count). So, when the time inevitably comes that you're staring at Page 1 of your 18-page paper that's due right the hell now, your best bet is to head to Costco and staple a cover page onto an 18-pound bag of fertilizer.
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Lots of people skip out on college for a year after high school, and who can blame them? After spending years steeped in pencils, books, and teacher's dirty looks, everyone needs a little time to prepare themselves before repeating it all over again (only with even less sex and booze). Some people might tell you that taking time off kills your academic momentum and ensures you a lifetime of regret -- after all, don't you get worse at anything if you stop doing it for a year?
"I am so sorry ... is your bellybutton still bleeding?"
Nope. A study of Australian students found that "gap year" students don't choke when they go back to college -- they excel. Even better, the positive effect of the gap year snowballs, with their performance continually improving year after year. Taking 12 months off was shown to be even better for your GPA than being an overachiever in high school. Researchers suggested that this may be due to the fact that those months spent away from school enabled students to hone their decision-making skills and gain confidence -- it's almost as if you're a more complete and less terrible person after you've spent a significant chunk of time away from a high school setting or something.
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"If one year is good, eight years must be better! Thanks, Cracked!"
Now, here comes the big "unless" that you shouldn't let your eyes just skip over -- all of the above is true unless you don't actually go back after one year. If your gap year turns into a gap decade, yeah, you're going to struggle.
The sad thing is that so few students do this in the USA, where it's normal elsewhere. In the U.K., the college freshman gap year rate is about six times higher than it is in the U.S., and that's still pathetic compared to Norway, Denmark, and Turkey, where half of all students take time off after high school. The U.S. is starting to get into the game, though: Massachusetts' Tufts University offers wandering students up to 30 large for visas and airfare to places like Ecuador, and you can also find gap year programs in places like Princeton and the University of North Carolina.
So there you go, kids: Even if you weren't born with the mutant ability to crap out gold bullion, you've still got a chance at improving your college performance and having a kickass story about how you single-handedly saved that village in Peru, like a superhero who gets straight A's.
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Plus all the time you had to work out instead of gaining the freshman 40.