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Wednesday, August 17 2005

Making the Grade: Study Pointers for LDS Students

By John A. Tvedtnes
By John A. Tvedtnes

Part 1:  Learning in the Lord's Way

Editor's Note: This is the first of a five-part series that will teach LDS students how to study and learn - from a spiritual perspective.  Look for part 2 tomorrow in Meridian.

This information is a very personal thing. It is like a lengthy letter from me to you. I have written many books and articles, using a very impersonal style, but the message I have for you is so important that this one must be personal. What I want to demonstrate is how an average student learned how to achieve beyond his wildest dreams. It is my story, and for that reason it also must be very personal.

Over the years, as I have taught both university and high school courses, students have frequently inquired as to how I have been able to learn so much. It is difficult to explain except in very personal terms, and consequently some of what I will have to say may seem like bragging. But given the topic, it is important that I illustrate the principles in this way. I will be describing a system that has worked for me. And it is because I am convinced that it can work for others that I have decided to write this brief essay.

1.  A Personal Story

Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people. (D&C 90:15)

Before turning to the system itself, let's examine some of its results.

Based on my high school GPA (grade-point average) of 2.57 and on the results of my college entrance exams, the University of Utah predicted, in 1960, that my college GPA would be 2.15, a "C." (GPA or grade-point average is based on the following: 4 = A, 3 = B, 2 = C, 1 = D and 0 = E or F.)

Little did the Testing Bureau know that I had, since graduating from high school, found a system that would bring me greater success - a system that I have improved over the years. My first quarter at the university showed a GPA of 3.5.  By the time I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I had achieved an overall GPA of 3.97, a nearly perfect "A." I continued to employ my new-found system through other university work and managed to earn a Graduate Certificate and two master's degrees, then went on to doctoral work.

I found it very difficult to learn French well in high school, but did well during the year I studied that language at the university before going on to serve a mission in France and Switzerland and gained near-native profi­ciency in that language. In the following years, I went on to study a number of other languages. Though only a "C" student in high school English, I have since had eight books and over 200 articles in print, with many more in preparation.

What enabled this average high school student to jump to an "A" level? It can be briefly summed up in the Lord's admonition to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118; 109:7, 14) and his promise that an individual can gain intelligence "through his diligence and obedience" (D&C 130:19). It was through diligence and obedience to the plan presented herein that my scholastic abilities improved.

So effective is this system that I was able to complete each of my master's degrees in four quarters (one year) of work - including the writing of the thesis. Each thesis was accepted as I wrote it, without alterations by the professors on my two committees. Meanwhile, I taught university courses in eight different fields for seventeen years, and have presented dozens of papers at archaeological and linguistic symposia.

I have a firm conviction that the system used successfully in my life can work for others. Consequently, in this series I propose to provide a detailed discussion of each of the factors that I consider important in becoming a good student.

2.  Intelligence

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)

This scripture has long guided the educational pursuits of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A tradition of excellence in education began with Joseph Smith's founding of the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, and of the University of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Since that time, the passage quoted above has guided the establishment and conduct of Church seminaries, institutes of religion, schools and universities. It has also led to extensive curriculum devel­opment for the priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations of the Church, as well as the publication of news­papers, magazines, books and conference reports.

The Intelligence of God

The subject of God's intelligence is also found in Abraham 3:19, where we read that no two spirits are equally intelligent and that the Lord is "more intelligent than they all." While this may, in fact, refer to some "native intelligence," nevertheless it is clear from other passages of scripture that intelligence can be acquired, "for intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence" (D&C 88:40).

To the Latter-day Saint, intelligence and knowledge are not merely means to earthly wealth and fame. They are the very eternal principles that guide our brief stay in mortality. With divine insights into the eternal nature of mankind, Joseph Smith declared:

Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resur­rection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life, through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:18-19)

When the Lord declared "the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth," he warned that this light may be taken away "through disobedience" (D&C 93:36-39).

For many years, western society has depended on "IQ" (intelligence quotient) tests to determine the native intelligence or learning ability of students. It was generally believed that intelligence was mostly determined by genetic factors. However, subsequent research has shown that environmental influences play a great role in the development of intelligence and that one can - by altering the environment - actually enhance the IQ of an individual. In the United States, numerous programs, such as Head Start for students from educationally-deprived families, have been initiated to take advantage of this fact.

Learning Factors

My own experience of living in different cultures has led me to believe that systems of logic are determined principally by four factors:

1. Physical environment

2. Language

3. Social structure

4. World view (based mostly on religious beliefs)

Altering any one of these factors should then lead to a broadening of one's perspectives. But from an eternal perspective, it is important to realize that God, because he is the most intelligent of all beings, must of necessity have the very best system. It remains for us to discover what that system is and to integrate it into our lives.

No matter whether one agrees with the concept of "native intelligence" for individual spirits or not, it is obvious that no one human being lives up to his full divine capacity as a child of God. One of our major goals should be to improve upon our current status and past achievements.

Some Axioms

You may doubt these statements of fact at first. But in the end, the individual who tests them out will find them to be true.