Chapman's Study Commons at UBC

Risk Takers are Everywhere

What I always try to do is open my eyes to a new perspective of seeing things. To see the connections that most people don’t make, and to start exercising the neurons inside my head. It’s a good practice to build one’s lateral thinking ability. But sometimes it’s just interesting to think about.

You’ve probably heard that good students don’t gamble. Good students recognize that gambling in casinos often results in losing. That is… one has a ‘negative’ expected value when walking into a casino. That’s not to say one always loses, or a good poker player can’t make a living. But in general, for the average person, walking into a casino incurs a negative expected gain.

But smart student, in their line of work, experience risk almost every term. Gambling, is just you taking a risk. Stepping into the unknown, and walking back out again.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like an exam?

What kind of a better game is there for the student, if not the exam. The examination. Be it a quiz, or a midterm, maybe a final exam, there is inherent risk.

This is not risk in the sense that anyone’s life is in danger, but risk, in the sense that what the student studies, what the student knows how to perform, is a gamble as to what the professor ultimately put on the examination. The student can either “win” with a good mark, or the student can “lose” with a fail mark.

In a course spanning a semester, or a year, there’s not much that can be placed in a two hour exam. (Two and a half hours for some… and maybe even three. Let’s not get into those longer exams… they’re brutal.)

And so, what goes on the exam, is a subset of what’s been taught. In university, especially, the scope of the exam, is often far larger than what can be studied by any reasonable student during their study term. So what does a student do? The student studies for what he or she thinks will be on the exam. The student studies for what he or she thinks the professor will be looking for.

And this is what University, quite literally, trains students to do!

Figure out what the prof wants on the exam; study/memorize that, and regurgitate it! Some courses might be more applied, requiring the student to actually think about problems, but that’s sort of still the same time. Occasionally there’s one prof that throws curve balls all the time. And for that exam, there are larger odds against the student.

But now here’s the difference between gambling for an exam, and gambling at a casino. In studying for an exam, the student is improving their odds of good performance. In a casino, it’s very hard to increase one’s chances of winning. And even if they can, the casino won’t let them do it by much. (Unless they’re cheating of course… which in that case, is already thought out, …. or some negative consequences have been overlooked.)

The wise gambler knows when to take the chance, and when not to take the chance. The student knows to study for the exam until the probability of getting a good grade is within acceptable limits. For the student, it’s not a case of “do I bet, or do I not bet” (i.e. in a casino), but a case of “how much am I willing to put in to increase my odds?”

So this is why I see students as being good gamblers. They know how much to study. Basically, figuring out where that cost-benefit probability is, and they make the decision when to stop studying.

Taking from this principle, you can apply it to almost anything! And most things in life, are a gamble. But we can change our probability and our odds. We can improve them to act in our favour  The student does this well. A business contractor does this well. The casino engineers do this very well.

Whenever there is uncertainty, there is risk. Whenever there is risk, there is a gamble. But the risks don’t have to be fixed. They can be mitigated. And I hope this opens up your eye to see how else this can be applied to your daily life.

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