When Clarence House Press Office announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a baby, the world’s media machine rushed into action, with some British newspapers publishing multi-page “Royal Baby Special” sections, covering the story from every possible angle.
The BBC Diplomatic and royal correspondent quickly published a piece looking at the changes to accession traditions; the Wikipedia entry for Kate Middleton was updated to reflect the announcement; and betting shop William Hill started offering odds on a wide range of factors including not just name and date, but also birth weight, hair colour, and many others.
The speed with which so much has been published is impressive – but it owes far more to good preparation than an ability to write quickly. Following the wedding of Catherine and William in April 2011, it was only a matter of time before a pregnancy was announced and a full range of stories could therefore be prepared in anticipation of the announcement.
The journalists’ practice of preparing advanced obituaries for famous, very elderly or royal persons is not new – its purpose being to avoid press organisations being caught unprepared, in the event of something predictable occurring.
Journalists covering high profile court rulings have been known to prepare for speedy publication by writing for both guilty and innocent verdicts. When the verdict is announced, they need only to make any minor adjustments to the appropriate version before pressing the “publish” button.
Students are encouraged by their teachers to prepare for exams – usually by revising the appropriate subject. To minimise the effort involved, various strategies are often deployed reducing the amount of revision needed by guessing which questions will appear in the exams. This can work well if passing the exam is merely a necessary step to something else, but where the exam is part of a longer-term plan, perhaps even the early stages of a career path, this can be a seriously flawed and short-sighted approach.
The short-term gain (reduced effort and exam success) comes at the cost of long-term pain through not having the broad understanding of the subject. Advanced preparation not only improves the odds of passing the exam, but it also improves the broad understanding of the subject – surely the most fundamental purpose of the learning process.
I recently spent a day with sixth-form students preparing for their imminent Oxbridge interviews. Perhaps because they were Oxbridge candidates, they understood the benefits of preparing – not only for the questions which they might be asked, but just as importantly, for those which they might not be asked. By doing this they not only gave themselves time to think of good responses, but they also broadened their knowledge at the same time. They reduced their stress levels and extended their skills.
We are constantly urged to “work smarter, not harder”. For students preparing for exams, “work smarter” means – revise the syllabus, and prepare for all eventualities. There’s nothing smart about guessing which questions will be asked – even if the results are impressive in the short-term. Smart students are well-prepared.
The optimum timing of preparation is before the event; any later and it stops being called preparation, and becomes “reaction”, an entirely different (and useful) ability, requiring completely different skills.