Vijay GargFor those of you who neglect your textbooks throughout the year, exams turn into a nightmare. It becomes a race to see how fast you can cram a year’s worth of syllabus. With Board exams around the corner, there are many probably doing the same. During a time of such intense exam pressure, you first need to realise that studying for 12 hours a day is not something very healthy and you can rarely, if ever, adapt yourself to doing something like that. What is most effective is studying with full concentration in small pockets and taking short breaks in between. Your focus shouldn’t be on How Long you studied but on How Much you studied.Here are a few tips that can make your long study sessions the most effective and help you concentrate the most: Study smaller quantities of syllabus every day instead of taking on huge portions. If you hurry with all the chapters you haven’t yet covered, you will be able to memorise very little of it for exam day. The optimal period of continuous study is 2 hours. Each period of 2 hours can again be broken down into slots of 25 minutes of solid studying followed by 5 minutes of break. If you need to continue studying, take longer breaks of around 20 minutes after every 2 hours. When you are on ‘break’, you should keep your mind free from any exam related thoughts or stress. If you use break time to discuss the syllabus with friends or plan your next round of studying, then your mind is not on a break.If your mind doesn’t take a break, the next round of studying is not going to be as effective.Many students put off their exam prep until the very last moment. That is if they study at all because many students will show up to a test and just try to wing it.The short answer is that for some subjects, it is possible to prepare all in one night. Suppose the issue involves automatic memorisation like introductory Biology. In that case, you can fill your brain with proper names and functions of whatever unit is being tested that day, and you’ll remember them. But only for that day.The knowledge certainly won’t stick beyond that semester. Even within semester, you will probably have a final exam covering same material and have to learn it all over again, which is a waste of time.It is similar to writing an essay. You focus really hard on research, make an outline, and write the paper. But in a week, you realise you have no idea what you wrote about.Many people don’t even acknowledge the downstream effects of trying to prepare for an exam all in one night. If you get zero hours of sleep and then take your test, you will likely be a zombie-like being for the rest of the day. You might miss something from another lecture or trip on a footstep, or forget about an appointment you had scheduled. Or, you might sleep through classes the next day.Luckily, there are a plethora of apps that can help you monitor this situation. It doesn’t matter how busy or distracted you are – an asleep tracker will log your data dutifully. These devices give you information about when you went to sleep, when you woke up, how long you were in the deep sleep phase, and much more depending on the particular tracker you choose.You can take a look at your sleep schedule a week after your exam and ask yourself: “Did my all-nighter before that exam ruin my sleep pattern?”. If the answer is yes, maybe one-night preparation is not the best idea for you.Even if you manage to prepare for your exam and get the grade you were hoping for, this pattern of studying is known to cause stress. You’re stressed out for the week or more leading up to your exam because you know you haven’t prepared yet. The knowledge that you still have something to do lingers in your head, whether it’s a conscious thought or not. The closer it gets to exam day without studying, the more stressed and dire the situation becomes.One final consideration about cramming is that when you do, you go into the test with all the terms and concepts fresh. This could put you on even better footing than someone who studied traditionally, spaced out in shorter segments over multiple days.You will be focused on the test, seeing a question, and reacting like a cheetah to answer it quickly and accurately, giving you extra time to work on the hard stuff. This is provided that you’re able to show up to the test in something that resembles a functional state. If you’re a zombie, you won’t be able to react faster than a normal studier. So keep that in mind as well.You will probably hear them tell you stories of triumph and failure of decisions they made at the time regarding studying that turned out later to be foolish. Don’t ignore them just because they’re older than you and perhaps part of an earlier generation. After all, the human experience is universal. So, weigh all your options and try to make smart short-term and long-term choices.Study material in a syllabus can be divided into core material and elaborative material. While core material consists of important principles, theorems, formulae, important diagrams and graphs, elaborative material consists of examples, quotes, illustrations etc. As much as 80 per cent of questions asked in an exam are likely to come from the core material. So, if you are struggling with unfinished syllabus, concentrate on corematerial of the different subjects. Moreover, study the question patterns of last few years and make sure you are not spending too much time on topics that are highly unlikely to be asked in the exam.Before you schedule your study-list for the day, you need to take into account that the subjects we learn can be divided into three categories: Memory dependant subjects like Biology, History and Geography, which contain a lot of material that need to be mugged up. Problem-solving subjects such as Maths and Physics. Interpretation-based subjects such as English Literature and literature papers from other languages.For most effective studying, you should alternate between each category of subjects in long study periods.Reading chapters and highlighting important portions help a lot, but when you write down the important points you read in a piece of rough paper or your notebook, it helps you retain information even more.Read important points aloud and write them down after. This makes sure that you don’t just See the points, but you Hear them and Write them too.Proper note taking is very important for effectively completing the syllabus at the last minute. Stick a couple of chart-papers on your wall and cupboards and write down dates, formulae, mnemonics and tit-bits of important information that are very difficult to learn. Keeping these in front of your eyes all the time will help you learn them more easily than trying to mug them. Create flashcards for difficult bits and carry them around. You can go through them while commuting, or standing in a queue somewhere. If you are studying untouched chapters or uncovered syllabus in last few days before the exam, you need to know that the three Rs are very important. Any new information you learn needs to be Recapped, Reviewed and Reinforced within 24 hours. If you fail to do so, you lose 80 per cent of the information you learned. Most students stay up late till night to finish revising before exams. You need to remember that it is proper sleep that turns your short-term memory — what you just studied — to long-term memory — what you can recall sitting in the exam hall. So, sleep 7-8 hours every night to make sure all of your day’s studying is actually retained by your brain.These tips to effectively study for longer periods and finish your syllabus in the last few days will keep you crack your board exams.One quick test that can tell you how much you have learned is trying to explain concepts of a topic to someone who doesn’t know it yet. It could be a sibling, parent, grandparent or friend.The moment you face trouble trying to explain a certain concept in layman’s terms, you will understand you need another revision.So, keep aside stress, and get down to work!
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