Monday, December 21, 2015

How to Study Efficiently During Exams


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Here are common questions students like myself ask all the time:
How do you study under pressure?
How do you study efficiently for exams? 
How can I improve my grades?

There are times when you have to study under immense pressure.
You may be involved in extracurricular activities, you may have to take multiple exams and quizzes on a single day. Time is of the essence and you may have no choice but to deprive yourself of sleep to handle the overload.

Maybe you have procrastinated and you don't have much time to salvage your grades. Or maybe you are the type of person who studies really slow. You have hard time focusing and maybe you get frustrated quite easily when the study material is just too darn difficult.

In all of these cases, time is scarce and applying the skill to study more efficiently will come extremely handy.

Disclaimer: Don't be fooled by the title! Studying more efficiently doesn't mean that you will have to work less hard. Immense focus and dedication is needed to be able to fulfill it, and it is definitely not for the fainthearted. You will be able to improve your grades and save time, but as you all know there is never an end to studying when you are preparing for exams.

Here are 10 ways you can study more efficiently:

1. First identify and narrow down the essential concepts you are absolutely sure you are going to be tested on. In order to identify what will appear on the exam, you MUST take a look at the past exams! If a similar type of question appeared several times in the past exams, then it is very likely it will appear again this time around. There are topics that professors consider important, and they will make sure to test you on these important topics. Once you are able to identify the possible exam topics, drill yourself to the extent that you can recite them by heart. Not only should you memorize them but understand the concept so that if the professor tries to throw a curve ball at you, you are ready for it. Identifying essential concepts is a skill that will take time to get used to it, so be patient with yourself.

*****Summarizing the essential points for the exam can be a lot of work. Therefore, this should be done on a regular basis before the exam period! You should avoid doing this the day before the exam!

2. Don't try to be a perfectionist as it will slow you down. At this point, time is a luxury and your primary goal is to cover essential topics within a very limited time frame. Therefore you cannot expect to understand all the study material in detail. For example, if Concept A takes you 60 minutes to understand but B takes you 30 minutes, then without hesitation abandon A and tackle B first. Knowing how to skip material can be difficult as it may go against your values to reach perfection. But ironically this may be the only way to achieve a score that is nearer to perfect during crunch time. Budgeting your time efficiently will work to your advantage as it will give you ample time in the end for you to review the more difficult concepts. 

3. Make a time table. As simple as it sounds, it is quite important that you make sure you complete your tasks on time. For example, if you have 5 chapters to cover and you want to spend 2 hours on each chapter, write a time table as follows: 4-6pm Chapter 1, 6-8pm Chapter 2, and so forth. You may not always be able to finish on time, but this will make you aware of your pace! If you are not completing on time, it means that you need to let go of some of the more difficult concepts and move on (maybe your inner perfectionist has been awakened)! It means you need to budget your time better. A time table is a powerful tool that will help you pace yourself and push yourself to become a disciplined learner. 

4. Be in the right frame of mind. Think positively, have hope, be happy, stay confident, and remind yourself of your goals and what you want to achieve. You must really believe in yourself, that you can achieve a high score if you give your utmost effort. You have been given a lot of responsibility for a reason. If you zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture there is something special going on. Try to cherish on the big picture and focus less on the suffering that is just momentary.

Facts: Only 7% of the people world wide complete an undergraduate degree. Higher education is a challenge and a privilege not many people get to have. Be proud of it and reflect on your aspirations. Hopefully this will give you motivation and confidence.

5. Cut out all distractions. Once you have motivated yourself to study, it will be easier for you to cut out possible distractions. If turning your phone off is difficult, you could at least switch it to airplane mode. If studying in your room tempts you take naps and lie down, avoid staying in your room. If you have appointments with friends, cancel them. Each person has his/her own list of distractions so make sure you can identify the possible distractions, and act accordingly. 

6. Place yourself in an environment where you feel alert and focused. The library or a study room with friends may be the best place to study when you are trying to pressure yourself to study. You need to avoid being too relaxed, but at the same time if you are someone who gets stressed too easily, an uncomfortable environment may not so favorable. A right balance is needed and some experimenting may be required to find a good match for yourself. 

7. Get into the momentum. Sometimes when I don't feel like studying, it takes hours for me to get into the momentum of studying. But once I do, I can sit for 2-3 hours straight and really get productive. This is your sweet spot and you have to be patient to really get there. 

8. Music or CaffeineSometimes you'll need the extra boost to keep you alert. If you are having hard time getting into the momentum, music or caffeine can do the trick. On the contrary if you are alert but too stressed then maybe you need to try the next tip down below...

9. Take a healthy break. When I mean take a healthy rest, don't go lie down depressed, thinking that a 3 hour nap will get you back into homeostasis. Sit down on a couch or somewhere that's relaxing. Meditate for about 10-20 minutes and think about what you want to achieve and what kind of attitude you require of yourself in the next few hours of studying. Meditation is also a very important discipline and it should be done properly to recover from immense stress. Once you've rested you probably have revived your focus and getting into the momentum may come more easily.

10. Let go of high expectations. If you are overwhelmed by stress and found studying hopeless, maybe you need to lower your expectations. Usually when you are in this state, taking breaks become a habit and breaks become a waste of time rather than an opportunity to refresh. You may be right in that there is too little time to cram in all the study material. However, this should not stop you from studying at all! You may be in a circumstance where it is impossible to get an A, but you could at least pass with a C right? Or maybe a B? I mean the ultimate goal is to really pass, so for the moment lower your expectations and get your mind together. Be thankful, think positive, and do your best. Giving it all is the best solution at this point and this is the only way you will not regret when you look back after the exam. (Take a look at number 4 and try to stabilize your mentality once more)

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