How to study, without losing your mind!


Exam time is on, all over India. As young students prepare, A. Radhakrishnan seeks to ease their burden with some timely tips, and some humour!

Exams are like girlfriends
– Too many questions
– Difficult to understand
– More explanation is needed
– Result is always ‘fail’!

Exams naturally are a major cause of stress for students. The outcome, on which much depends, is terrifying. Newton’s 4th law for exams says, ‘Every book will continue to be at rest or covered with dust until some external or internal exam moves it!’

Manage your time

Courage and calmness, in tandem with regular reading is the bulwark. Manage time and set up a study timetable. Last-minute cramming is a bad approach. Studying for long stretches can be counterproductive. Would you try and run 24 hours a day when training for a marathon? Study bit by bit over a long period, taking breaks, as it helps in long-term retention of knowledge. 

Try to slowly interlink ideas as a quick recap, rather than a first attempt at learning. Your only goal should be to understand information, so it will stick with you for assignments, tests and life. Notes and books should be a medium for learning rather than an end result.

Set a time to wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush your hair and look presentable and begin studying every day, to feel motivated. Study sessions with friends, parents and siblings, may answer your doubts. Try teaching the subject to another who needs it. This exercise will force you to be organised. You may want to give some exams more study time than others; so find a comfortable balance. An effective way to prepare for exams is to practice answering past exam papers. Breaking up study into multiple, smaller sessions, is the answer.

Changing your location from home to a library or a new room within the home, works wonders. A clean study space encourages clear, focused thought. A good noise-canceling headset will be able to preserve both your sanity and your love of those around you.

Human memory is quirky, complicated, and unreliable. One’s ability to retain information diminishes after about 25-30 minutes. Facts which can fall out of your brain and concepts that are the glue that hold the entire big picture together, matter.

Focus on recollection, ask yourselves questions, and do not just glance at highlights. Studying less but studying smart, helps increase retention and understanding. Mere reading is insufficient. Every piece of information you cull from a text book should connect with something else you have learned. Always survey, question, read, recite and review, to retain information.

Study using just a fraction of the time others use. Don’t cram at the last minute or memorise details. Organise information to recall easily. Don’t force ideas into your skull, but link ideas together and see the whole, not just parts.

Vary your routine

Use all your senses. Come up with vivid pictures, feelings and images that relate information together. Constant reading and understanding of topics gives you flexibility in finding patterns and metaphors in new topics. A set routine, will find yourself in a rut, so switch the schedule around a bit. Variety restores enthusiasm. Set a quitting time for your day always. One may also play a board game with family or friends, read a good book, or take a walk for relief.

Practice basic self-care like eating right, as it impacts focus and energy levels. Resist constantly snacking on junk food. Being well hydrated is also essential for your brain. So drink plenty of water throughout revision, and also on the exam day. Invest in a chair that is comfortable, as sitting on your comfortable bed will put you to snooze, and promote poor posture, causing long-term health problems; also, get enough sleep.

Be updated in advance, with all the rules and requirements for your exam day. Last but not the least, when writing your exam, write points first, and then elaborate. Do not be distracted by others taking too many supplements. And keep your cool. Think of it as merely putting down your thoughts.

A. Radhakrishnan

A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune-based freelance journalist, poet and short story writer.