Exams are not the end goals

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Exams are not the end goals

Dear Madam

I am studying in Class X. I am not able to concentrate while studying. Please give me some tips to improve my concentration level. I have only three months left for my public examination. Please help me plan for my exams so that I can do it well.
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,
Increasing concentration while studying for your exams is something I have addressed many times in this column, over the years. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will put down my thoughts again.

Firstly, remember that the 10th Std. Board exam is not your end goal in life. It is merely a necessary stepping stone towards achieving your larger goal, whatever that is. While studying for an exam we often make the mistake of thinking that doing well in that exam is our end objective. The exam, therefore, in our mind, starts assuming disproportionate importance. We start believing that if we do well in the exam, our success in life is assured. And, therefore, if we do not do as well, we are doomed to failure. This extreme importance that we attach to the role exams play in our success and failure in life, make appearing for an exam a very stressful and frightening event. And, the stress is what keeps our mind from concentrating. So, my first point is, to learn not to attach disproportionate importance to exams. Success and failure in life is not dependent on exam marks. It is dependent on several other qualities like your self-esteem, your communication skills, and your ability to think creatively and out-of-the-box, your ability to work in a team, your ability to lead a team, and so on. So give exams only the importance due to them, not more.

Secondly, be clear about why you want to do well in the exams. Is it because it will help you achieve what you want, or is it something you are doing for your parents, to make them happy, and keep them quiet. Remember, if it is something you are doing purely for your parents, then it will always seem to be a chore in which you don’t gain anything. And, so long as you view it as a chore, you are not going to feel motivated to put in the effort required.

Thirdly, put in your best effort and don’t worry about the marks. Which means study sincerely, and make a genuine effort to learn what you are studying, so that even if you don’t get the marks, at least the learning stays with you?Ultimately, it is the learning that will take you closer to your life goal, not the marks. So, if you are studying something, make sure you understand it.

Fourthly, remember, that if one door closes for you, in life, because you did not do as well as necessary in an exam, another door will open. Allow yourself the freedom and permission to find it and open it. Failure in one exam does not mean failure in life. There will be other options and opportunities.

Having talked about the larger issues of why you are studying for your exams and why that need not be a threatening process, but an enjoyable one, let’s talk about certain techniques that may help you actually concentrate more while you are learning. Identify how much you need to study, and do an honest assessment of how much time you need for each topic. Then allocate this on a time-table so that you are clear about how much you should achieve in a day, to stay on track and finish your portions on time. Use this time-table as a guiding principle, adjusting it as you go along, to account for unforeseen changes that may be needed. This will free you from the overwhelming feeling that you have not studied ‘enough’ during a day, and allow you to relax once your assigned portion for the day is complete. This will also give you a sense of control over the work you need to do.

Some people like to study with music, some without. Some like to study in a quiet place, some in the midst of everything. Some like to study on their desk, others on the bed, and still others on the dining table. Find out what works best for you. And, make sure your cell phone and social networking tools are switched off. It is nice to stay connected, but the world will not collapse if you do not know what is happening in a friend’s/acquaintance’s life for a few hours, or you don’t respond to a message immediately. These things are meant to be our tools that we control. Not something that we become a slave to and allow them to control us. They encourage a state of constant partial attention to anything that we are doing. Needless to say, when you are studying you need full attention.
You can also use concentration exercises like deep breathing, relaxation and meditation to help you. And make sure you keep time for exercise and play.

I have given you a rather long answer to a very short question. Hope it helps.

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