Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The aftermath of a hard exam

I survived the summer term, where in barely 12 weeks, the students took 10 courses, which meant dealing with 20 exams, 28 assignments and case studies, 2 presentations, 4 professional development seminars, in a culture I naively thought I understood based on all the TV and movies I had seen. Who said being a nerd was easy? Competitive studying is so similar to competitive sports. They require brutal focus, stamina, a disregard for self-preservation, willingly yielding the right to life and prioritization to the extreme. Not to forget, keeping up the self-motivation when everything else seems so rosy and pretty and tempting. I have always been impressed by good students who perform in their acads and extra-curriculars. Unsurprisingly, most of the toppers I have known since 7th grade have been very well-balanced individuals.

Although I am no expert in the field, there are a few things about studying I can share.

What does it take to do well in studies? Greed would suffice. I am yet to come across high scorers who did well in exams without meaning to. Our society demands performance, results. A good, high-paying job largely goes to a well-performing individual. Companies talk about hiring well-rounded individuals, but that means they want good students with good social skills as well. So what can we do to get better?

As mature individuals, we need to realize that exams exist! They are a part of your life, not an anomaly recurring every 3 months. I wonder how some people manage to live through 20 years of studies claiming how bad this exam was and how well they would do in the next one. There is no next time. The subjects can change, the questions may change, but the basics for studying stay the same. That’s why good students stay good students almost throughout.

Taking exams and studying well have helped me personally as well. As an individual, I would often be scared when held accountable for a job. I would often be the last person to take on new challenges. Exams are brutal because they seem to inaccurately summarise your complex, multi-dimensional personality in cold, impersonal numbers. To do well, you would have to get involved with your time, energy and emotions. You would have to respect those grades. The shortest way out of a problem is through it. When you work completely towards doing well in exams, you would discover greater confidence and mental toughness, because of all the challenges you willingly undertook.

How to do better? Here’s the age old formula – have a time table and a schedule for how you shall cover your syllabus. This is really important because it channelizes all your energy towards the task at hand. Scheduling is an art, practiced and renewed. The next, more important step is, sticking to the schedule. This part usually hurts. Your mind will play tricks on you, not co-operate or focus, etc. But you are greater than your mind, and regularly doing kriya, meditation and short satsangs by yourself will help you recharge your prana and come back to your commitment.

You may have to swallow your instincts of self-preservation and study like it’s the last thing you have to do before you leave the planet. The mind may alternate between dementia, depression, whoops of elation, dullness, lack of energy, loss of muscle tissue, throbbing headaches, vacation fantasies but you will be perfectly fine with some kriya and exersise. i mean, studies never killed anyone, although my roommate at IIT came close when he contemplated poking his finger in the switchboard to end his 'final exam' misery. But you shall live, and with good marks!