Yuva Spot: Preparing for Exams

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Studying for exams, memory techniques and preparing for interviews

(extracted from Vikasa 2016 – 27/12/16 session “Who am I?”)

When we study, we gain knowledge. Let us say, we bring in a lot of information, and we have to crunch it, and answer from that. So how do you study? How do you connect all the four aspects of the antahkarana – manas, chitta, buddhi and ahamkara – in the studying process?

A simple but powerful ritual while studying for exams
First thing, when you sit for studying, that is for gaining knowledge, you can follow a simple ritual:   you relax the body, you slightly deepen your breathing, so that you are breathing in deeply and slowly, and have a smile on your face. The smile is especially important! You cannot start something with a frown – “I need to study this. Aiyayo naalaiku exam….Sigh! Tomorrow is my exam…” If you start the process of studying in this manner, it is a disaster! To begin with itself, it is a disaster. So when you sit, the body should be relaxed, the breathing should be deep and relaxed and the mind should be relaxed and pleasant. How will it become relaxed and pleasant? With a smile. You smile. With each breath you smile, and the body is relaxed. This is a very important ground condition for any good thing to come up, especially knowledge.  Now this has prepared the ground condition and then you have to imagine the big picture, “Why am I doing this?” – this should be clear. So why would you be doing something? For example, when I take up some study, I imagine the benefit that would come out of it. When I study the Mahabharata, I would imagine,”A great many people would gain clarity in their thought process and decision making, and they would become happy and healthy.” All of this comes into my visualization and that prepares a very very important ground condition, and I am clear with what my motivation is, for doing it. It is personal. It is your motivation. You should find meaning in the act that you are performing and then, you will need to converge upon the act that you are performing, and decide upon a concrete goal. For example – “In the next half an hour, I am going to understand this concept.” If it is in terms of concepts it is broader. If it is in terms of chapters, it might be difficult. But again, depending on the subject at hand, it differs. For example mathematics might be different from history, and so on. So as per that, and as per your understanding, you fix a concrete goal, with a time limit, and then apply yourselves. In the process of application, there might be distractions. That is okay. What is important is to gently bring your mind back to studying. Let us say, you are studying and your attention wanders away from the subject and you start thinking about something else. Suddenly you catch yourself -”Hey! I had decided upon this and I am just wandering.” At that point, you gently reinforce what you are doing and come back to the current activity. You don’t need to feel frustrated and depressed,” I am always like this.  I am distracted, I have no concentration, no attention…..” Antha polamballiye irukkara vela kettu pokum. That lamentation itself will spoil your whole activity. So that is not the approach. The approach is very simple. You have fixed for yourself a goal, there are distractions, and when you catch yourselves getting distracted, you simply come back and reinforce your goal, and pay attention. As you start doing this,  the distractions may seem to increase. You will start noticing -”I am so distracted!” But that is okay. With sufficient practice, and consistent practice, you will see that the distractions will start fading away, you will be able to just focus on what you have taken up. Because you have taken it up, for whatever length of time that you have fixed. So that is a concrete way of studying.

Techniques for efficient memorization and construction of knowledge space
Now your memory also becomes very important. For memory, you need to work on your chitta. You actually cleanse the chittha of strong likes and dislikes – “I like this, I don’t like this, I hate this, you know, it is useless, what is the use of such things?” You don’t give such opinions to chitta, because that will make it complicated. The simple technique is, let us say you take some notes, some keywords, some diagrams, and make a summary. At the end of it, you will need to look at the keywords, get a review of what you have studied in the past half an hour, and then consolidate that knowledge in terms of memory. You will need to look at keywords and the associated knowledge and interlink these two. After they are interlinked, you will need to revise this by scanning for not more than 5 minutes.  For a one hour of knowledge activity, just 5 minutes of review and recall is enough. But you should repeat it at periodic intervals. Say, you study in the morning. After lunch, take 2 minutes, to quickly scan that entire knowledge space. It is knowledge space that you have invested time in constructing. You scan it fully and you will get the essence of it. Similarly before dinner and before going to bed, you scan it again, so that in 2-3 days time, you would have repeated it around 10 times. That will form very important interconnections, between multiple knowledge components. That becomes very critical, because you, as a person, would have shifted in that time span and hence when you scan it, it will reveal more, because you will be looking at it from a different viewpoint, not from the same viewpoint from where you sat and studied. So it will reveal more. That is how you construct a knowledge space and expand it.

Dealing with stress during exams – reinforcing the big picture
So when it comes to an interview or an exam, and so on, at that time, you will have to use whatever you have learnt. For you to use this at that point in time, generally, there are these frontal lobes, which form strong interconnections, which leads to balanced perception. But under stress, anxiety or shock, the information flow gets disconnected. That is when you will not be able to reason out properly. Under such situations where you feel that stress or anxiety is likely to occur, a very simple activity is relaxing your body, relaxing your breath, and seeing clearly, “What is the purpose for which I am doing this?” That big picture becomes very important, because that is what gives you a sense of perspective –“Okay, this is the reason for which I am doing it.” That will settle you down a little.

Dealing with anxiety during interviews – connecting with the other person
You might have an anxiety attack. Say, today before the talk, before facing you all, I start feeling – “Oh no! what will these people be like? How will I face them?” Do I look like that? No? Eh! Nobody believes my words man! [Laughter] I don’t have anxiety attacks, but let us say I get anxiety attacks, what would be logical? One can be self-conscious; it is not wrong. But if I am only self-conscious, I would be worried only about my anxiety. But, at the same time, if I look at you, what would happen? Something different would happen! So you look at the interviewer, and you connect with them. An IAS official with 50 years of experience is still a human being! You look at that person in front of you, you connect with them, and smile at them. There is nothing wrong. Then, you will see, your focus on yourself is balanced out. You should focus here (within yourself) as well as there (outside yourself). You should focus everywhere and yet do your job. So it is multidimensional. If you are too focussed on only one dimension – “Oh no! Will I perform well? What will happen?…” then it explodes within you! It has an avalanche effect, a cascading effect. But you just spread the focus, because that is very very important; you need to connect to that person and see where that person is coming from, with respect to your reasoning. You might not have the entire reasoning, but with whatever reasoning and whatever capability you have, you have to connect with the other person, and what you are saying has to sound relevant to them. Even if it is relevant to them, it does not mean they will not go to sleep, you know. So we are discussing the Mahabharata. Initially, let us say, that you don’t see the relevance. Later, you are convinced of the relevance, but still, for your own reason you might go to sleep. If I judge your act of falling asleep as -”You are sleeping because I am talking!” – that is  a very very strong causation, which might not be founded on ground reality. This is a complex way of stating that it is false! Your assumption is a false assumption. They might be sleeping for their own reason. They might also be sleeping, because you are talking this way. That might also be the case, I am not dismissing that.

So this connection with the other person becomes very important. This is applicable to almost everybody, because you will be going through interviews and other such processes. You connect. In fact, the equation and the questions will eventually change, when you actually connect. The confrontational attitude immediately changes when you connect with the other person. So the very way they approach you with a question will be very different from the way they approach people who come in an agitated mood to the interview. So the key thing is to relax, and that will open the gates for the connection to happen.

If you are here, and for every question you ask I say,”I am saying this..but..hmm..you! (angrily)” Then you will still be here, but you may pounce on me, because you are capable of that. [Laughter] And you may even throw me out of this window. That could happen. But since it is Mahabharata and I am like this, I will also give a fight, you know. And that becomes very interesting. Then we have a tug of war – this is called “hyperimagination”! [Laughter] You should not engage in that. Nothing will happen. You simply connect.