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.