I always came across this puzzling question that how can I prepare best for any examinations. I feel this thought as slightly demotivating at the start and hence decided to write about it. I have given many examinations in my career including the rigorous (my school used to hold a weekly test for every subject) primary and secondary school examination in India, engineering entrances for the famous IIT-JEE, a multitude of examinations (Mid-Sem, End-Sem, Quiz) at IIT Patna for undergraduate education, and similarly more examinations for Masters at NTU Singapore. I also gave several competitive examinations such as GATE, AIEEE where I secured “good” all India rank and some others papers such as Olympiad where I badly failed to score even a face-saver. I hope my strategies for preparing academic or competitive examination would be helpful for some.
There are several prerequisites to start preparation for any examination. First, we have to understand what we’re trying to achieve from the examination. It could be getting admission to a University, or a job or accreditation for our skills. Having a clear goal is the first step towards success. I cannot stress more than by saying if there’s no clear goal we are almost set to failure. If we have to get admission in a University from the examination results, it is important to know how much marks we have to score so that we get a certain rank to secure our admission in our desired college/field of study. What output needs to be there to obtain the desired outcome should be clear. If we have to get a job from the examination, we have to know what marks will fetch us what rank where we want to work. This greatly helps in preventing burnout. I had no clue of what to get from olympiads and was completely clueless on what marks is needed to proceed to the next level, that proved super fatal for my results.
Now that the candidate understands the desired goals for the examination results, my first advice would be to understand the patterns of the examination we are trying to appear in. When I say understand the pattern, it means knowing the syllabus, familiarity with the types of questions asked, expected answers, understanding the time required, difficulty level, knowing the average score, distribution of marks for various chapters. This helps in strategizing for preparation as well as attempting the questions accordingly. For example, given 6 months preparation how well can we cover all the chapters involved, what are our strengths where we can score most, and likewise using our time to prepare for the most impactful areas. Our score is always skewed towards our strength rather than a cover-up of weaker areas. So we should put extra focus on our strengths which could yield maximum benefits. For engineering entrances, I was good at physical chemistry, so I had practised several questions making sure that I score well. It helped me cover the subject cut off and proved a rank booster for me.
Moreover, we should also understand how much time we have on hand which we can devote to our preparation. It also boils down to how badly we want the results though. If we feel that the examination is tough, be prepared to strategize smartly and also work super hard. The examination day will judge us only in a couple of hours, that’s all we have to put all the practice, hard work and sweat that we burn in the heat of the midnight oil. If we feel we could get nervous on the day of the exam, we should better start rehearsing the new question-banks or past years questions now and then. Practice makes a person perfect. It’s up to us to think of all the possible situations that can happen on the exam day and practice accordingly beforehand so that we are well-versed and well-practised for all surprises. Sometimes, I also thought from the perspective of the question setter. For example, if the prof/teacher is putting extra days/classes to explain a topic, I know that there is a question coming from that. If there is a pattern to ask from a topic only for 2 years in a row and dump in the next, maybe I would touch upon the topics that can come now.
If we have a couple of months then we can make an exhaustive plan to cover the syllabus. Sometimes, skipping the syllabus is also smart when we are looking at an absolute cut off an exam or relative grading - because then the aim is to score as much as possible not necessarily top the class. I have extensively used this to do my college projects by spending time in covering only the impactful areas. For times when we need to cover things exhaustively like a syllabus, making note of the interesting and boring topics and practising them together helps in maintaining high productivity levels. Rather than having daily timetables for when to study, it’s better to have deadlines for covering parts of the syllabus and redo revision exercises. Deadlines help to stretch when needed and keep us committed to the plan while timetables bring boredom and fatigue. Now you get a sense of where I am going. For scenarios where the examination day can be chosen, give extra time for preparations. For others, when the day of the exam is pre-decided, better plan assuming that the exam is a few days before D-Day, hence shelling out some extra time for the last day touch up.
Leaving no stone unturned is everyone’s wish, those who do so definitely taste success.
In the end, it all depends on how deep we want to do the preparation. Every preparation begins with knowing the concepts well. If we have our basics covered well, little planning in examination delivery can significantly boost our exam results.
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