Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Exam Phobia

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


Exams, who?

Exams are knocking on the door and I’m blogging!!

I had been the eternal procrastinator till recently. I kept on delaying tasks till the day it’s time that I HAVE to take action to complete the task in time. It’s not that I don’t do a good job out of the task in hand. I do. Always. But I need a push in the direction. And that comes from procrastination. I only feel that adrenaline charge only when I know that I’ve very less time on hand. Otherwise, I can’t bring myself to do the task. This happens only when it comes to studies! I’m a good student. But I lack the motivation at times. My short attention span doesn’t help either. And all the above traits spell disaster for my studies! It almost ruined me a couple of times. But now I’ve started taking action against this self- destructive trait.

Exams for me mean the ultimate fear. I always have less time, get only a little revision done, and hate memorizing, more in favor of getting the right concepts. And during the days of examinations, you won’t recognize me. I move around like a zombie. I get panic attacks. I have sleepless nights in a row, completing my revision. And after the nightmare is over, I sleep soundly for two days in a row at least. And when the results come in, I always attain reasonably good marks, in the top 10-15 students of my entire batch of 150 students. And then the regret sets in that I got good marks by studying so late, I would have done far better if only I had followed a proper study schedule like the rest of the students.

Exams bring out the worst in me. If you ask me a question during the course of a normal conversation, I would answer really well. But if you ask me the same question at a viva voce, I would blank out for a few seconds before answering. My poor stress management skills and procrastination habit cause havoc during exam time.

And so I’ve taken action against this. It’s not a miracle cure out of this bad habit but ensures that you slowly but surely get out of it. I’ve devised my own method for it after reading up on the topic. It’s working for me.

Here they are:
1. Self- analyze and think why you are procrastinating. For me it’s the short attention span and the boredom that sets in after a time. And it’s always hard for me to bring myself to study the topics I find very boring. So, that was my problem.

2. Make a firm resolution to overcome this habit and let your close ones know about it so that they can bring you back in case you slacken your pace. Think of the consequences, the *** you go through during exams because of last minute preparation. Write them down and stick on the wall next to your study table so that you can watch it frequently. It scares the *** out of me…and I go back to my books.

3. Find out the time you work best. Your most productive period. And do a major part of your studying during that time. For me it is in between 10pm to 7am. I study best during that time.

4. Work out a flexible, reasonable schedule. Allot time for unexpected delays. And stick to it. How? Read on. Instead of writing “7-10 pm- Biochemistry, 11-2 am- Physiology”; write “Biochemistry (3hrs), Physiology (3hrs)”. That way you can adjust the time all throughout the day. Waiting for the bus? Squeeze in 15 mins of Biochemistry now. You have 2 hours forty five minutes to allot to the subject in the rest of the day. Work out your own schedule.

5. Read alternatively tough subjects and easy subjects. I read the easy ones first. I know many people advise the opposite. But this is what works for me. It gives me a satisfaction of one task being completed…and moving on to the next task. Crossing off items from your study schedule…brings in the enthusiasm to work on the tough subjects.

6. Have a comfortable study area, but not so comfortable that you doze off. I had the bad habit of studying on my bed. I don’t do that any more. My study table is always organized in a way that I have all the books, references, notes at an easy reach. And keep a bright study lamp, water, alarm clock at hand…in case you want to take a power nap for fifteen minutes or so. Sprinkle some water on your face when you have to get rid of the sleepiness.

7. Take a break of 5 minutes every one hour. Not more than that. I go to my sister’s room, catch the news headlines, make myself a cup of green tea or just close my eyes and rest during those five minute breaks.

8. Don’t miss sleep and don’t skip meals. Very vital. I used to go without sleep and had little food during the whole day and just kept studying for almost 21-22 hours straight to make up for lack of early preparation. I fell ill before exams due to neglecting my health and missed my exams twice till date! And had to re-appear after a month. No more messing around with my health anymore.

9. Devise your own study techniques. I hate highlighting texts. So I make tiny summary notes of a single page…all the keywords, important information on a post it note and stick it on the page. That way before exams all I’ve to do is go through those tiny notes…instead of scanning the whole page. And since I’m a visual learner; that is I memorize stuff by visualizing them in my mind, these important information in my own handwriting and in colorful post it is easy to visualize. Moreover, I depend on mnemonics and weird word association. For e.g.:
“Complications of meningitis…Subdural effusion, Ventriculitis, Visual field defect, Hydrocephalus, Brain abscess, peripheral circulatory collapse, DIC, SIADH. So, I make a mnemonic by taking the first letter of each word... ‘(VS) 2 PHD B’…And I expand it to ‘2’ Visiting Surgeons (that is VS), who had ‘PhD’s too, were lying in ‘B’ed due to meningitis. ”. Complicated, I know. But that’s the visualization that works for me. I also create mind maps with a central keyword and branch out in all directions. Say…Meningitis is the keyword in centre; and I branch out about definition, types, epidemiology, transmission, pathogenesis, organisms, stages, pathology, clinical features, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis in one single page. That way I have a topic well mapped out for a visual learner like me, help in quick revision and builds concept because you can co-relate and link it to other topics.

10. And to get me going through the task when boredom sets in, I take small steps like scanning the whole chapter first in a few minutes, go through old questions, then I know the important things to look for in the chapter. And if I feel lazy, I force myself to go through with it for just one more page. And then when I complete it, just one more page again. That way I keep myself from procrastinating. One page at a time. I also keep a notepad handy to write down doubts, or any random thing that comes to my mind. That way I know I won’t lose the idea and I’ll have time to think about it in my leisure time. I won’t spend time thinking about it during studies then.

11. If I’ve an important chore in hand and I am not able to concentrate on my studies, I take a break to do that chore promptly, so that I can come back to my studies without any other thought in mind.

12. I give myself rewards at the end of crossing off topics from my study schedule. Something that I enjoy doing and look forward to. It used to be getting back to my favorite novel or watching a movie. But now it is blogging! :) I finish off my duties soon so that I know I’ll be doing something very enjoyable at the end of it all.

13. I question a lot. Why? How? What? When? Every topic I read and I find myself opening up a lot of references and linking topics and this active learning registers far better in my mind. Not a strategy to follow just before exam. That’s the time for only revision.

14. I break my total time allotment in 4 sections. If I allow four hours to a topic…I won’t read it at a single go. I will try to complete it in 2 hours that is half the time…the less time makes it impossible for me to just while away my time. And allot half an hour revision the next day. And one hour of revision a week after. And half an hour just before exams. It works for me. Revision is the key unless you’ve a photographic memory.

15. Explain the topic to yourself; if you can, you are well prepared. Pretend you are the examiner and ask yourself questions. That has reduced my anxiety during viva. And another trick smile and give a slow, unhurried reply giving you adequate time to think during such examinations.

I started working on my study habits only recently. And I know it’s tough to get rid of a bad habit, procrastination mainly; but I’m able to stop procrastinating after following the above techniques. Hope these study techniques help you too.


Indrayani aka, Indi! said...

Just listening to you talk and plan like that about studies reminds me of my own studying days!!
Its a different kinda fun ! :)

Pearl said...

I loathe exams.
Mine are coming up in about four or six weeks and lately, I've completely succumbed to procrastination. I hate it! I should really be studying now, actually.