The key is not the number of hours but the quality of focus and energy during the time spent preparing for exams.
Competition drives the process of admission to top universities as well as the global economy. Whether you are a high-school student preparing for the rigorous entrance examination or an executive who spends evenings and weekends working towards an MBA, several strategies can boost your likelihood of success.
I have taught these techniques to competitive sports teams including the US Olympic diving team, corporate executives, students attending elite universities in India and the US, as well as to Montessori school students to improve their ability to think, memorise and recall.
Several factors are important and these make a difference:
- High energy
- Reduce or minimise stress and tension
- Being emotionally, mentally and physically aligned and centred to optimise retention and recall
- A good study environment and feng shui, for the right direction and ambience.
When people have high energy levels, they are able to concentrate, focus and finish whatever they start in life, including preparing for exams. When energy is high, the will to focus is high. When energies are exhausted, it’s hard to do homework and memorise.
One of the exercises we teach people who want to focus more is squats. Exhale while squatting down and inhale when going back up. There is an injection of high energy and prana. The entire body gets energised very easily and the mind is focused.
If people become sleepy when reviewing for exams, they can do stationary jogging. Jog in place while inhaling and exhaling deeply for one or two minutes. Then, stand straight for about a minute. Breathe slowly and deeply. Concentrate on the brain. Do three sets. Even more dynamic results are possible when doing stationery jogging in a clean, well-ventilated area or outdoors.
Push-ups are a great antidote when people are feeling drained. Women and girls can use their knees as the fulcrum, if they like. People who are physically strong can use their toes as the fulcrum. Keep the body straight while pushing up and down either with the toes or knees. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.
These exercises are the quickest way to energise the brain whenever people need to increase mental stimulation and concentration.
It is difficult to concentrate when people are highly stressed and worried. Some people fail, not because they don’t have the answers, but because they are nervous. Stress drains energy and robs focus. Sometimes the mind goes blank during examinations, especially if people have not slept well.
I advise people to visualise being in front of an ocean. Exhale to an imaginary ocean any stress, tension, fatigue, depression, nervousness or anxiety, as if they were throwing out negative feelings. Do this for five minutes. This calms the mind by reducing tension. After that, take 2-3 minutes to recall happy, successful happy moments in life to revitalise immediately.
When people are centred, it is easier to undertake rigorous endeavours. One of the things martial artists do before competing is to become aligned and centred. You can see this in martial arts movies. This is also familiar to people who practice yoga.
When preparing to study or concentrate on a project, sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor to prevent getting spacey. Put the left hand over the right one with the thumbs touching each other in a yogic mudra. The centre of this circle is placed over the navel. Concentrate while breathing slowly and deeply. This allows people not to be too emotional on the one hand or too mentally critical on the other. Five minutes of centred breathing prepares people to deal with any important situation.
The next ingredient is the right environment for study. Noise affects the mind and energy system, making it difficult to concentrate and diminishing performance. The same is true with music, text messaging, e-mailing, instant messaging, computer games and anything else that distracts attention.
It is best to create a study space in an area where other people are not stressed or emotional. I suggest people study in a quiet, well-oxygenated, bright place. Remove clutter. Don’t study in the kitchen or dining room.
Sit comfortably erect to increase the power concentration and to sustain alertness. Facing east, north or north-east provides maximum stimulation for the mind and thinking.
Finally, if the body is busy digesting a heavy meal, blood is being diverted from the brain to the stomach. Therefore, before studying or taking an exam, keep meals or snacks light and nutritious. Easy-to-digest protein and fruit are better than food high in carbohydrates that boost energy temporarily but then leave people feeling sleepy.
Finding either a friend or an adult mentor who is willing to help students stay on track is especially important for college freshmen who are facing multiple stressors that come when they transit to dormitory life. For the first time, their parents or other family members are not able to remind them to go to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep; to study rather than talk to friends or go to parties.
My recommendation is to recognise the temptations and demands of college life from the outset of the first semester. Then, identify another student or two who would be willing to ask about their grades and study habits so it is easier to stay focused. The key is to work with someone more studious than they are. If peers are not available, then find a professor or school counsellor. Having a study buddy can spell the difference between success and struggle from the first weeks at college.
Combined, these strategies are especially helpful for people who want to maximise results even if they have short intervals of time to devote to study. Implementing these can boost results when preparing for entrance exams or other critical situations.
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