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By failing to prepare, we are preparing to fail. Adept planning and preparation is a pivotal step in being successful. Competitive exams, are getting increasingly cut-throat day-by-day and there is a pressing need for even exact and impactful preparation, which is smart, efficient and thorough.
‘Early completion of the syllabi’ is an often overlooked and ignored aspect of the preparation strategy of most parents as well as the students. Let us understand why this is most important and impactful as far as the final results are concerned and emphasize on making this an integral part of one’s preparation strategy.
Let’s say a boy is learning to ride a bicycle.
The following would constitute as theory of how to ride a bicycle:
Introduction to different parts of the bicycle like brake, handle, bell etcetera;
Position and orientation required to sit on a bicycle,
How to ring the bell and so on
By acquiring this knowledge, will one be able to ride a bicycle?
The answer is “NO”, most likely not, because one has not practically experienced being on a bicycle and riding it.
One has not mastered the tact of balancing needed to ride a bicycle without toppling.
If we try riding a bicycle by mastering the theory alone, we will likely fall out of balance.
Hence, there is a need to put to practice what we have learnt on a theoretical plane alone.
When we continually try riding a bicycle to gain balance, the cerebellum coordinates the motor movement and registers it in our cognition and muscle memory.
However, practice does not guarantee your protection from falls, in contrast- falls( that are short term failures) help us to get familiar and desensitized to the process of riding a bicycle.
We persevere, inspired by a dream one mastering this skill, and practice diligently, repetitively, vigorously and hence become an expert.
When we keep at it, we learn to eventually ride the bicycle. Voila!
Likewise, the process of competency is developed in a similar manner to attain the expertise required while appearing for competitive exams.
We cannot overemphasize the role of systematic planning and preparation in doing well in the competitive entrance exams.
To illustrate, let us create and discuss a thought experiment, wherein we have a competitive entrance exam on the 101th day, starting today. Thus we have 100 days to prepare for it.
And you cover the syllabus and learn the nitty-gritty of the syllabus for the first nine days and you devote the tenth day for revision.
Let us see whether the above preparation routine will make you an expert in the subject?
It is unlikely to work as far as the development of expertise is concerned.
Expertise is developed when you are able to complete the syllabus as early as possible and devote the major chunk of the time in continuous cycles of revision and doubt clarification.
The brain neurons that are going to make you an expert are going to fire, rewire again and again with repetitive cycles of practice and revision and hence make you an expert and this needs lot of time, dedication and efficiency.
And for this, a quick completion of the syllabus will guarantee more amount of time for revision and practicing. So to develop expertise and gain success in competitive exams, following a four- stage process will be helpful-
Stage 1- Completion of the syllabus as soon as possible
Stage 2- Revision and doubt clarification
Stage 3- Revision, formula memorization and conceptual clarity
Stage 4 – test practice (previous year question paper)
The reason for stressing the need for completion of the syllabus is clear because, it forms stage 1. If we plan on consuming 90% of our time on covering syllabus which is just the first stage, the rest of the stages would not be completed and this leads to wastage of one’s potential in achieving success.
Let us take a brief tour through all the stages of preparation in order to gain expertise.
❖ Stage 1- Completion of the syllabus as soon as possible
❖ Most of the students continuously resort to a slow coverage of syllabus thinking that they would be able to get a thorough and better understanding of the concepts with time. This eats up their time and they are left with no time to revise, practice and of course relax.
❖How fast should the syllabus be completed?
It should be completed as fast as humanly possible. If it is possible to complete the entire syllabus in one month, it should be done. If you can could do it in one second, great! So, basically, our goal should be to complete the portion and get on with the next stage. Basically, the practical time limit for the completion of the syllabus is three to four months. So, the next question is- How can we complete the syllabus in 3 to 4 months?
❖ Self-study along with help from online video lectures, or hiring a private tutor who can complete the whole portion in about three to four months are some ways of implementing stage 1, that is ‘completion of the syllabus as soon as possible.’ Parents should make sure before the start of the private classes whether the tutor would be able to cover the syllabus in three to four months with utmost dedication and efficiency. The primary mistake most people make is that, out of the 20 months given for preparation, approximately 16 to 18 months are been spend in completion of the syllabus. Ideally, about 75% to 80% of the preparation time should be solely devoted to revision, doubt clarification and test practice, stages which come after the completion of the syllabus.
❖Not just learning, teaching of the syllabus also requires certain amount of logic which will yield better output. Especially in a batch-mode, a particular batch preferably should have less than five students who match certain level of intellectual homogeneity. If the batch is too large or if the homogeneity is not maintained, the pace of teaching and learning will be that of the slowest child. And doubt clarification, understanding level, grasping capacity and so on varies from students to students. Hence, the batch-mode teaching and learning will be efficient with lesser number of students per batch and each batch should maintain an intellectual homogeneity.
❖In the batch-mode as discussed above, the entire portion of Class 11th and 12th Physics can be easily completed in 80 to 100 hours. So teaching for 2 hours daily will mean, 40 days to complete the entire Physics portion for IIT JEE or NEET. However, we can pace down this structure by devoting 1 hour per day for physics along with other subjects, which means about 80 to 100 days, that is 3 to 4 months. In 3 to 4 months, we can practically finish the whole portion as said earlier.
❖Moulding the course as per the comfort level of the students is hence very important for a speedy and efficient completion of the syllabus. Only after the completion of the syllabus can, the tutors or experts guide the students through their doubts and mistakes, which is a very huge task, considering the multiple levels and kinds of doubts students have. This leads us to Stage 2- Doubt clarification and Revision.
Stage 2- Doubt clarification and Revision
❖ Once the complete syllabus is covered as soon as possible, the next step is doubt clarification and revision. This stage also includes mistake rectification while solving questions.
❖ Mistakes can be- (a) conceptual mistakes (b) execution-based
(a) Conceptual mistakes include mistakes which happen due to a lack of clarity of certain concepts and theories. It requires a thorough understanding of the concepts because, understanding concepts is required to solve application- based questions. Concepts and formulas should be in the tip of our fingers.
(b) Execution-based mistakes include mistakes which occur due to lack of practice and lack of time management. The lack of practice slows down the speed of solving the question paper, which in turn leads to loss of time and leaving out of questions. Practice and memorising formulas thoroughly is a great way of overcoming this type of mistakes.
At times students due to exam anxiety and stress tend to make silly and careless mistakes. They lose focus, get nervous and commit mistakes while solving questions even when they know the answers to those questions. A good diet, some amount of motivation and encouragement, good personal care routine, good sleep cycle routine and ample exercise regularly during preparation will improve concentration and eliminate stress and anxiety. Hence, a holistic or overall improvement and wellbeing of the mind and body will improve confidence. Additionally, the rectification of mistakes by experts during the practice hours helps the students register their faults, and also help them avoid repeating such mistakes again. This leads us to Stage 3- Revision, formula memorization and conceptual clarity.
Stage 3- Revision, formula memorization and conceptual clarity
❖ Doubt Clarification and revision to some extent is a hand-in -hand process. Revising the concepts and portions already covered on a regular basis helps the brain register the data in our long-term memory.
❖ Conceptual clarity of the student can be assessed by asking him/her to explain the same concepts to his/her peer group, friends and family. When a student is able to reproduce and express a concept confidently to others, it shows his level of conceptual understanding and confidence.
❖ Hence stage 3 is very crucial in assessing where exactly a student stands with respect to his preparation. Additionally, stage 4, that is Test practice, will completely prepare a student to face the competitive exams and crack them.
Stage 4 – Test Practice
❖ Let’s take an example of how to make a pizza. The recipe book gives you a clear understanding of making a pizza, its procedures, total time taken, ingredients needed and so on. However can we become an expert in making pizzas by just understanding the recipe in 5 or 10 minutes? It is practice which helps us become better and better over time. To gauge the perfect consistency of the dough, the exact temperature-setting of the oven and the exact amount of spice needed, all need practice. And practice always needs time. Hence, it is pertinent to stress, the importance of syllabus completion as quickly as possible in order to start practicing concepts which have been learned.
❖Hence, this stage is extremely detrimental as far as your success goes in the entrance exams. A thorough test practice of the full syllabus along with time limit is very important. Test practices prepare the students completely to face the entrance exam because it tries to create a entrance exam-type environment with full syllabus test paper and three hours time limit. This also exposes the students to a examination hall setting and relieves their stress.
❖ Giving 18 months of preparation time out of the 20 months for portion completion, deducts the time needed for practice, the most important stage in the preparation of competitive exams like IIT-JEE and NEET. Because practice will bring out the most in you and you will be able to give your best potential self.
❖Generally students solve less than 20 full syllabus test papers. A minimum of at least 150 to 200 test papers should be solved by both IIT-JEE aspirants and NEET aspirants. If a student aspires to crack IIT-JEE advanced, a minimum of about 150 question papers should be solved. Because it will give you an understanding of the exam pattern as well as help you in revisiting concepts and theories. All this clearly shows the amount of time needed for practicing of full syllabus Test Papers and the need to relegate a major chunk of the preparation time, around 70% for this. However, some students might face challenges in attempting full syllabus practice papers immediately after syllabus completion and revision. In cases like this, a chapter-wise or unit-wise test series would be helpful which will prepare the student to solve full syllabus test practice after a period of time. Hence, the pattern of solving test papers can be decided by tutors, parents or even students according to their comfort level and time constraints. Because, choosing a suitable pattern of preparation for a student will surely bring the best in him/her.
The above four steps which includes- Stage1- Completion of the syllabus; Stage2- Revision and Doubt Clarification; Stage 3- Revision, formula memorization and conceptual clarity; Stage 4- Test Practice, will help each and every student to develop expertise. Hence to be an expert, a strict adherence to the above four stages is important. Focusing only on syllabus completion will not help us gain expertise and success. Revision, doubt clarification, higher level problem practice, test practice are the constituent steps which will help you become an expert and pass out with flying colours. Remember, completion of the full syllabus is just the first step to an ascending ladder. Let me reverse the opening quote, it goes like this- ‘By succeeding to prepare, you are preparing to succeed’.