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On the 16 Hour Slog

Why do students fail in the exams? More specifically in CA examinations? What's the remedy?

These are questions that I come across every time the results are out. Some times from the student himself / herself. Sometimes from their parents. And often from my colleagues - both senior as well as junior. My seniors have been my own teachers. And my juniors, in a way my own students. And often, the argument veers into an ego battle, with each of us holding on to our posts and unleashing our horses. All of us can be correct. Or wrong.

Though I have often put forward my answers and reasons for the same, I have never really tried to put across them in a cohesive and articulate manner. I have never even put all the reasons together ever. Though I have always believed in each one of them. Partly due to me being a bit emotionally charged up when conveying these things, which over a period of time has been replaced with utter apathy for what's happening around.

And more often, in the recent past, I have withdrawn myself from any discussion on this, so as to stay at peace with self, and others. An email interaction with a student of mine over the studies and results goaded me into the topic once again, and atleast for once, wanted to type down my thoughts on the same, before the emotionally charged discussion on the same starts all over again. Especially around the result season. With one declared in the recent past, I once again started looking at that question, which is what this post is all about. 

One of the commonest reasons that float around is that they don't study adequately, and therein lies the remedy. Now, the question that crops up is  - What is adequate study? And the common answer is the 12 to 14 hours of study every day. And if possible, that dreadful 16 hour slog to reach that so called elusive successs!

I have never been a fan of such extreme hours being spent on studies. Though, I have to admit that I have, actually done that before. Once. More than 16 hours a day. Running to almost 44 Hours over two days, with almost nil sleep. That was more out of fear, than out of any great ambition. The fear of survival. The fear of being ridiculed in the event of an adverse result. These would push you go through such punishing and extreme study rigour. And having done that, I can confidently say that is easily the stupidest thing a student can ever do. 

The mindless slog will not work due to possible issues as detailed below -

Slogging hard for hours together without assessing what exactly is our weakness is akin to trying to open a door on the wrong side for hours together. You can't actually "push" open a "pull" type door, right? Irrespective of the hours that you could have possibly spent on the "practice" to open a "push" type door, a lack of understanding of the requirement or need will definitely affect the success of our efforts.

The first and foremost reason which I believe is on the above lines. Student's practice without assessing the requirement of a question. They are training themselves to become programmed decision makers. More of an identified response for an identified and clearly defined query. On most occasions I find students absolutely incapable of knowing the requirement of a new question. This basically implies that the "comprehending" ability is closer to zilch than the ton. And this "comprehending" ability cannot be improved by repetitively practicing the same solution. You should give yourself a break to understand the requirements, and in the context of the requirement, apply the concepts already understood.

What is faster? Our thought process or our writing speed? The answer to this is as obvious and explicit as the class of VVS or the cleavage of most bollywood heroines.

When we read a question, we think of the answer in a fraction of second or a good part of the minute. The construction of sentence in our mind also happens quite quickly. Reproducing the same on the answer sheet is where the speed drops. In a bid to keep our writing speed with the thinking speed, our hand misses a few words. Result: We invariably end up missing key or defining words in a sentence. Instead of writing "ABC has not complied with the law", we end up writing "ABC has complied with the law". How do we rectify this by practicing a solution five times? It will only result in doing the same mistake five times, unless the practice is modified to identify the specific issue and address the same.

The issue here is not the practice of writing, but the practice of reading our answer with relative calmness to check if were are conveying things as they are to be conveyed and as we had actually intended. I have personally experienced this many times over, and lost out good amount of marks at various stages due to this. Whenever, I requested any student to check if this is happening to them, the answers have been on the affirmative.

Does it mean that practice has no role at all? Nopes. It only means that directionless practice has no effect. It is like a rudderless ship sailing with all its might in an unknown direction. The practice should focus on (a) Whether we have understood an idea; and (b) Whether we are able to convey / communicate our understanding on the piece of paper.

Moment, the "understanding" aspect (which is concept driven) is replaced by "know" (memory driven), the idea called practice becomes redundant in our context. If memory is your strength, try becoming an historian. You'd be a relic in the world where the work process is concept centric and logic driven. And almost all technical areas are that way. Memorizing is a skill which nobody needs. We have hard disks to take care of that. It is the other ability of human brain, that to think, that cannot be replicated effectively by the computer system in all the cases.

Thirdly, the other major factor that contributes to not so happy exam results are our inability to judge or estimate certain things properly and objectively. Many people have immense propensity to overestimate their ability, underestimate the time required to complete a particular question / area, overestimate the time available, and underestimate the course they are in. Their plans are utopian. Their perceived ability based on which the plans were drawn matches that of the God. Their estimation seems to be bang on.

But still when actually implemented, something horrendously goes wrong. When this "going wrong" repetitively happens, I am hardpressed to believe that it is fate. I would rather believe that at some level, the planning was poor. And planning was poor, because the factors and inputs we considered were inappropriate or irrelevant. Planning a subject study on the premise that it will take six hours because it took six hours for somebody else, would be stupid.

Shouldn't we plan based on our abilities, instead of benchmarking it based on our friends ability? Can't we recognize that we may not be endowed to the same extent as our friend in all matters of life? We may be as good as our friends in some areas, better than them in some other. In some areas, we would be beaten hands down by our friends. We should recognize this before we sit down to plan our studies based on what our friends do, or our seniors did.

Fourthly, too much is made out of our weakness in a particular area of the syllabus. Too much emphasis is being made on how to work hard and eliminate such weakness. Lot is being said about practicing many times in those areas we are weak, so that we ensure the same area becomes our strength. Bullshit. If there is an area in which we are weak, the world doesn't come to a stand still if we don't eliminate it. Our life doesn't end there. Instead of spending lot of time to eliminate our weakness, by which time our core strenght would also vanish, we should work around our weakness.

What is required is a simple assessment of whether we'll be able to comfortably sail through a subject ignoring the areas in which we are not so confident. My personal assessment has been, if the other areas in a subject where one has reasonable control and strength will help him or her attempt for around 70 to 80 Marks, and help him secure around 60 Marks, he can show his middle finger on the areas where his confidence is low. Such areas should command extra attention only if our areas of strength is far too less to even sail through the exams. After all, post qualification, our area of expertise will only get narrower, and the so called weakness will become pretty redundant and may not matter at all. Then why slog mindlessly?

The overall strategy should be driven by our core strengths rather than weaknesses. A plan which focusses too much on one's weakness is not a plan at all, but a recipe for further disaster. We should just be mentally prepared not to be intimidated by any questions from our weakness area. If the student is mentally capable enough to realize that, he or she should do real good.

And finally, despite everything, and ensuring that our preparation is bang on, efforts in studies are well directed, and our plans are well thoughtout, practical and realistic, what if our results are still not in our favour? I would like people to think in the following lines.

Everybody puts in the effort. Everybody studies. Everybody is matched in the overall ability, even if not equally in everything. The only differentiating factor is the three hours inside the exam hall. What could happen so differently in the three hours to alter the results of two people, almost evenly matched on everything? It is not the paper. it is the same for both. It is not the preparation. It is also the same. The valuation scheme? It is also the same for everybody. God was never a differentiating factor. I will even say that it was never a factor in the scheme of things. Then what else contributes to the difference in result?

If somebody shouts "LUCK", please curse them with the choiciest swear word. It is the ability to stay calm, and weather the storm called exam. Not get too excited about an idea you know thoroughly, and not get worried about an idea that you may not even fractionally. What is the point of all the preparation if one can't stay calm and perform to the potential in those three hours? As a junior and friend of mine once said, it is not the potential or preparation, but the performance that merits reward.

And without realizing any of the above, and slaughtering our own life with that mindless 16 hour slog, will take us to the destination we precisely deserve - death.


Sundar Raman said…
The 16th Hour Slog - very much need of the hour:)

CA really tests the guts, despite same past exam qn's, sotha qns ...above all the real pass outs * first attempt/ rank holders are certainly the one who have used their logical drive.

I even find that good strond qns / doubts are sometimes comes from a student who is not merely concentrating on transferring the stuff to his hard disk.

Above all, Understanding vs Remembering....!Chance less example.
G Saimukundhan said…
It is absolutely true that many times, the quality of doubts / questions posed by certain students are of the highest order and most relevant. Their grasp over the point and their clarity puts me to shame.

But the post is more about overdue emphasis on "Study for Bloody 16 Hours for Sure Shot Success". I have just tried to explore the reality as seen by me.

I was even more intrigued by the fact that off late, the results seem to better from the rest of india than from Chennai or South India. I am of the view that this is primarily attributable to the rotten educational system we have here, a part of which is what I have targeted in this post.


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