How Top Test-Takers Consistently Finish in Top 1%?
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“I have adopted some the things mentioned in this course such as those on productivity hacks, managing time during a test, and answering questions in the most optimum way. One of the biggest improvements I've found is in my ability to focus for longer hours, which has indirectly resulted in less number of silly mistakes in long-duration tests."
[Extract from one of the reviews at the bottom of the course page]
I'm talking through experience: please go through my bio on the left margin to see my experience in different types of entrance exams.
You can study smart, too. You can crack those tough exams, too. And, you can apply the lessons learnt in this course to your regular high school or college coursework (and not just tough exams) as well. And, don't worry if you're not a genius. It's more about smart study techniques, and less about genius or intellect.
There're no shortcuts, though. No fast lanes.
Have you ever wondered why few consistently crack exams such as SAT, GRE, GMAT, IELTS, TOEFL, CPA, ACT, and LSAT, or get admission to the top colleges? You may dub them as geniuses. And kick yourself for falling short of expectations, year after year.
In reality, in most of the cases, neither they're geniuses nor you are dumb. They adopt different strategies. Different study techniques. They work towards getting those small edges which eventually become decisive in tough exams. This course emphasizes on several such small edges, and talks about where and how to get them. In this course, I'll also talk about few best practices (in study techniques and writing college essays) that I devised, and which worked very well for me.
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|Section 1: Course Overview|
In this lecture, we’ll quickly go through the seven sections that we will cover in this course:
Hygiene Factors: The must-haves for tough exams
What are the important factors without which you can't expect to in the top one-percentile of test-takers?
Getting started with the prep
How do you kick-start your preparation and make sure that you're on the right track?
What are some non-academic productivity hacks that will help you perform at your optimum level?
Executing the plan
What are some best practices for preparation, how do you motivate yourself when stuck, and what other things can you do if you are preparing alone?
Answering different types of questions
What's the best way to answer different types of questions?
Buildup to the exam
How do you plan the few days before the exam so that you're in the right frame of mind and are optimally prepared?
On the exam day, what should be your approach before, during, and after the exam?
General Instructions - Must Read
|Section 2: Hygiene Factors|
In this lecture, we’ll understand what hygiene factors are. Hygiene factors are the factors that you need to have if you aspire to be a top test-taker. These hygiene factors, according to me, are:
We’ll cover Motivation - the first hygiene factor - in this lecture. Motivation is deep and burning desire to succeed, and without it none of the other hygiene factors will work for you. It's the most important! Everything else follows from it. In this lecture, you’ll learn different methods of motivating yourself.
In this lecture, we’ll see that the word genius is a manifestation of hard work. It's been abundantly proved through research that success is largely defined by hard work, good strategies, and a positive mindset, and not by some pre-ordained ability. (This is nothing but Growth Mindset – a popular concept espoused by Carol S. Dweck.) We'll see some such examples in this lecture.
In this lecture, we’ll cover how to focus at macro level, and then dive into action points for focusing at the micro level – day-to-day and hour-to-hour.
“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”
In this lecture, you’ll learn that optimism and self-belief are the stepping stones to big thinking. And that if you can ‘drive in the last mile’ (go one step further than the most), the competition will be much less that what you see.
This is the given thing – a sprinter cannot compete in the Olympics with sports shoes. Consult your peers, teachers, tutors, mentors, online forums, successful applicants in the past, or just Google to get a hang of what's the best study material.
|Section 3: Getting Started|
In this lecture, we’ll cover how to familiarize with the exam when you're just starting out. Go through the syllabus of the exam, and glance through 1-2 past years’ test papers (even better, attempt one). You’ll know where you stand with your current level of preparation, and have better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
In this lecture, we’ll see how a good mentor can provide you the right ammunition for taking on an exam. A good mentor can provide you information (such as mistakes to avoid and study material) which is not easily available publicly, and help you save time as well as get some edge over others.
It's best to approach a mentor early in your preparation so that you haven’t gone, if you've, too far in the wrong direction. It's also important to respect the time of your mentor (they may be super-busy persons), which implies that you're well prepared with pointed questions before meeting or calling them.
In this lecture, we’ll cover the planning process for the exam that you're planning to write. After the familiarization process, you understand where you stand. Now is the time to plan. Get an estimate of weeks/ months you'll require to prepare keeping in mind your other activities. Liberally budget in time for revision towards the end, and do keep some buffer – things do get stretched. Also, assess the resources (books, online material, tutors, other support group etc.) you'll need.
|Section 4: Productivity Hacks|
In this lecture, we’ll cover non-academic hacks which can increase your productivity. Most of us do not realize that these things do matter, till we experience them. Neither did I. Just one – physical exercise (I started with that) – made a noticeable impact on my performance. Some of these hacks are:
Rejuvenates your mind and body, increases power to concentrate over long periods of time, and sharpens your thinking
Helps you re-energize and carry you through the afternoon fatigue
Nutrition: Maintaining Glycemic Index
Helps you maintain consistent level of energy
Taking break every hour
Helps you focus better
In this lecture, we’ll cover two specific things:
Harnessing the power of morning hours
Early morning hours are best suited, especially for those who are engaged in a full-time activity, for the toughest part of the study (because you're freshest at this point of the day) that you've to accomplish in the day. These are also the most distraction-free hours of the day. So, schedule your tough tasks for the morning, and mundane and repetitive for the afternoon to get maximum output.
Studying in sunlight
By studying in sunlight (doesn't mean you've to study in outdoors; sunlight coming through windows in your study-room is good enough), you add more effective hours to your study. Scientific research has proved that exposure to sunlight makes us significantly less sleepy and more alert at the end of the day. Moreover, in artificial light your cortisol level drops making you more stressed.
|Section 5: Executing the Plan|
In this lecture, we’ll cover some of the practices that top one-percentile of test-takers adopt during the preparation phase. These are:
Cover the depth and range of the syllabus to the maximum possible extent
By doing so, you'll of course be able to deal with the questions more confidently. But, another effect of this – and this is a very crucial one – is that you'll encounter less number of difficult questions in the exam. Why? Because without covering the depth and range, some of otherwise simpler questions will also seem difficult, and they will not only eat into your precious time but also fatigue you fast. So, you'll have more time at your disposal, and your mind will be less fatigued when you come to the most difficult questions, and, therefore, have a better shot at them. Performance in these few difficult questions ultimately differentiates wheat from the chaff.
Challenge yourself with tough problems and additional reference material
This is an obvious one. The additional reference material wont take much time because you've already covered the material from a primary material. Here, you're fishing for some difficult or different type of problems.
Work on your weaknesses
This gives you a great return on investment of time. But, work on them in the initial phases of your preparation, and don't leave them for the end.
Take mock tests seriously
For most of us, the result on the exam day will be no different than what we've performed in the mock tests. Miracles happen rarely. So, take them seriously, spend time analyzing your performance after the mock test (instead of just gloating over on a high score and going into a depression on a poor score), learn from mistakes, and improve. The purpose of the mock tests is to identify your weaknesses and improve upon them.
After you've studied a new material, go through it quickly a day or two after you studied it. Follow it up with another round of revision/ recall after few days. Gradually space it out. You need 3-4 rounds before the material becomes solidified.
Build base for revision
During the preparation phase itself, start building the base for revision (at intermediate stages as well as final). The two common methods for this are: highlighting the relevant portions of the material itself and taking notes.
In this lecture, we’ll cover what is messy middle and how it can be mitigated. After the excitement of getting started with the test ebbs, you usually hit messy middle. You're stuck in the difficult parts of the material, you're depressed after a low score in a mock test, you think you wont be able to compete with so many other bright students, and your confidence starts dropping. This is a dangerous phase, and this often comes while attempting difficult tasks. It has the potential to derail your preparation. What do you do?
Inspirational Videos to Overcome Messy Middle
In this lecture, we’ll outline the additional steps that can be taken by the students who are preparing alone.
|Section 6: Answering Different Types of Questions|
In this lecture, we’ll offer few pointers on handling objective type questions:
In this lecture, we’ll learn what's the best way to answer subjective type questions which require application of a theory or principle. Such questions are commonly asked in subjects such as Math, Physics, and Economics. Key things to keep in mind are:
The reference document How To Answer Application Based Subjective Type Questions illustrates few examples following this approach.
In this lecture, we’ll learn what's the best approach to answer other types of subjective type questions (other than those which require application of some theory or principle).
In this lecture, I’ll highlight some of the differentiating points that one can consider while writing their Statement of Purpose. These are additional points – the points which can potentially give you an edge - over and above the common points.
1. Network with the institution
i. Visit the school, attend a class (most of the schools allow this), meet other students and faculty, and get a hang of the overall culture.
ii. Attend school outreach events
iii. Meet alumni
iv. If you can’t meet the current students in person, reach out to them through email or phone. Schools typically facilitate this
v. While speaking to any of the above, do ask them questions related with your areas of interests: courses that you want to pursue, industry that you want to pursue after graduation, hobbies etc. Pick up portions from these conversations and use them in your essays. Of course, they should be relevant and in the context. Do not hesitate in mentioning the names of the persons who said what you're writing. This will not only personalize your essays, but it'll also send a strong signal to the institution that you're interested in them
2. Blend your story with the offerings of the institute. Every institute wants to see if you fit into their scheme of things – future goals, interests, methodology (lecture, case study, and simulation among others) in the classroom etc.
3. Highlight your Unique Selling Points
4. Give examples. Depth is more important than breadth unless they specifically ask you to narrate certain number of experiences in limited number of words. That is, focus on few examples but cover them well – answer whys and hows and your thought process during crucial moments. They want to know you well
5. Sprinkle few narrations in first person, but keep them at the minimum (1-2 instances in an essay). That adds variety and shows exact emotions
6. Your overall story should look credible. Your future goals and other things should ideally be in consonance with your past, unless you've some compelling reasons to explain
7. Do not copy-paste essays or portions thereof into essays of other applications. They usually look out of context
|Section 7: Buildup to the Exam|
In this lecture, we’ll learn why the buildup period to the exam is so important. The emphasis during this period shifts to:
|Section 8: Exam Day|
In this lecture, we’ll learn how to be - physically and mentally – at the top of your prowess on exam-day. This is extremely important. Imagine your weeks and months of preparation coming out to a naught if you choke on the final day. This happens with several students – some of them very well prepared. Some of the topics that we’ll cover are:
1. Avoid unwarranted stress at the last moment by continuing your prep
2. Eat light food especially one rich in protein so that your energy levels are sustained over a longer period of time
3. Be positive and optimistic
i. Avoid speaking to any nervous student
ii. Imagine that you're the best out there. Fake it and your mind will force your body to behave in that way
4. Manage nervousness
i. Breathe deep: count up to six each while inhaling, holding, and exhaling
ii. Transport yourself to the most relaxing and calming place in the world that you can think of
In this lecture, we’ll learn following things-to-do during the test hours:
1. Time management
i. Divide the test duration into 3-4 milestones
ii. Benchmark your progress against these milestones
iii. Accelerate earlier (within one-third of the time of the test duration which means after the first or second milestone itself) if you're lagging
iv. By the third milestone, you should be ahead of time as you'll need some time towards the end for revision and some for handling difficult questions, if any
v. While tackling difficult subjective-type-questions, organize your thoughts or steps in rough
2. Take calculated risks
3. Take a 1-2 minutes mental break every hour so that you can maintain your focus better
4. Don’t panic if things aren't going your way. It may not be going well for others as well. And almost all tests judge relative performance
In this lecture, we’ll learn that one should not try to find out how he/ she performed in the just-concluded test if more tests are to follow. And in the worst case, if you bombed the test, do not fret over it for long. It's not the end of the world. There are several examples of people who – despite failure in a particular test – made it to the place where they wanted to be. In fact this realization will calm your nerves.
I work with K-12 and college students on improving study-skills, leadership, and non-cognitive skills, and as an admissions consultant for MBA programs in North America and Europe. I did my undergraduate program from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur and MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. During the course of my academic and professional career, I have cleared several highly competitive entrance exams and contests. Some of them are:
These exams and competitions are extremely diverse in nature: whereas one lasted four hours, another lasted thirty-two hours spread over a year; whereas some were based only on objective-type questions, others were based mainly on essays and networking; whereas some were regional, others were international; whereas one had 180 applicants (it was still tough), another had 300,000. Through this experience, I followed certain study-techniques (some of them I discovered in the hindsight), and I can tell you intellect and genius are only remotely part of these. A person of average intelligence can do as well, or even better. I did it.