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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Take it easy, kids! - Ask our Counsellor Q&A column

[The following column, written by me, appeared in the Deccan Herald Education Supplement on February 9, 2012]

Dear Madam,
Please tell me how to study (I get tense while studying), improve my concentration and memory skills? I can’t spend more than 10 minutes studying as I get distracted with texting or reading books. I am a procrastinator. I face difficulty in spelling words. Is it too late to learn how to spell?

Dear Student,
As I have said in this column many times before, you need to study for the sake of learning. You need to focus on putting in your best effort, and not on the result, because the effort is the only thing within your control. If you put in your best effort, then even if you don’t get the marks, at least the learning stays with you. The marks will depend on several other external factors on which you will not have any control. So focus on putting in your best effort and on the learning (which are the only things in this equation that you have direct control on).

You need to address your fear of the outcome that is making you tense. What are you worried about? When your mind is preoccupied with the tension, how can it concentrate on the learning. You need to voice your fears and worries (either to a trusted adult, or to a counsellor if you have access to one) so that you can either work through them, or throw them out. As for succumbing to distractions and putting things off, or taking things lightly — we only do that when we think we are doing something for somebody else and it is not really for our benefit. If we recognise that the effort in studying is purely for our benefit and our long-term gain then we don’t get distracted so easily, nor do we start doing other things — because we enjoy what we are doing, and we do it for ourselves (not to keep our parents happy).

I don’t think it is too late to learn anything, and I am sure if you focus on your spellings, you will be able to learn them. As a starter make sure that everything you write is correctly spelt. Don’t let the spell-check do the work on the computer — do it yourself. And avoid the SMS abbreviated forms, which I feel, tend to make people assume that those abbreviations are the actual acceptable way of spelling. Most of the questions I get in this column are in SMS abbreviate language when they come!

Dear Madam,
I am a First PUC student and I am finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the rest of my class as I spent three months in NCC camps. I am in the Science stream and I am interested in Psychology and Marine Biology but cannot choose between the two. I have been getting good marks in Zoology but scoring low in Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Botany. My exams are coming up and I am not able to concentrate, in class and at home. Help.

Dear Vidyasri,
I am not in a position to help you in your subject choices. Maybe you should discuss that with a career counsellor. Your choice of subjects should ultimately depend on your career goals and aspirations. The subjects chosen should ideally be an aid to that choice.

It is creditable that you are keeping up with your extra-curricular activities, though it seems to be putting a lot of pressure on you. Don’t think of them as unnecessary activities which sap you of time. Instead think of yourself as being fortunate in being involved in them, because these give you life skills that no amount of classroom teaching will give. And ultimately success in the workplace and in life, depends not so much on your marks, but on your leadership and communication skills, your ability to be a team player, your ability to think creatively and think out of the box, your ability to solve a problem and a lot of other skills. Success today depends most on your self esteem. You will find a lot of material on this on my blog at

Dear Madam,
I am a Second PUC student and I am finding it hard to focus on subjects due to ‘result anxiety’. Every time I start with a subject, I get excited thinking about the results but later lose interest in the subject. I was a bright student during school but the last two years have been disappointing, results wise. I haven’t done much. My parents have high hopes on me and are expecting me to crack IIT-JEE or AIEEE. I am under a lot of pressure and this is affecting my ability to concentrate.
Anxious Student

Dear Anxious Student,
I think you need to deal with your anxieties, because if you have so much anxiety you certainly will not be able to concentrate. I think you need to communicate your anxieties to your parents, and let them know how their pressure is not helping you. Please talk to an adult you can trust, or to a counsellor (if you have access to one) to get help on dealing with your anxiety. You need to be able to understand for yourself what your anxiety is due to. Anxiety is the result of a fear that we have of a potentially bad outcome. Understand what you are fearful of, and then gauge for yourself if those fears are rational or not.

Yes, your parents, may be having high hopes for you (as all parents do for their children) but your worth to them is, I am sure, not based only on your cracking the IIT-JEE or AIEEE exams. You can live up to their hopes of your success by doing well in any field that you choose. Like I have said many times before, success in life is not dependent only on your marks and exam results.

In fact later in life they have no significance. Success in life is dependent on, more than anything else, your self esteem. So focus on the learning, not the marks. Focus on finding your passion and excelling in it, not on clearing an exam for your parents’ sake. I am sure your parents want you to clear the IIT-JEE exam because that is the path they know to success and happiness. You can prove them wrong by finding another path to the same goal!

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