Empower Series 50: Do this and you will be on top!

I wrote this article in 1993 (must have been the first full article I wrote), when I was in Upper Six in Ghana National College. I am publishing it unedited, so as to retain its originality and youthfulness! Read along with this eighteen year old then, as he attempted to write to teach his fellow students how to study…

“Charlie, you dey fit learn? As for me, when I take my books to learn, I begin to feel dizzy – school is too boring. But I believe you are ‘sharp brain’ and hence just a peep at your notes and pah, everything sticks.” With this, Adigidon leaves for the dormitory, to play cards, not to rest!

The above is a comment most students pass among themselves – they can’t study, the notes are too much, they don’t have time, this and that. Students find it very difficult to study these days. To every problem, there is a cause and to every cause, there is a solution. So, what are the causes of this problem?

The first cause is that students act too ‘robot-like’. They do not think of the fact that they are human and need to take time to rest their bodies. What is the use of siesta, they ask. Nowadays, we students think this practice of taking a nap in the afternoon is something of the past and it is irrelevant for us today. We wake up at 5.00 am on school days, go for assembly, stand for about 20 minutes, go to class for tuition, play around or study in the afternoons and evenings, without a minute of rest! Definitely we will be down with fatigue. Let’s pause and consider these facts: that learning is brain-draining, that even machines break down without regular maintenance. If machines (of steel and iron) can break down without maintenance, without ‘rest’, what of the human body? The brain needs rest too. So when the student goes through the day without a nap, he cannot study effectively. That is it!

Secondly, students waste too much of their and hence do not have time! Absurd, right? Wasting time whilst complaining of not having time. Students do not really utilize leisure or ‘free’ periods wisely. These days, you see most students in groups during such times, talking! Their topics ranges from politics, gossips, dining hall issues, right down to the closure of Apataase! About 55% of our time as students is being ‘spent’ on this aspect of the human nature leaving only 45% for other things, including studies. This is really very bad. After classes and lunch, and before prep time, instead of students finding something worthwhile to do (especially after siesta), you find them conversing, playing football or playing cards. This sometimes happens after preps too.

Thirdly, we have this great problem as students: we do not plan for our studies. Most students do not have time tables for their studies, and act on instinct – studying any subject that comes to mind at any particular time – no planning! This is what I call the Super Instinct Syndrome – SIS. The advantage of SIS is that you never ever get bored behind your books, since you will most probably study only subjects you like most, always. A science student may find himself studying only Maths, Physics and perhaps Chemistry, leaving the English or Geography which he may be offering in addition to the science subjects. This way, this student will be lacking in the other subjects, making him a ‘half-baked student’. The unfortunate fact, however, may be that these ‘other’ subjects will be the determining factor in ensuring his progression to the next stage of his education.

Reader, together we have discussed three principal problems encountered by students in their studies – principal problems. Let’s now see if we can find a solution to these to aid in our studies for better results.

The number one solution is for us to schedule our time such that we can have enough time to rest in the afternoon. After classes and lunch, it is ideal and helpful to rest for at least 30 minutes before we start our studies for the afternoon. In this way, our mind and in fact our entire body is refreshed and absorption of absorption of what we study is increased. It is always good to study in the afternoons and evenings after a good rest. He who can do this is on the way to success; he who cannot walks a lonely path. A lonely path because he will be alone since you are all going to try it, I believe that!

This about this: if we use the forty minutes, one hour, two hours we spend daily (don’t we waste it instead?) talking and idling, in reading a story book instead, can’t we at least improve our command of the English language? If we spend forty minutes conversing each day, it makes two hundred minutes each school week of five days (that is three hours, twenty minutes), eight hundred minutes a month (thirty hours, twenty minutes) and about six thousand, four hundred minutes an academic year. That is about one hundred and six hours! Man, what a waste! Make hay whilst the sun shines – it is said – and we really need to make the most of our time. I do not mean we do not have to converse at all but as much as possible, we must minimize the time allocated for that and study instead. It will be helpful to fix a time for conversation on your time table, if you are addicted to talking!

We now come to the most important solution to the problem we are tackling – planning our time. Anti-SIS, I would say. As students, who want to succeed in their examinations and education, we need to plan our time. Otherwise, we are likely to fail. A man once said that ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” We need to have a routine which we must follow. Success is not by chance but by proper planning and execution of what we plan. It seems now that it is vital to our lives as students but the disturbing fact is that we mostly do not plan. How do we plan – that is the question we have to answer.

For effective planning for our studies, we need to consider, among other factors, the following:
i. The nature of the subject,
ii. The numbers of hours available for studies
iii. The duration of time within which YOU can sit and learn effectively – your strengths and weaknesses

Let’s discuss these factors one by one and see how we can apply them in planning our time tables for effective studies.

The Nature of the Subject

‘Reading subjects’ (those that require a lot of reading, and little calculations) like English literature and Bible knowledge studies can be learnt more effectively when the mind is refreshed, especially after a good sleep or rest, or early in the morning. At such times, we are very sound and more awake. Reading your notes without writing anything down could be boring and usually induces sleep. It is thus appropriate to fix these subjects early in the morning on your time table and after a good rest. Subjects that you find difficult to understand should also be given the same treatment.

Subjects like Mathematics and Accounting which you learn by calculations can, on the other hand, be learnt later in the day, when absorption is likely to be lower (not too low!) since you will be more active in the process of learning. Subjects easier to understand should treated likewise.

Number of hours available for studies

You need to consider the number of hours available for studies weekly and plan with that. If, for example, you are offering eight subjects, divide the total number of hours into eight portions. Then rank the subjects in a increasing order of difficulty, that is if Mathematics is the most difficult, that will be number eight and if English literature is the least difficult, that will be number one. The next step is to share the available number of hours amongst the eight subjects, giving more hours to the subjects down the list, those with the highest ranking. So in the example above, Mathematics should be allocated more hours. This way, you will apportion and make time to study the difficult subjects more often within the week. That is the direct opposite of SIS, right? Well, we are making progress!

Duration of time within which you can effectively concentrate

The period of time within which one can concentrate and study a subject matter effectively without getting bored and tired varies from one person to the other. Averagely for me, the time span for effective concentration and understanding during studies is two hours. After this period, the absorption goes down gradually to zero. The absorption-time graph goes up to the peak at the two-hour mark, and then with time, I absorb less and less till I absorb nothing! You need to define this period for yourself. For effective study, you need to study within this period, say two hours (using my example) for English and two hours for Mathematics for a particular day. To maximize your effectiveness, you should take breaks in between the periods. For me, reading a story book for a short while works better with my breaks!

Considering the above factors, we need to plan. Remember to make the most of your time for the day. As you plan, identify your free times and slot in something worthwhile to do, say reading a story book or a book that teaches you how to speak well in public – a self-help or motivational book. Don’t fail to plan, and thus you will plan not to fail.

Lastly, as a bonus, for understanding of a subject and hence effective study of it, we need to have interest in the subject tutor. Funny, but it works!

Reader, sit up, plan well and you will on the road to success in your studies and your education. Do this, plan well and study well, and you will be on top!

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