As you prepare for your FE or PE exam, are you finding it difficult to focus? Get easily distracted? Or possibly you don’t feel like you are absorbing the material you are trying to learn? All leading to low study performance.
So what are the primary factors leading to this drift of low performance?
The answer to this is not so simple. Every one of us is different, with different habits, beliefs, thoughts, life circumstances, environment, etc… etc. But allow me to propose a concept (or several concepts) researchers and scientists have been working on for decades.
The concept of “flow”
This term was coined by Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. He used this term to describe this experience and concluded that people perform best and experience the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness when they are in a flow state. This concept is nice because it’s simple, as we can see from the figure below. It allows us to reflect on some of the following questions as we are learning and preparing for our exam:
- I’m I feeling anxious? Could it be because you are attempting to learn or solve a difficult question that is beyond your ability?
- I’m I feeling bored? Could it be because you are solving practice questions that are not challenging enough to force you to think about concepts?
You get the idea here, reflect and ask questions about your current study process. Also, please remember, you will likely transition from one state to another (in no specific direction) as you are preparing for your exam.
The sweet or the “just right” spot is in the upper right corner. This is where our ability (skill) matches the challenge (task) – where both are at relatively high levels. If we can get into or even close to this “flow state”, we can be sure we are making good progress.
Here are a few key factors that can help us get into the flow:
- Set one study goal for the week or day. The state of flow takes a lot of our mental energy in one direction.
- Make sure this goal is meaningful to you. We all have a different reason as to why we are putting so much time into preparing for your FE or PE exam.
- Work on solving practice problems that are not too easy and not too hard. Consistently set a high bar for yourself.
Major attention span killer
On a different, yet relevant tangent, here is a big attention span killer that can dramatically reduce our chances of getting into this state of “flow”:
- Your brain can only produce one or two thoughts in your conscious mind at once. We are very single minded – Prof Earl Miller
- Switching back and forth between tasks comes with a cost. For example, if you are reading about a certain concept and then get a notification on your phone. You are not just losing time looking at the notification; you are also losing time on trying to refocus your attention afterwards – which can be a lot of time.
To finish this off, I just want to say everything stated above is ideal. Personally, I find it very difficult to get into this state of flow and would say I transition between states of worry, anxiety, arousal, and control. It is also unrealistic to think that we can completely avoid all distractions in an environment designed to steal our attention away. Do you find it difficult to get into this state?
Let’s work with what we have at our disposal, change those things we can change, and go through this study journey one.
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