Bad study habits that are preventing you from clearing important exams

Apr 2, 2021

Failing competitive exams like CA, UPSC, NEET, etc., over and over again can lead to many mental health issues.


I have seen people suffer from anxiety attacks because they are in constant fear of 


What if I don’t clear it in this attempt?

It’s terrible. There are many who just don’t believe in themselves anymore.


They have zero self-confidence and self-esteem. They are filled with self-doubt.


They go to sleep crying and wake up stressed out of their minds.


First of all, just because you are not able to clear a competitive exam doesn’t mean you are good for nothing.


We recently came across someone who had taken our DBDA test. He had high scores in many of the abilities test.


He was clearly very capable and had a lot of potentials.


But his father wasn’t willing to believe the test results and that his son is actually capable.


And the reason for that was that his son always had poor marks at school and college.


We took a few more tests to see why was he getting poor grades everywhere. Turns out that he was suffering from a very common issue – bad study habits.


He was smart. He was capable. But he had horrible study habits which prevented him from scoring top marks.


Most of us suffer from bad study habits. It’s one of the reasons that many repeatedly fail competitive exams.


Today we are going to look into a few bad study habits and how to change them.


By the end of this blog article, you should be able to study better and more effectively.


And if you follow everything in this article, you would get very close to clearing that competitive exam that’s holding you back from your dreams.

16 Bad Study Habits and how to get rid of them

Bad Study Habit #1 – Procrastinating

How to fix it – Accountability & Monitoring

Whatever may be the reason we procrastinate, the biggest factor for it is that most of us aren’t self-motivated and disciplined.


We need external sources of motivation like for example being constantly monitored by a teacher. 


That’s why are more prone to studying at school and tuition centres. We see people around us studying, so we are more likely to study.


If that’s not sufficient motivation, the added fear of being yelled at or punished by the teacher for not studying definitely gets us to study.


But neither of these things are available at home. Sure our mother or father can monitor us. But they can’t do it consistently.


So how do we ensure we study instead of procrastinating at home?

Through creating accountability & allowing monitoring.

Accountability means that you are responsible for something and will do what you say you would.

There would be someone in your life who you wouldn’t want to let down. Tell them that you are going to finish a particular set of chapters within a given period of time.

Promise them that you would. Now, you have created a scenario that you don’t want them to think that you are someone who bluffs and doesn’t do what you said you would.

An alternate would be to allow someone to monitor you. All of us hate being monitored by someone else.

But many of us don’t perform unless someone does. This external motivation is important for us to work, perform or study.

The ideal thing to do is to be self-motivated. And it’s a trait everyone should develop.

However, till you master self-motivation, I recommend you be accountable to someone or allow someone to monitor your progress.

This is where a psychometric test comes handy.

It helps hiring managers to identify and measure a candidate’s hidden characteristics and determine whether they are sufficient to perform the job or not.

This helps organisations reduce the cost of hiring the wrong people.

But there’s an additional use of psychometric tests.

It also tells you what you are already good at, your strengths, and how to get even better at them.

You can then use this information to choose a career path or profession where your strengths would give you an advantage over others.

Bad Study Habit #2 – Pulling an All-Nighter or Having Inadequate Sleep

How to fix it – Accountability & Monitoring

There are two reasons people study late at nights.


  1. They actually prefer and enjoy studying in the quiet of the night.

  2. They put things off till the last minute and now they have to sacrifice sleep and study all night to cover the syllabus.


While the first reasons look good and not careless like the second one, both are equally bad for you.


First of all, staying up all night goes against our natural sleep cycle. This can lead to sleeping disorders such as insomnia.


And secondly, inadequate sleep would lead to a lack of attention and energy. That means your brain won’t retain anything that you study.


In fact, studies show that pulling an all-nighter for several nights before an exam increases the chances of getting lower marks.


The reason for this is when you try to cram a ton of information before an exam in a short period of time (all-nighter), the brain uses the short-term memory to store it. 


But we need long-term memory to recall and retain information.


In essence, we don’t remember much when we are writing the exam. 


And during the exam, we are terribly frustrated thinking, “Oh no. I read this last night. I know it. I just can’t remember it properly. I know it… I know it. Come on! Why can’t I remember it?!”

So what should you do?


The number one thing you should do is avoid delaying exam preparation to the night or week before the exam.


If you do that then you wouldn’t have the need to pull all-nighters.


And the way to do it is by creating a realistic study plan (we will talk more about setting a study plan in the next point). 


Additionally, study only for a few hours on the last 2-3 days prior to the exam. 


If you have successfully finished preparing for the exam well before the date of the exam, this shouldn’t be a problem.


The reason we study more during the last few days before the exam, even if we have prepared well, is that we fear we would forget something.


We constantly try to revisit topics we already know. We are low on confidence that we won’t remember something during the exam.


While people who have studied and prepared well suffer from this, this is especially true when we study for an exam a few days before it. 


We are under constant stress and fear of forgetting something at the exam. We carry this anxiety in the exam and we do forget most of the things we study.


So instead of doing that, I would recommend that you take practise tests well before the actual exams and see how you perform.


If you perform poorly, you can go back and prepare again and take the practice test again till you are confident that you can perform well in the actual exam.


You can’t do this if you are pulling all-nighters. You need to plan such things well in advance.


So give yourself the time to prepare. Don’t push things to the last minute. Sleep adequately – 7 to 8 hours minimum.

Bad Study Habits #3 – Studying Without a Plan or Poor Time Management

How to fix it – Prepare a realistic study plan far ahead of your exams

Have you ever wondered why so many people create study plans and stop following it after the first day?


It’s because they over plan.


Right from 9 am to 9 pm, they would have mapped out what they would study. 


They would have a particular chapter that gets anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours. 


And what happens? 


After the first 2 hours, they are still not done with the first chapter of the day.


Ok so now they think, they can compensate this against a small chapter which has been given two hours but will be done in 1.5 hours.


4 hours later, they’d still be stuck with the first chapter of the day.


And the next day morning they don’t even care about the plan because clearly it “doesn’t work”.


Actually, the plan works… if you have 40 hours in a day.


The problem is that we get overly ambitious when we make our plans. Most of the things we want to finish in 2 hours, take more than 2 hours. 

Many things we want to finish in one sitting, take many sittings.


So it’s important to prepare study plans that are realistic and not overly ambitious.


But how do you measure how much time a chapter would take?


By tracking time.


One of the best ways to track the time you take to finish a task is the Pomodoro Technique.


In this technique you


  • Study for 25 minutes uninterrupted
  • Take a 5-minute break
  • Resume studying for another 25 minutes
  • Follow up with another 5-minute break.


Each 25 minute study period followed by a 5-minute break is one cycle. After you complete four cycles, you take a longer (15-30) minute break.


So how does this technique help in measuring how much time a chapter it would take?


Well, you follow this technique from the start to the end of a chapter. After that, all you have to do is count the number of cycles it took to finish the chapter.


Once you do this a few times you will have a good idea of how long it takes to study anything.


Also, you can’t study back to back for 12 hours. This technique works well since it allows you to take timely breaks.


But even if you aren’t following this technique, you must take breaks so that you can refresh your mind, destress your eyes and relax.


So now that you have measured the time, you can prepare your study plan accordingly.


I’d suggest that you under plan initially.


What I mean by this is that you don’t have too many chapters to complete on the first day. Or even the first week.


Complete 2-3 chapters that take 1-2 hours each. That’s a total of 6 hours of study. Don’t study more than this.


As you get comfortable with the routine of the plan, add more chapters. But only add so much that you can handle without getting overwhelmed or overworked.


Remember, study smart. When it comes to studying well, breaks and rest are equally important as hard work.


So ensure you include them strategically in your study plan.

Bad Study Habit #4 – Studying Way Too Hard

How to fix it – Take breaks

There are some who generally study well. But right before exams, due to anxiety of not performing properly in the exam, they start studying way too hard.


They lose track of eating or sleeping. They are simply studying and studying and studying.


However, this causes an overburden of the brain. Add to that the stress they put themselves in, and they have created the perfect formula to not do well in their exams – the very thing they were stressed about in the first place.


Before exams, is not the time to study hard. This should be done much earlier. 


Even if the exam’s around the corner, it’s wise to take breaks. In fact, I’d even recommend you socialize and do some recreational activities.


This helps you refresh your mind as well as infuse you with good energy.

Bad Study Habits #5 – Studying With Distractions (Phone, Social Media, etc.)

How to fix it – Switch off your phone & use the Pomodoro Technique

Imagine you are concentrating hard and suddenly you get a Whatsapp notification on your phone. 


You think that it would just take a second – you will read the message and reply to it… how long can it take?


But then you suddenly there’s a notification from Instagram.


And before you know it, you spent an hour scrolling through your Instagram feed.


This leads to more distractions and it’s already evening. You spent a half-day not studying for that exam.


This is what distractions like TV, cell phones and social media can do.


I know people who study while watching their favourite show, either on the TV or their laptop.


Not only are you wasting your study time (which may lead to all-nighters), but you are constantly switching between watching the show and studying for your exam.


You are most likely to not remember anything you study during this time.

So what’s the solution? We all are so addicted to phones and social media.


Like the first point, it comes down to self-discipline. 


But most of us lack that. So here are a few ways to stop yourself from getting distracted.


  • Use the Pomodoro Technique. I spoke about the Pomodoro Technique in the Bad Study Habits #1.

    Since you have to maintain your focus for 25 minutes, you wouldn’t be allowed to check any messages during that period of time.

    You may check your messages during the 5-minute break. However, I would advise against it.

    Chances are that those 5 minutes will turn into an hour-long break. It can be very difficult to put down the phone once you have started using it.

    So my advice would be that you don’t use your phone in your 5-minute breaks unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    Instead, you can use your phone during your longer (15-30 minute) break.

  • Ask a family member to lock your phone with a secret PIN that they shouldn’t tell you till you are done studying.

    This point is pretty self-explanatory. There is an alternative to it.

    You may need to use your phone to make some calls. In this case, you would need your phone back.

    So instead of having your phone locked, you can block social media and other distracting apps.

    The PIN to unlock those apps would be with a member of your family and you wouldn’t know it.

    This way you won’t get distracted and you can still use your phone.

  • Switch off your phone. If you aren’t expecting any urgent or emergency calls, the best thing to do is simply switch off your phone while you study.

Do not watch TV or shows on your laptop, while you study. It might seem to be helpful in getting through a boring chapter or subject.

Trust me it isn’t. You wouldn’t learn or remember anything. And that would only prevent you from scoring well in your exams.

Bad Study Habits #6 – Studying At The Wrong Place

How to fix it – Prepare a realistic study plan far ahead of your exams

How to fix it – Find a clean, organised & spacious place to study & stick with it

You would come across many who would boast that they studied under a candle, a street lamp post and lantern.


While I have empathy for their circumstances they were in that forced them to study in such poor environments.


If you and your family aren’t this unfortunate, then you must put serious thought into where you study.


The space where you study plays a major role in determining the quality of your studying and learning.


I’d recommend you find a place that’s clean, well lit and well-ventilated space. It should not be overcrowded with objects that you don’t need.


I’ve seen a lot of people keep all their books, notes and stationeries on the table. 


On your table, you should only have the books and stationeries you need for that study session. 


That means if you are studying a particular chapter, the only material you require to cover that chapter should be on the table.


Nothing else.


Again, the place should have sufficient natural light and air. Natural air and light have a way of creating an environment of freshness and high energy.


In fact, you don’t feel as vibrant studying under a tube light or a lamp as you do studying under natural light.


Of course, you won’t find any natural light after sunset. But while you do, make the best use of it.


And finally, never ever study on your bed or couch.


You will be too comfortable or even sleepy, to study. 


A good chair that supports your neck, back and your bottom and a sturdy table are the only two furniture you need.


Because sitting upright on a chair that’s not overly comfortable puts you in an attentive state. And that’s exactly what you need to study well.

Bad Study Habits #7 – Studying With the Wrong Group

How to fix it – Study with people who share your goal of scoring high marks and clearing exams

Group studying can be great. You can teach concepts that you are clear with, to people who aren’t. And vice versa.


It also leads to a competitive spirit. Also, in case one of you gets distracted the others can keep them in check and get them back on track.


But these benefits come only when you are studying with the right group. 


With the wrong group, you would be more distracted than if you were studying alone.


You may go to study with them, but all of a sudden you might find yourself talking about things that have nothing to do with the exams.


In order for group studies to work, you must join a group comprised of people who have the drive to clear exams, are focused on their studies, have set high goals and ambitions for themselves and are motivated to achieve them.


In this group, you would thrive.


In fact, you don’t even need a group. Even one or two additional people who are driven and ambitious would be sufficient.


You would have certainly heard of Jim Rohn’s famous motivational quote


We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with


So go out and find the right people to study with.


If you can’t find the right group of people, remember, it’s always better to study alone.

Bad Study Habits #8 – Not asking the teacher for help when you don’t understand

How to fix it – Get over your fear of judgement

Most of us are terrified of asking questions to teachers.


What if I sound stupid?

What if the teacher calls us stupid in front of everyone?


What if others laugh at me when I ask this question?


What if everyone thinks I’m stupid?


These are the thoughts that pop up in our minds. Maybe one or more of these has actually happened.


Once these things enter our mind, we don’t ask the teacher anything.


Here’s the thing. 


Everyone learns at a different rate. I’m sure there are things that you understand easily that others struggle to understand.


Similarly, most of us have some or the other concepts we find difficult to understand. And others easily understand them.


But if you never clear it because a few people may think you are stupid, you will never fully understand these concepts.


And when questions related to these questions come in the exams, you will not be able to answer them.


Therefore, it’s crucial that you understand every concept in your domain properly.


Think of it this way, if people think bad of you just because you didn’t understand something they did, then you probably don’t need them in your life.


Which means that they won’t be in your life for long.


You will move on without their presence in your life. It’s only a matter of time.


Remember, if you struggle to understand a few things, it doesn’t mean you aren’t smart.


It just means that you haven’t understood it… yet.


That’s all.

Bad Study Habits #9 – Not learning from your mistakes

How to fix it – Ask your peers & teachers to help you find out where you might be going wrong

It’s not that we don’t want to learn from our mistakes. 


I mean, yes, there are people who are aware of their mistakes and still do nothing to learn from them or fix them.


But I’m sure you aren’t one of those people. You are not able to learn from your mistakes is because you haven’t yet found a way to improve yourself.


Mistakes in exams can be quite difficult to find. Especially in competitive exams where you are only told your marks and nothing else.


Some of these examinations offer to give a copy of your answer sheet for a small fee.


If you can get that, please get your copy of the graded answer sheet.


You will straight away know where you have made your mistakes.


But if there is no such provision, the best way to identify your mistakes is to ask your friends and teachers to help you.


Additionally, ask them to help you figure out solutions so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes again.


It’s not wrong to make mistakes. But it’s crucial that you learn from them and don’t repeat them.

Bad Study Habits #10 – Multitasking

How to fix it – Focus on one thing at a time

No matter who says what, we can’t multitask. It’s a scientific fact.


Humans can’t focus on two or more things at the same time. It’s simply not possible.


If you think you can multitask and have been able to do that, you haven’t.


In reality, the best you were able to do was rapidly switch between two tasks and got really good at it.


But when it comes to studying, you need to focus on studying for a prolonged period of time. 


You need to put the time and focus to store information in the long term memory. 


Therefore, it’s crucial that when you are studying you only study. This is the same reason why you shouldn’t study while watching a movie, series or sports.

Bad Study Habits #11 – Insufficient practice

How to fix it – Practice as much as possible

Overconfidence is one of the main reasons why so many people with the potential to be very successful, don’t succeed.

Bad Study Habits #12 – Listening to music

How to fix it – Follow the following rules if you want to listen to music while studying

There has been a lot of research on whether music helps with studies or interferes with it.


The benefits of listening to music during studying have been well documented.


So is it a good idea to listen to music while studying?


Yes and no.


It depends on you. If you can maintain your concentration and focus on your studies for a long time without music, there’s no need to start now.


In fact, many find even the slightest noise during studying disturbing.


Then there are others who have a monkey mind


They are so distracted and their attention so scattered that music is likely their only way of maintaining concentration (without medication).


And then there are those who just enjoy studying with some music playing on their earphones. It puts them in a good mood.


Which is a good thing. We do tend to study better when we are in a good mood rather than in a bad mood. 


A bad mood can actually be quite distracting since we end up thinking about it.


Additionally, music helps people concentrate better when they are studying subjects that they consider boring. So music helps them focus.


Research found that students who listened to classical music in the background during a one hour lecture scored significantly higher in quiz from that lecture.


So far, it sounds like music can be a good thing during studying. 


It can… but only if you stick to the following rules:


Avoid listening to music with lyrics


When you are reading and trying to understand and comprehend it, you are essentially listening to yourself.


But when you do that with lyrical music in your ears, you can’t really listen to yourself any more.


It’s almost like trying to listen to your friend at a loud music concert. Even if you can listen to your friend, you can’t make out what’s he saying.


Avoid listening to loud music


Listening to loud music while studying has the same negative effect as listening to music with lyrics.


You just can’t listen to yourself and your thoughts while studying.


Avoid listening to music if it is distracting you


Just because someone is listening to music while studying and it’s not affecting them, doesn’t mean you have to also.


Some of us need pin-drop silence while studying. If that’s the case with you, embrace that and study in a quiet place and without any music.


Avoid listening to music if it’s interfering with your understanding and comprehension abilities


The moment you feel you unable to understand and comprehend what you are studying and are reading the same sentence or paragraph multiple times because the previous times you were not concentrating, stop the music.


Even if it’s classical music or classical music or non-lyrical music if music is getting in the way of your understanding and comprehension abilities stop listening to it.

Bad Study Habits #13 – Studying to remember, instead of studying to understand

How to fix it – Switch to active studying

One of the biggest mistakes students make is that they study passively instead of actively.


When you study passively, you simply read the chapters, try to memorize the answers to questions by repeating them loudly multiple times and at the max underlining important sentences.


In essence, they are studying to remember what they have read, so that they can write exactly that in the exams.


But active learning is different.


When you learn actively, you are doing more than reading the chapter or listening to a lecture. 


You are understanding the concepts. You are learning. And when you understand the concepts, you don’t need to memorize anything.


So how do you study actively? Yes, you can make notes and underline important information.


And these two are effective if you do them right. Problem is, no one gets them right.


Either we don’t know how to take notes effectively or we are just too lazy to do it unless a teacher dictates what we should write in our notes.


And when it comes to underlining phrases, words and sentences, most of us don’t have a clue what’s important, so we end up underlining everything.


So that’s not helpful.


One of the best ways to study actively is to employ Feynman’s technique, pioneered by Dr. Richard Feynman.


Here’s how it works:

Once you begin to study this way, you will never have to memorize anything. This is where real learning happens.

Bad Study Habits #14 – Not making an outline

How to fix it – List down everything you need to study

Don’t you hate it when you are days away from your exam and you realize that you missed out on a few important concepts or chapters?


On day one of starting your study plan for an exam, you must always make a list of all important chapters and concepts.


Then prioritize the chapters and concepts you most struggle with. 


Creating such an outline would help you stay on track with studying and more importantly, you won’t wake up on the day of the exam realizing that you missed out on a few important chapters and concepts.

Bad Study Habits #15 – Not taking notes or not taking enough notes

How to fix it – Learn the art of note-taking from online or offline courses

Remember I spoke about active studying?


Note-taking is perhaps one of the most important aspects of active learning. 


But we are never taught how to take notes. Through our school and college, notes are dictated by professors and teachers.


That’s not helpful. They may as well give printouts of these things and ask us to study it.


Note-taking is not only writing things you heard from a teacher or something you read in your textbooks.


It’s much more than that. Here are a few ways to take notes effectively:


  • Don’t write long wordy sentences when you take notes. Abbreviate words and use diagrams and arrows.

    Many of us write long wordy sentences that we miss out on an important part of the lecture and then lose track of what’s being taught.

    And this stops us from writing notes altogether. So use shorter forms of words and broken sentences. You don’t have to grammatically correct when you take notes.

  • Take notes in languages that help you understand easily. If you are not good with written English, you can write notes in your native language.

    You can always translate your notes into English later.

  • Taking notes doesn’t mean only writing what’s mentioned in the textbook or what a teacher is saying.

    Many of us come up with ideas and thoughts that are related to the concept or topic but are not being talked about.

    You must write them down as well so that you can revisit them and explore those ideas and thoughts further.

  • Don’t forget to write your doubts and questions. If you wait to ask them to your teacher later, you may forget what your doubts were.

    Having all your questions and doubts cleared is an essential part of learning.

    So make sure you note them down before you forget.

  • Take online courses on note-taking.

    Everyone has this notion that note-taking is easy and everyone can do it. That’s not true.

    Like any other skill, note-taking is also an acquired skill. Yes, some people are gods of note-taking.

    But for others, note-taking is a skill that comes from practice.

    There are many courses online on Udemy, LinkedIn and Youtube that teach you the right way of taking notes.


Note-taking is important. But what’s more important is taking notes the right and effective way.

Bad Study Habits #16 – Highlighting the Textbook

How to fix it – Quiz yourself

Bad Study Habits #5 – Studying With Distractions (Phone, Social Media, etc.)

Bad Study Habits #5 – Studying With Distractions (Phone, Social Media, etc.)

Bad Study Habits #5 – Studying With Distractions (Phone, Social Media, etc.)

Bad Study Habits #5 – Studying With Distractions (Phone, Social Media, etc.)

Highlighting important words, phrases and sentences are one of the most common tips everyone throws around before an exam.


The whole point of highlighting is to help us revise quickly. We can just read the highlighted parts instead of the whole page and still revise everything on that page.


It’s also important for revising important theorems and formulas. 


But the problem is, most of us don’t know what should be highlighted and what shouldn’t.


As a result, we turn into painters and paint the whole book with the highlighter.


A better alternative is to quiz yourself.


While studying you can write questions that you would have to answer later without looking at the textbook. 


This way you will learn better. 


Also, you will identify parts of the topic you haven’t understood clearly because you won’t be able to answer questions related to that.


You can continue highlighting important information in your textbook.


But before you do that, you must identify what you need to revisit and what you don’t.


Quizzing yourself helps you identify that. Once you do that, you can easily highlight that and revisit it over and over again till you have understood it completely.

Do you remember when we were kids, random uncles and aunties used to ask us what we wanted to do when we grow up?

And with every passing year, our answer changed.

Even now, many of us don’t know what we want to do.

My friend’s son is 22 years old, and sometimes he wants to be a musician, sometimes he wants to be an animator and sometimes he wants to be a social worker.

He’s training to work as airline staff, and already he has lost interest in it. Now, he wants to have his own business.


Studying right isn’t usually taught in our schools. We are given important questions and asked to study them. 


We study them and we pass exams.


And then we enter the world of competitive exams where every single thing is important.


Here’s there’s no concept of important questions. The whole study material is important because questions in the exams may come from anywhere in the textbook.


And we all make the mistake of trying to memorize the whole textbook. 


The moment we realise that’s not possible, we start identifying chapters we would study and the ones we would risk leaving.


And in the exams, we see that most of the questions came from chapters we left. Which isn’t true.


Questions would have come from all over the syllabus but we end up focusing so much on the ones that came from the chapters we didn’t study that we feel that way.


So instead of finding a shortcut or chapters to leave, wouldn’t it better to learn how to study in the right and effective way?


That way we will be able to write and clear any competitive exam that we take.

Do you have any of the Bad Study Habits we mentioned in this article?

Tell us in the comments below and we will help you overcome them.

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