Graphically Speaking: Merry StuDying!

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By Zacchaeus Chok (18S03O)

Student life is best summed up in three factors – work, leisure and sleep. By adjusting these variables, we try to elevate our overall well-being and enjoyment. Certainly, we have noticed variation among the cohorts of students – the imbalance of work, leisure and sleep is a trend, with some working excessively hard and being prone to poor sleep schedules while others slack too much.

How do we best study the intricate and complex relationship between the tripartite factors of student life? As students, perhaps the best way to do so with academic vigour is by applying what we have learnt. Utilising various quantitative concepts, albeit in a rather amateurish fashion, this article aims to formally analyse the school-life of students.

Study-leisure Balance

A graph of satisfaction achieved against our time spent slacking.

Above is a graph that depicts the general relationship between our satisfaction and our opportunities for leisure (measured in time spent slacking). Work-life balance, a hot topic for adults, is also one that is pertinent and increasingly relevant to students, though “study-leisure balance” may be more applicable in our case. Unfortunately, this balance is something that hardly any students have reached.

The relationship between time spent slacking and satisfaction is as follows: initially, the more we slack and take breaks from the turmoil of mugging, we refresh ourselves and naturally become more relaxed.

Yet, as with all good things in life, we can only have a limited dosage of slacking. Beyond a certain point, our intuition remind us that we have slacked for too long and that our Promos are looming. The niggling reminders in our brain urge us to stop procrastinating. Inevitably, the resultant anxiety induces stress. This is represented by the downward sloping portion of the graph.

With Promos and A-levels round the corner, it will be invariably beneficial for one to find the equilibrium position between study and leisure (represented by t1 and the corresponding s1) which yields the maximum satisfaction.

Quantity and Quality of Studying

Our rational minds plan for the long run conditions of our future, hoping that the resultant higher grades bring forth a plethora of opportunities. A simple cost-benefit analysis tells us that the more we study, the higher our grades.

A graph of our predicted grades against how much we study.

The above graph attempts to summarise the pattern between the quantity of studying and our predicted grades. However, this pattern is rather simplistic and generalised. It doesn’t really account for the sudden killer examination, and doesn’t apply to the genius in your class. Furthermore, it is not necessarily true that grades are a reflection of hard work. The trend depicted in the graph, however, best fits the typical student.

The “warming up” stage is perhaps the biggest stumbling block to many. When we have finally stopped procrastinating, we take out our notes reluctantly and sigh. Personally, I try to get into the posture of studying by highlighting and jotting down some notes. Behind this façade, nothing really gets into my mind and rather often, I give up and whip out my phone. Clearly, the efficiency in the “warming up” stage is minimal.

For the rare few who make it through the first stage, you are rewarded with a sudden “burst” in productivity. This is likelier to happen if we are consistent and dedicated in studying; since topics are intimately linked to each other, the ones we have previously revised aid in the understanding of the new topic. Consequently, getting higher grades becomes a matter of internalising more of the content. Then exhaustion (and maybe complacency) kicks in, and the productivity of studying becomes less pronounced. We read, learn and understand at a much slower rate.

Finally, the portion of the graph labelled “STOP STUDYING” surfaces. At this stage, one has allocated too much time to studying (8, 9 hours perhaps), depriving oneself of sleep.  Sacrificing sleep at the expense of studying – this negative dynamic is not only unhealthy but also counterproductive. This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but is substantiated by several studies (Gillen-O’Neel, Huynh, Fuligni, 2013). Granted, one can probably cover slightly more content by staying up for 1 more hour. But that 1 hour of sleep deprivation however, seeps back into morning lectures and tutorials, where our attention span and retention of knowledge sharply declines.

As utility-maximising students or rather, academic-maximisers, who desire the best academic performance, the time spent studying labelled tmax is perhaps the allocatively efficient outcome. One has to be cautious to strike the balance between our grades and the health risks involved in achieving them.

Satisficing Behaviour

For some of us, studying really isn’t our game and aspiring for top percentiles is but a dream. Other aspects of student life such as socialising, CCAs and gaming form a greater share of our overall well-being. Still, for the sake of meeting expectations (of parents, institutions or oneself), a minimum mark is required.

On the other hand, some who identify as academic-satisficers might just be hiding beneath a façade!


Our studying strategy is aligned with our beliefs about what is best for us. The generalisations made by this article, and perhaps your parents and teachers, are probably wrong about you.The only definite takeaway is to study in accordance to your own needs, and at your own risks. From each according to his ability (in studies), to each according to his actual academic performance.

Alas, Raffles Press wishes all: Merry Studying!

245100cookie-checkGraphically Speaking: Merry StuDying!


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