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How do I improve my subject retention capacity, especially when I am preparing for GATE and ESE?

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Before I go on to ideas to improve the subject retention capacity, let us try and understand.

Why is subject retention so difficult?

As an engineering student, most of us would have known the thrill of studying overnight, cramming up the subject and writing exam the next morning and often scored decent and good marks also in it. But in the next semester, when we try to recall that information, we would realise that we cannot remember that information anymore.

The picture below sums up our expression

Why do I keep forgetting everything I study?

This technique of studying served our purpose during college days. But, it is not possible to do the same once we try to prepare for competitive exams, or, in general, if we are interested in learning the topic in our long term memory.

As an aspirant for competitive examinations and preparing for GATE, it is imperative not only to study tons of concept, formulae and question-solving techniques, but it is even more critical to retain all of this information for a longer duration.

This is one of the reasons why we started APSEd - to make everyone retain knowledge in long term memory and actually learn a topic. This makes one confident and score high in exams.

How does our brain function?

To be able to learn better and retain more information, we should understand how our brain functions once it receives new information.

What happens when we read a topic?

Once we read a topic, there is a spike of information in our brain about that topic. But, as soon as we finish reading it, we start losing the information, and we can see from the curve that within a month we forget most of the information.

Though, by revising and reviewing the subject, we can flatten our retention curve. The first revision should be done soon after we finish the topic and then, the time interval between the next revision can be increased.

Increasing Subject Retention

Between each successive revision, our retention increases and after three to four revisions, as we can see, the curve flattens out, and we can retain the whole topic in our long term memory.

We need to apply this learning technique at two levels:

  1. For various topics within a subject

  2. For different subjects

Let’s say, if you are giving one week to cover a subject, then you should be able to recall the whole subject at the end of the week.

How to make sure we retain it?

Spend a few minutes on the topic that you are covering for the day just to get an overview of it.

Formulate questions

For example (have chosen a Structural Engineering example): If you are studying Indeterminacy of structures then you can ask:

  • What is indeterminacy?

  • Why we are trying to find it?

  • Types of indeterminacy

  • How to calculate it for beams, frames, trusses?

Now, once you start studying, you look for answers to these questions.

On the second day, when you move on to the next topic, you just try to recall the topic based on these questions, and if you cannot remember something, then you look into your notes.

On the third day, you can follow the same method to recall what you studied for the last two days and follow the same strategy until you finish the topic.

The same method can be applied when you are revising full subjects.


Try to do the first revision of a subject after two weeks of finishing it. The first revision of the whole subject may take between 3-5 days, but it will reduce in the subsequent revisions.

You can do the second revision after four weeks and final revision after 8-10 weeks.

Remember, revision is not about going through the whole subject word by word but more about asking yourself the questions, recalling the answers and filling in the gaps.

Next what?

After reading this article you may feel it is too much work, or it is too difficult to follow but, if you work on the idea with the right approach and break it down into small steps, then you can definitely achieve it.

If you can work on this strategy of learning, it will be a worthy weapon in your arsenal for years to come.

Have you faced the problem of retaining subject information and overcame it?



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