Playing the game that is called Exams.

When it comes to exams, there are basically two types – competitive exams and non-competitive ones (school / college tests).

They’re both examples of games, of little hoops you try to jump through, but they have completely different purposes.

Non-Competitive Exams

Competitive exams are those where you’re “competing” for something beyond the exam itself – usually admission to a college or a job.

Non-competitive exams are those where there’s no extrinsic reward. You might still think you’re competing, but that’s your perception rather than the set-up of the test.

These non-competitive exams are the tests you have in college and school.

I didn’t really understand their purpose until I’d reached college.

Until then it seemed that the objective of these tests was to get good scores.

If you did that, you won the game.

And of course, winning the game was supposed to be more important than playing it.

So even if you did understand the material, if for some reason you didn’t score well, it didn’t matter.

While if you scored well, that was all that mattered – regardless of whether you really understood anything.

And this is actually easy to do.

I know because for a long while, in many subjects, I did it.

And because I see many people in top colleges still doing that.

Like most games where winning becomes more important than playing, the nature of the game itself changes to reflect that.

In school exams and even in most college courses, if you just figure out how to solve previous year papers you’ll score high. So naturally people spend more time on that.

You tend to leave out topics that are less likely to “come in the exam”.

You don’t go into a great deal of depth because it’s “not needed for the exam”.

You don’t read anything outside the book because it’s “not in the syllabus”.

So what is supposed to be a course on calculus or economics now becomes a little game of maximizing grades while minimizing effort.

The real point of these exams is to test your learning.

It’s to see how much you learned, assuming of course that you did learn something.

The actual grade is supposed to be irrelevant.

Of course, it’s another fact that firms might use these grades to filter candidates – but that’s not a property of the test itself nor the fault of those who make it.

What people choose to do with these scores is up to them – and more and more firms are waking up to the fact that these aren’t very good indicators of capability or intelligence.

If you really understand this, you’ll see that “studying for an exam” is an oxymoron, as incongruent as practicing to sleep.

The point of the test is to see how well you understood the material.

If you actually understood it, you wouldn’t need to study much – it’s mostly those who didn’t make any effort earlier who need to put in effort now.

It’s also open to debate whether there’s any point “studying” for a test.

It’s probably pointless scoring well if you just cram up the stuff a night before and forget it soon after, as it vanishes from your mind without a trace.

Was there really any use of such a course?

On the other hand, there is a chance you might at least learn something while preparing for the test, if you didn’t learn anything throughout the semester.

And, especially in quantitative subjects like science or economics, you often learn best while solving problems – so even studying for a test can be useful if you actually do it right and understand the concepts rather than cram them.

Some people will approach this as an optimization problem, to try to get the maximum grade they can while minimizing the effort they need to put in, usually by back-loading the work till the last moment.

Others might do the studying bit and leave off worrying about the grade.

Both types of people can do well – those who play this game simply to get high grades, and those who play without caring about the grades.

I’m not sure which approach requires less effort, but I’m pretty sure which one helps you genuinely learn something.

Competitive Exams

This is a completely different game.

Here, you compete for a prize – the exam is usually a means to an end, not an end in itself.

There are several things that differentiate these games.

For one, the name is a misnomer.

A competitive exam isn’t really about competition.

It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, how long they’re studying or what they’re reading.

All of that is a distraction that only bogs you down.

What matters is what you are doing.

In fact, I’m not sure if the best approach wouldn’t be to shut yourself off from the crowd, though many people might reasonably disagree.

Since by definition, only a small percentage of candidates are chosen, copying what the majority are doing is a sure-shot way to fail.

More importantly, if you want to win this game, you invert all the rules of non-competitive exams.

Like most games where winning becomes more important than playing, the nature of the game itself changes to reflect that.

This game has changed to reflect that.

So, if you figure out how to solve previous year papers you’ll score well.

You can leave out topics that are less likely to “come in the exam”.

You don’t go into a great deal of depth because it’s “not needed for the exam”.

You don’t read topics “not in the syllabus” (in the context of preparing for such an exam; what you read otherwise is up to you).

So this now becomes a little game of maximizing scores while minimizing effort.

This is particularly true when it’s a subjective game – think of soft-sciences or even job interviews.

You learn the rules of the game and give the gatekeepers, the game-designers what they want.

If you get carried away and play the game for it’s own sake you drastically reduce your chances of making it.

You might express heretical thoughts – which are basically ideas people haven’t thought about, and more importantly, don’t want to think about.

Or you could reach a level beyond their understanding – and very few people will make an effort to try to understand you.

Whereas, in the hard sciences, it’s still possible to do well without gaming tests.

If you can grasp concepts in physics or math, or if you’re good at data interpretation and logic, it doesn’t matter who sets the test or what their personal beliefs are – you’ll still do well.

I know some people won’t like to look at it this way. I don’t myself.

It’s pretty sad to tell yourself you’re reading stuff you wouldn’t have chosen to left to yourself.

It’s nicer to pretend you’re learning something and gaining a lot of knowledge, or doing something useful.

But that’s not the thrust of this essay – people can have different views on this.


All of these derive from whatever I’ve written above.

All are subjective, and all of them probably won’t work for everyone.

If you’re one among the millions partaking in the national (and international, or at least Asian) hobby of sitting for examinations, choose those, if any, you think can help you.

Particularly in college, the real value of tests is learning how to learn, and thinking better.

Grades are irrelevant, and a natural by-product if you play the game for its own sake. They’ll come easier and with far less effort – simply by showing up and listening whenever something is worth listening to (which, admittedly, is rare).

Or you can simply target grades, and ignore everything else. There’s a decent chance you’ll get them too, but you probably won’t have much else to show for it.

Competitive tests are usually a different ballgame, especially if they’re not objective.

In the first place, they’re not really competitive in the truest sense.

You make your own destiny.

Your competitors have nothing to do with whether you get through or not, so don’t blame them, and don’t look keep looking back to see what they’re doing. All you do is lose your own time and decrease your chances.

Secondly, it’s better to figure out the rules of the game and play by them, or there’s a high chance you waste your time with little to show for it.

It’s not a great game, there are plenty of better things than to sit and read with the purpose of solving artificial questions someone comes up with.

Which is why I would tell you – finish the game fast and get on with your life.

Finally, don’t get carried away.

Clearing an examination is just writing the answers to a few questions someone came up with.

It’s not the big deal a lot of people seem to think it is, and it’s definitely neither a sufficient nor a necessary reason to glamorize anyone.

Succeeding doesn’t mean you’re smart, it just means you won this particular game.

And failing doesn’t say anything about you, it just means you didn’t know how to play this game.



Nice perception and real importance is given to learning which kinda makes sense in long term


Excellent written pratyush ji


Hi all, In the past few weeks, I did an experiment which has made my days more interesting and fun. I will share it here, I hope it will help some of you.

Do you know why games are addicting? why you strive for pointless points? It’s because you can measure your progress, you have a goal and you get feedback quickly.

Utilizing this principle I have tried to “gamify” my day. I created a google sheet, assigned points to everyday activities based on their usefulness. So now every task which used to be boring has a meaning, a purpose. Whenever I do something right (studying, exercising) my points go up, and I get a small dopamine release. When I engage in activities that are harmful in long term, my overall score is reduced, and I can immediately see negative consequences of my actions.

Now it has changed from “having to do right things” to “wanting to do right things“.

“Productive activities are usually done with an end in mind. But there are plenty of different ways to achieve that end – there’s usually at least one way to get what you want by having fun doing it.” -Pandey, Pratyush. Beyond Human: Overcoming Cynicism & Defeating Mediocrity (p. 10). Kindle Edition. 

Ever since coming across this statement, I tried to make productive but sometimes boring activities “fun” and finally I am able to make them fun by “gamifying” them.

Shivam Yadav

Great insight Hemant. Would love to see the google sheet once because I didn’t get the point as to how “When I engage in activities that are harmful in long term, my overall score is reduced, and I can immediately see negative consequences of my actions.” Hope you would clarify this.


Okay, Here you go

Not my original sheet (privacy), but a sample sheet where I have given editing access as well, so you can try changing the points and see how these changes score.




Thankyou for the new article. I’ll consider it as my birthday gift 🦋

Shivam Yadav

Those who have been following pratyush blogs, are getting candy points for their preparation!!!


Figuring out the rules of a game can sometimes be really tough esp when rules are not written explicitly. I tend to make lot of mistakes while doing so and sometimes start doubting my capabilities to play the game in the first place.

Any tip to figure out rules of any game quickly with minimal mistakes?

Ashish Kumar Bhutia

Sir plz make a topic about ideals of life ..


While pursuing for particular game, is it worth to lose in different kind of game which is important too ? How to make a balance to win most of the games that you will come across ?


Hello pratyush sir I really want to connect with you and wanna ask some of my doubts u r an inspiration to me sir pls pls let me know if we can connect anywhere I will not trouble you ever except for my doubts please sir accept this request of mine plss sir I


Next time I would like to know your view about procrastinators .


I believe that we have been wired by our schools in a way that we tend to focus more upon the end result and less upon the process. We tend to hate the process (studying in this case) but we are in love with the results (scoring good, getting a rank in class) because that has been the criteria to judge one’s intellect. I am not aware of the scenario in an engineering or a management college but a Law School sure does provide a different approach.
We are judged on the basis of skills we have and the efforts that we put in to face the real world instead of cramming the laws. One would always have a bare act to refer to while arguing in the court. The way that you interpret a law and the jurisprudence that you apply is what distinguishes you from the crowd. Law Schools have given weightage to internships, moot courts, mock trials, research paper over the GPA of the students so as to prepare them for real world which is appreciable.
The point is, in case of exams in general and non competitive exams in specific, one needs to prioritize quality learning over marks. It could be considered as a contingency clause. If one is able to understand the concepts and their application, then one would also score good with minimal efforts in categorizing topics as ‘needed’ and ‘not needed’ for a particular exam.


Hi pratyush,

Do you believe irrespective of our potential, there are only limited games we get to choose from in any sphere(life in general) ?

Alternatively , there is an element of luck on what games we get to play in our path.
How we play is up to us.
Still that initial factor of luck can’t be denied.

Or is everything really in our hands. If yes, to what extent?

The question may be bit out of context!
Still really want to know your take on this


Sir,can you please tell us what are probability topics,and reward topics after 2021 prelims