How do you prepare a public competition?

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Robert Maurer
@robertmaurer
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Many readers write to me because they are interested in how to prepare the most disparate public competitions: police, advocacy, customs agency, carabinieri, school teaching, medical tests etc.

Many of them have 18 years of studies behind them: elementary + middle + high school + university.

Some less, when it comes to competitions dedicated to graduates (in this case they are "only" 13 years old)

Others, on the other hand, even more, when it comes to competitions dedicated to people with masters or other qualifications above the degree.



Finally, many have been working for years and even have a family: they are therefore used to responsibilities and pressures much greater than those of a test.

Yet, in preparing a competition, almost everyone has enormous difficulties.

This makes you think, doesn't it?

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Because public competitions are difficult

Well, the first reason is that many have never learned to study really well.

It seems paradoxical, because after 18 years of doing one thing for 7-8 hours a day (between lessons and personal study), one should have become a dragon by now and have acquired a formidable technique.

Think for example if, having started at age 6, you played tennis 7-8 hours a day for the next 18. You'd be a racket monster, right?

And yet, after 18 years of studying, it still happens to have doubts about how to study.

And so you find yourself preparing a competition, perhaps decisive for your career and your future, asking yourself:


  • How to get organized?
  • When to start studying?
  • How to memorize?
  • How much time to devote to each subject?

The problem is that all schools make you study, but few teach you how to do it.


Usually you get thrown in the water and have to learn to swim on your own, so that in the end you get by but the style and results are not always the best.

And the more time passes, the more you are involved in other activities (such as work and family), the more the limitations of your study method become evident, because you have less time and energy to compensate for them.

Then there is a second very important aspect, and which is underlined by many of those who write to me: studying is not all the same. 

Or rather, there are a number of activities that are always the same:

  • Acquire information (lessons, texts, videos, etc).
  • Understand them
  • Memorize them
  • Reproduce them in the exam (quizzes, descriptive written tests, oral exams, preparation of papers, etc. etc.)

But these activities, depending on whether one is preparing for the baccalaureate, a university exam or a public competition, have different peculiarities.

And so many, despite having perhaps managed fairly well in university, find themselves in difficulty when they have to prepare a competition or a state exam:


  • Why they have to manage many subjects all together in view of a single deadline.
  • Why they are not used to the modality with which the exam takes place.

Finally, then, there is a third reason which makes public competitions difficult: they are tests in which unfortunately doing well is not enough for you, you must also do better than the others, who like you are fierce and prepared.

In short, you do not run alone, as when you sit down for a university exam or go to the interrogation in high school, but against thousands and thousands of people.


Furthermore, while compulsory school, and to a lesser extent university, are organized - albeit with a thousand flaws - to help you move forward, a public contest is built to make you fall.

For all these reasons, if you have to pass a public competition it will NOT be enough for you to simply study hard and well.

You will also need to adapt your preparation.

Three tips for when you prepare a contest

The variety of notices and subjects to be prepared is such that it is impossible for me to give specific advice on each of them.

However, there are three things which, based on my experience and what students and readers tell me, I consider essential to pass any type of public competition:

  • Train from day one to what will be the exam modality
  • Studying the subjects in sequence and not in parallel
  • Discover and focus on the matter that makes the difference (there is always at least one).

So let's see these aspects one after the other.


Simulate the exam from day 1

It's obvious that:

  • If you know everything about a topic but go and take a cross-check against the clock without ever having done one, you probably won't pass it.
  • Likewise, if you know all the jurisprudence perfectly but have never commented on a case, forget about passing the bar exam.
  • And if you know a subject very well but have never spoken out loud about it, you may not get to give your best when you present it orally.

Therefore, all those who prepare a competition train with what will be the exam modality.


But actually, most don't do it enough: he only dedicates time to us here and there, and especially in the last days, at the end of the preparations.

What I recommend instead is of training for your test almost obsessively since the first day.

Get used to the type of questions you will find on the exam straight away, not having time, not knowing what to answer.

This, with the same preparation, will tremendously boost your performance on the exam and it will likely decrease your anxiety markedly that day.

Study sequentially, not parallel

In my study method, I advise university students to prepare the session exams by proceeding in parallel, that is, by carrying on several subjects at the same time (albeit with different intensity).

To prepare a competition, however, the programming must be done differently, because:

  • Il number of subjects to prepare is often greater than those normally prepared in a university exam session
  • There has not been a period in which lessons have been attended, the study material has not yet been pre-processed, and therefore there is a need for a first phase of almost full immersion to rough it up.
  • The candidate often has a job and / or a family, so they don't have 10 hours a day from divide on many subjects different.

For this, I recommend studying one or at most two subjects at a time, and move on to the next only when you are done with these.

While you study the following ones, you will review the ones you have already finished, using the principles of spaced repetition: it is a way of reviewing information at set time intervals, and that greatly improves memorization.

In this way:

  • You work in a less dispersed way
  • You will find it much easier to organize yourself

But which materials should be done first?

Certainly the most difficult, because they are also the decisive ones to pass the competition.

Identify the material that makes the difference and focus on it.

If you start with the hardest subject:

  • You will have more time to review and consolidate it.
  • You will leave the easiest ones to the last preparation period, when typically it is always a little late

This will give you a big advantage over the other candidates, because it is in the most difficult subjects that real differences are found score.

Be careful, because this is an aspect that many miss.

You see, easy subjects are a bit like cycling on the plains: there are those who arrive first and those who arrive last, but the gaps are never abysmal, indeed, often we all arrive together in a group.

Difficult matter, on the other hand, they are like climbs: tens of minutes can be gained or lost and the gaps can be very deep.

I'll give you an example with a test that I know very well, that of medicine, both because I gave it, passing it among the top 40 out of thousands of candidates, and because I helped many blog readers to pass it.

At the medicine test, many do the biology part quite well: biology is in fact easy and pleasant to study and remember.

Also, not being very complex:

  • If one knows, he is not wrong
  • If, on the other hand, he knows little or does not know, he can guess with a certain chance of success.

And so, between those who prepare it well and those who prepare it little, in the end, the points of difference are not many.

On the other hand, with Chemistry, which is also part of the test, things are very different: few high schools prepare you well, it is a difficult subject that many do not like, it requires very precise calculations and knowledge.

So if you know it well, you get a good score. If you know very little, you make a mess.

And therefore, between one who has prepared chemistry well and one who has prepared it so-so, you can dig deep scoring distances, accumulating an advantage or a disadvantage of points then difficult to fill with the easier subjects.

Now, this kind of difference between "black beast" and "feasible" subjects exists in every public competition.

It is up to you to identify, in the competition you have to take, which are the subjects on which a real difference is made. And, of course, you'll want to start with those.

In summary, therefore, if you have to prepare a public path, in addition to all the usual good study rules, remember that:

  • It is not a normal exam, it has some peculiarities that must be understood
  • You don't run alone, you have to do better than the others
  • You have to do exam simulations obsessively
  • If you can't study all day, it's better to organize your time by pursuing one, at most two subjects at a time
  • It is best for you to focus on the "climbs", because it is there that you can accumulate the greatest benefits

Good luck and a greeting. Armando.

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