You’ve prepared well, studied your hardest but come game day, you fall flat on your face. Results come back and you’re incredibly disappointed. Hours and hours of studying gone to waste and you don’t actually know why.
Most people talk about what you should do in the lead up to exam day, but many don’t actually realise that your preparation can be perfect but if your execution fails then nothing else matters.
So what should you do to be certain that your preparation doesn’t go to waste?
Exams are scary and unnatural. No one likes to perform in a quit, environment with loads of people around you with a world of pressure resting on your shoulders.
Having a set routine can break this experience into something a little more manageable. You’ll have something normal to cling on to when everything else seems unnatural. Moreover, it’ll allow you to minimise the unpredictability of doing an exam.
Essentially what you need to do is make the exam table yours. Customise it in the way you want (within some constraints). Use the same type of pen or pencil as you usually use and walk into the hall as you normally do. Place your pens on your desk in your preferred order. Get comfortable in the chair by taking off shoes, jumpers etc. You want the exam hall to feel as close to something familiar as possible. By doing so, your mind is going to be more relaxed and will function a lot better due to the reduction in unfamiliarity.
2. Have a Routine
You’ve familiarised yourself with your surroundings, the chair and the exam table. Now you need to have a strategy to actually tackle the exam.
“You may now begin writing”
Instead of freaking out once reading time is finished, you need to have a strategy devised in order to complete the paper with the least amount of struggle.
Ideally, you’ll need to create a strategy the helps you get into ‘the zone’ during the exam. ‘The Zone’ is basically a phenomenon where your mind is working efficiently and accurately through the exam. By being in ‘The Zone’ you’ll have the best chance of acing the exam.
So how do you actually get into ‘The Zone’?
Firstly, you’ll need to decide where you prefer to start an exam. If it’s easy do you start at the end or at the start. If it’s hard do you just do the easy questions first then the hard ones, or vice versa? Think about this and use past papers to find out which method works for you.
Next you’ll need to decide whether you like to pursue questions until you get them out or to skip them if you can’t get them straight away. What happens if you kinda know what you want to do, do you still skip it or spend some time planning your answer out?
Finding your ‘Zone’ can take time but if you apply various methods to your past paper attempts you’ll find a method that works for you.
Despite having a strategy to attempt the exam, you may find that certain questions, scenarios (pushed for time) may make you slightly flustered.
However, you shouldn’t panic regardless of the situation. You need to trust that you’ve done enough work to get the mark that you want to get. So whenever you start to panic, put your pen down and take a deep breath. Then take a sip of water and go on with your exam.
By doing this you slow your brain down and this will allow you to actually calm down so that you have a clear and uncluttered mind when you re-attempt the question or come to grips that you only have 5 minutes remaining.
Breathing is a super simple thing to do, yet it has a world of benefits during high pressure situations.
If you’ve read any of the previous articles here, I’m a big pusher of the Pomodoro Technique.
Essentially, you’re working for 25 minutes at 100% productivity and then taking a 5-minute break. If you’ve been studying this way, then your brain is going to be in tune with this technique and work better if you replicate this scenario in the exam.
However, you don’t have time to waste 5 minutes every half an hour, so perhaps make your breaks shorter to around 2 minutes just to recuperate properly and attack the next half hour with a fairly fresh brain. You should probably use this time to drink water or to go to the bathroom (just don’t go to the bathroom too many times as this could raise suspicion that you’re cheating or something).
Having short insignificant break that could potentially get you more marks than if you were to attempt the exam in 1 stretch, purely because your mind will be a lot fresher after each break. Taking a break for 2 minutes every half hour is going to benefit you more than writing or solving a problem in the same time.
5. Check Your Work!!
Finally, before you hand your exam into the examiner make sure that you check your work!!
So many times people either leave early, end up sleeping at their desks or start drawing on spare pieces of paper because they think they’re done. Unfortunately, if you do any of these you’re just throwing away valuable time where you could potentially pick up extra marks by simple reading over your work.
The first check you do should be to make sure you’ve done every section of the exam. So many people throw away marks for skipping the back page of the exam or thinking there are only 2 sections instead of 3. Read the instructions on the front of the booklet and check whether you have the same number of questions answered as there are in the exam.
Hopefully this guide on Exam Technique will help you with managing in exam stress and allow you to cut down on careless mistakes. For some more exam related discussion check out the article on how to Obliterate Silly Mistakes and Finish On Time