Finding a fool-proof one-size-fits-all solution for how to win at exams is like trying to find the formula for how to win at life: it simply isn’t possible. We have differing abilities, motivations and expectations. Sometimes life throws us a curve-ball, or a whole truck-full of them, which leaves us playing dodge-ball in a seemingly endless game where we don’t know the rules. However, with a will to succeed, you will get there in the end, regardless of what life throws at you.
And that’s fine!
The aim of this post is to give you some simple tips on how to survive exam-day. There may not be a one-size-fits-all strategy that gets every one of you reading this post an A* but what can do is give you some tips to put yourself at ease, control your nerves, and put yourself in a positive mindset. These things in themselves can do the trick: avoid panic, relax, and let the words flow!
If you have taken on board the revision hints and tips already posted on this blog, and you have revised thoroughly, then there is no reason at all why you can’t sail through your exam-day without collapsing into a big bag of stress, and come out with a jolly decent grade. All that said, let’s get to it:
Plan your day. This means, especially if you have a morning exam, get up early, with enough time to get up and out of your home without too much stress. Eat something. Pack your stationary – penS- yes, more than one pen. Begging people for a spare pen in the middle of an exam because yours ran out is not cool! Have you got your ID? Please take it, invigilators will check that you are you! Leave the house in good time so that if your train is late or there’s a traffic jam you’re not tearing out your hair in panic. By all means take a drink into the exam with you, but perhaps best to limit any fluids (such as caffeine) if you know that will make you need the loo mid-exam. You will be allowed to leave the exam room, with an invigilator to go to the loo, but it can be distracting for other students, and it does waste time, so best try to avoid multiple trips!
Plan, plan, plan. Planning is such a biggie that it deserves two points. So – getting to the exam: Take your journey in a relaxed a way as possible. Know your exam venue! You wouldn’t believe how many students slip out of exam rooms, trying not to be noticed, because they went to the wrong room and only realised when they saw the exam paper! It happens, believe me. Arrive at the CORRECT venue in good time. When you’re allowed in the room, take a seat. These few moments when people are coming in, shuffling in their bag for their forgotten ID because they weren’t as organised as you, and invigilators telling people multiple times that their phones must be switched off and not on their person, can be nerve-wracking. Breathe.
The exam begins. Listen to the instructions given by the invigilator and read the front cover of your exam paper carefully. If you are in an essay exam with two or three questions to answer, you will likely be told to answer each question in a separate booklet. This is so that answers can be separated for different markers and to aid the moderation process. Please follow this instruction! You must put your correct student number on each answer book, and it is always a great idea to tell your marker which questions you are answering by correctly stating the question number on the front. This seems obvious, but numerous students get these details wrong! Once your invigilator tells you that you can look at the paper, read each question carefully before deciding which ones to answer. Are you decided? Breathe. And let’s go…
Answer the question. Plan your answer before you start writing. This might be just a few key words or sentences to remind you of important things to cover, or it might be a long “everything I know about this topic” preliminary splurge on to the paper. Whatever type of plan works best for you is fine. At the end of the exam, anything you don’t want a marker to consider, just put a line through it. You can ask for extra answer books too, so if you want to go mad with plans, knock yourself out! Now, you’re ready to write! Top tips here include: a. the all important one – ANSWER THE QUESTION! Tailor what you know to the question; an answer that is everything you know about a topic, even if that’s quite a lot of knowledge, won’t tot up really high marks because it will lack focus; b. After every paragraph, ask yourself, “Does this answer the question?” If not, don’t be afraid to make crossings out. You have one shot at getting it right, so markers don’t worry about scruffiness. As long as we can read it, cross out, add footnotes, arrows – in fact, whatever it takes to get your point across – is good by us!
Time management! Very important! If you have three answers to complete in three hours you don’t have to be Einstein to work out how much time you should aim to spend on each answer if I say this – spend equal time on each one. Really. Spend equal time on each one! The reason is that if you rely on one good answer, which you spend two hours on because you know every possible thing to know about this topic, you are taking a massive risk. You’re then left with only 30 minutes each to answer two further questions. Your one strong answer, even if it’s fantastic, is not going to make up for two really poor answers when your grade-average on the whole paper is calculated. Related to this, if your instruction is to answer three questions, answer three questions! Even if you’re unsure it’s better to write something than nothing, which takes me on to discuss….
Brain freeze. What happens if you look at the exam questions and you panic? You know nothing. What even is psychology? What are these weird scribbles on the question paper, because they sure don’t look like words! If this happens – it most probably won’t, but if you do get moments of panic, it’s not game over. Breathe! Take some deep breaths, collect your thoughts, and sit quietly for a few moments, just allowing yourself to feel what you feel. Take a drink, some more deep breaths, and take another look at the question paper. If you have done your revision, you DO know your stuff, but panic can make us feel like we know NOTHING. You know A LOT. It sounds corny, but turn that frown upside down. You know your stuff, you CAN do this. Stress can be a positive thing, because it can give us drive. You just need to become the boss of it. YOU CAN DO THIS! You’ve come this far, you’ve attended early morning lectures, you’ve laughed (and maybe cried) with others on your course, you’ve burned the midnight oil with revision, now it’s your turn to show us what you can do!
You really can do it. Stay calm and breathe! This is just three hours out of your life, and when you get your results, you will be pleased that you persevered.