Avoid Exam Panic

A couple of things – firstly, this is the first blog post I’ve written in at least twelve months which is a failure on my part but I am planning on writing more over the summer.  I have been extremely busy over the last 12-18 months with finishing my MBA (completed my last exam last Monday!), tutoring lots of students as well as managing to find time for my day job as an accountant.   So I know I have a couple of excuses but I am looking forward to write more as my study commitments have decreased.

As I wrote earlier, last Monday was my last exam which is enough to get nervous or anxious about.  Especially when I remember that I failed the last exam when I was finishing my undergraduate degree so I was anxious but also determined not to repeat the same mistake again.  I know there are times in life and in work that I will make mistakes but more than anything I hate repeating a mistake.  So, I had prepared all through the semester, although a few family issues had made it more difficult but I still felt reasonably confident the two weeks before the exam.  I did my revision and felt quite confident that I’d covered all the major areas that were going to be covered in the exam but I new it was going to be a technically difficult exam.  It was on “Strategic Information Security” which had a lot of unfamiliar terminology so I was really just hoping to be able to remember enough to write about in the exam.

On Monday morning however, I opened the exam paper and unfortunately for me the ten questions were on things that I was not overly familiar with and there was question where I simply had no idea what the answer was as the last time I looked at that content was in week five.  My first instinct and I’m sure everyone’s first instinct was to panic.  We’ve all been there at some point – the exam doesn’t cover what you hoped it would, the examiner asks the questions which you really didn’t want to be asked or you didn’t study much at all and now you are drawing a blank and the panic starts to set in.

I wish I could tell you that I’d found some sort of technique that meant I aced the exam.  That didn’t happen, but I did a couple of things that helped me and hopefully they can help you too.

  • Firstly, I made good use of reading time when I could write on the exam paper and wrote down a few bullet points about various questions so at least I would have something to write about and would help me later on.  I make a practice of doing this in every exam and often they are not big things but just short, key ideas that will help me answer the question.  You don’t want to get an hour in to an exam and forget the idea you had during reading time when you had the option to write it down earlier.
  • Secondly, I focused on putting those difficult questions out of my mind.  I would concentrate on the ones I knew how to answer and working on getting them right and get as close to the 50% I needed to pass the exam.
  • Finally, I started with the question I knew the best.  For awhile now that is how I approach my exams.  I start with the question I feel most confident in my answer and start with that and work towards the one I am least confident in.  This helps in a couple of ways – first it gives me confidence as I complete my exam that I do know what I’m doing, it makes sure I get as many questions done as possible as there is nothing worse than getting stuck on question but you run out of time to the do the easy ones and finally, it can often give your brain time to remember a couple of things that may help you in those difficult questions.

I hope these things can help you as they’ve helped me as I’ve gone from an exam I would’ve most likely failed to one that where I am sure I have passed.  The difference in success in exams (and in life) can be how we handle any difficulties that arise so if you do get stuck in exams, take a deep breath and work out where you can start and make sure you give it your best shot.

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