Exam Nerves

Exam Nerves

Everyone has exam nerves. An exam is an important stage within or the end point of a course. You want to do your very best. In some cases, an entrance examination for instance, passing the examination will make a significant impact on your life. At University, a top degree virtually guarantees tens of thousands of extra dollars, pounds, or euros in lifetime earnings.

There are many jobs that have a good degree or a top degree as an entry requirement.

I will fail

Many people reading this are worried about failure. Their exam nerves are based upon the belief that they will fail, and that their academic career is over. They believe the last few years of their life will have been wasted.

People are different

People are different.

Many people find examinations a form of torture, The words swim in front of your eyes. People who normally can sit calmly and do calculations suddenly cannot remember a formula they know well. I knew one person who could not spell “water” in an examination.

One poor girl went through a French oral examination, and realised after that she had been speaking German throughout!

A friend chose a University course that used continuous assessment throughout, because he hated examinations. Only after he arrived did he find the continuous assessment was an examination every two weeks.

Good News

The good news is that you are not alone in having exam nerves. The bad news is that you still have the exams to sit.

The way around exam nerves is to turn the exams inside out. Get hold of the past papers. Analyse them.

There are some questions which come up every year, in more or less the same wording. Some questions are asked one way one year, and an alternate way the second year, regular as clockwork. This is not because examiners are lazy. Their problem is that normally they have to ask questions about every part of the syllabus. About the only freedom they have is whether to use the words “domicile” or “endochronic properties” or “the Fifth Gospel”, or whether to ask the question without using those exact words so the students have to recognise what the problem is about.

As you look through the past exam papers, you will realise that the examiner has very little choice of questions.

You have gradually moved away from fretting about the content of the examination. You are looking at the structure of the examination.

As you work on the structure, you see how the examination fits together. For instance “there are always three scenarios” or “there is always a definitions question” or “there is always a question about endrochronic properties”.

You can begin to prepare model answers for the most frequent questions, which only need topping and tailing in the exam itself.

If you have to answer three questions, revise four. Revise one more question than you have to answer. This protects you against a question being worded wrong, and allows you to choose what you will answer instead of having no choice.

Suddenly the examination is shredding like wet toilet paper. You know you can answer enough questions to pass.

Each discipline has its own imperatives, and you will be expected to use certain vocabulary, approach certain questions in a certain way, use particular formulae, or draw diagrams. You know this bit.

The next issue is time. There is never enough time. If you use your time well you will get good marks. If you use your time badly you will get poor marks.

The answer is to divide your time in proportion to the marks. If your exam is two hours and there are three equal questions then each question deserves two thirds of an hour or 40 minutes. Four questions in two hours deserve 30 minutes. Doing these calculations is not rocket science. Many students lose marks because they spend far too long on the first question and are then short of time for the rest of the examination paper.

This may be a fairly obvious point, but read the entire examination paper! You should analyse the paper, and know what each question is about. Then you can decide which questions to answer.

Once you have decided which questions to answer, read the first question. Make notes about the points you need to make. Put them in number order. I suggest you number the major points, 10,20,30 etc. The minor points will be 7, 23, 17, 13 – fitting into the numeric schedule you are creating. Your discipline also requires authorities or quotations or formulae or definitions – so put them in at 12, 8, 24 wherever they need to be. Throw it all down and you have passed that question. On to the next!

The time given for an examination is barely enough. You should not be leaving early. Do not leave the examination until they throw you out! There is nothing worse than coming down the steps thinking “I forgot to mention relative absolutes!”. If you were still in the room you would have time to write it down, but you blew it by leaving early.

What about revision timetables? My view is that many students would rather draw up revision timetables, colour them, shade them, and then alter them instead of doing the actual work. Get on with it. Start as soon as possible, and leave time at the end to chill and to reflect.

Exam nerves? There is no need for exam nerves if you are moderately intelligent and you have worked out what will be in the examination paper.

Good luck!