If the outcome of your examinations is important to you, you will be nervous before you take them. When there is a great deal riding on the outcome of an event, you will naturally be tense and worried about it going wrong. In many ways, it’s a bit like gambling or watching a football match! But, unlike these events, you can be in a position to influence the outcome. The better your preparation, the better your chances of getting the outcome you want. Try some of these tips during and just before your exams:
- You may find reading over your notes just before you enter the exam room both relaxing and reassuring. However, if your preparation has not been good, it could also frighten: this is because you realise, too late, that there is something that “you hope won’t come up”. If you do rely on this technique, restrict it to the material you have already covered or lists of simple facts to learn.
- Know when your exams begin and where they are held. If the examination centre is ten minutes away, allow yourself at least twenty minutes to get there.
- Have all the equipment you will need. Does your calculator need new batteries? Do you need a new pen or pencil? Is it possible you will need a ruler? Bring tissues, mints etc
- Arrive early for every exam. Establish a routine for yourself. You may want to find a quiet place to sit before you enter, or allow time to buy and drink a coffee. An instinctive reaction to nervousness is to need to use the lavatory. Make sure you know where the nearest one is and allow time to use it before you enter the exam hall.
- If you are ill leading up to or on the day of an exam, you should tell your teacher and special consideration might be awarded to you when your paper is marked. However, you will need proof of your illness in the form of a doctor’s note. Unfortunately coughs and colds are not likely to be considered. If you are ill in this way, get plenty of sleep, take on plenty of fluids and allow yourself more time before the exam. Have a supply of tissues and cough sweets with you and ask to sit at a desk which may make you more comfortable (e.g. at the front of the room or near a fan or window).
- When told to open the paper, do not begin writing until you have familiarised yourself with the questions and read through the first question slowly and carefully. If you have a choice of questions, make sure you know precisely what each one is asking you. Always do the easiest questions first.
- Allocate your time according to the mark allocations given for each question. Why write ten lines for a two-mark question when you could be using that time to attempt a longer question with more marks available? Answering three questions quite well is usually better than answering one very well and leaving the other two untouched or badly done.
- Exams are not designed to trip you up. They are there to allow you to show off your knowledge. Have confidence in your own ability.
- If you think you know the answer, you probably do! No marks are available for writing nothing. If you are really stumped, don’t panic – try and remember something your teacher said on one day all those months ago. If you really can’t answer a question, forget it and move on to the next one.
- Underlining key words in a question may help you to focus your thoughts and jog your memory.
- Structure answers using a plan. This is crucial when writing essays. If you have three essays to write, you may want to plan them all first before you write them. Make sure you plan your time well if you do this.
- When writing essays, always refer back to the question in your answer. Answer the question that has been set, not the one you wish had been set.
- Spelling, punctuation and grammar are important. So is handwriting. If an examiner cannot read what you’ve written, they cannot give you any marks. Your teacher at school may be used to the way you write, but examiners have never seen your writing before. They are only human and are paid the same amount for marking a badly presented paper as they are for a well-presented paper. With thousands of scripts to mark, they are unlikely to spend a long time on a paper they cannot read.
- Try to relax. Keep an eye on the time, but do not check your watch every two minutes. You may find a stopwatch is useful especially if you exam finishes at a peculiar time.
Time how long it takes you to work out this problem:
If its 10.12 and your exam finishes at 11.37 how many minutes have you got left?
How long did it take you?
Wouldn’t you rather have used that time to pick up marks on your paper?
- Once you have finished a paper, your next exam-related thoughts should only be about your next paper. There is no value in going through answers with teachers, friends or your textbook. You can change nothing at that stage. In fact, it is likely that you will barely remember the content of the exam even an hour after you sat it. If of course it was your last exam, your attention should turn immediately to what you are doing to celebrate their completion…