I have my final exam for the semester today, so naturally I will be wearing my favourite t-shirt. I would never cheat in an examination but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to put myself in the best possible position to do well. It is very important to have the right mental attitude going into an exam.
(image borrowed from http://2fm.rte.ie/blogs/countdown/2012/05/rte-2xm-presents-exam-series-countdown-to-606.html)
I cannot cheat. It’s not that I think I would really be cheating myself if I failed to learn the material. It’s that it would be wrong. And I mustn’t, mustn’t do it. I’m not even sure I think it would be so very morally terrible in the whole scheme of things. I just know I would rather fail than cheat. That, people, is upbringing. I’m not a total goody-two-shoes about it. I’m not adverse to being systematically ambiguous about something if I cannot remember the details precisely in the hope that the examiner will give me the benefit of the doubt. For instance, I could use a ‘/’ between to terms like ‘protein/polyphenols’, which in reality are quite different things and which sometimes occur in combination, if I’m not completely sure whether they’re appearing together or separately at a certain stage in the process. This is just an example.
The no cheating dictum just sets the ground rules for exams, but there’s more to preparation than study (although that is obviously the most important form of preparation). What I’m interested in is exam voodoo. Techniques to put you into the sort of mental space where everything just flows. Where you see the question list and know exactly which ones to answer. Where you know immediately how to compose your answer and structure it to best effect. Where the words just tumble out at just the right speed for your hand to write them down. Where you somehow manage to completely exhaust everything you know about a subject in your answer to that particular question.
I used to be very good at exams. I had just the right balance of nervousness and confidence, so that I had energy from the nerves but purpose and direction from the confidence. That would have been as an undergraduate. More recently, at job interviews which are kinda like exams, I haven’t managed to find that sweet spot between nerves and confidence. It’s really been confidence that has been wanting. I manage to stay calm by completely swamping my nerves and lowering my heart rate but that leaves me slow and dull. I cannot do that it the exam or I’ll not write enough and won’t represent my studying to the best extent. I’ve had two exams so far in this exam diet and while they’ve been better than job interviews, I haven’t found that sweet spot yet. In the first exam, in particular, I had done ridiculous amounts of study but the emphasis of the questions meant I couldn’t reveal as much as I knew to the examiner. Hopefully I will get marks for being on topic.
Back to exam voodoo. With emphasis on finding that balance between nerves and confidence, I think preparing to do well in an exam might involve such things as:-
Wearing special clothes.
Using special pens, rulers, a watch etc.
Promising yourself something rewarding after it is all over.
Telling yourself that the examiners like you and want you to shine; that they’re looking for excuses to give you marks and you just have to make it easy for them.
Listening to a power song before the exam.
If you have a good track record, taking confidence from the fact that past success is a good predictor of future success. If you don’t have a good track record, think of a reason why this time it is different.
Think of something you’ve done that you are proud of and compare it to writing an exam and find points of similarity.
So that’s Ken’s official exam voodoo guide. I’m going to go back to studying now, because I do think it’s easier to write well on a topic if you have as many facts about it as possible at your disposal.