EXAM PERFORMANCE – TIPS IF THE WHEELS COME OFF

One aspect of preparing for exams that I’ve decided to focus more attention on is exam performance. I’ve talked before about preparing for exams here, and Elisabeth Lucy wonderfully discusses taking students through the exam in mock fashion here, but in this post I discuss how I play devil’s advocate in order to assist students in how to handle particular scenarios in the exam. I want students to be able to react better to certain situations, and I think a good way to do this is to take them through possible issues. That way, if they do experience such a barrier, they don’t fall into a heap, and maintain a professional approach to their performance.

ISSUEHOW NOT TO REACTHOW TO REACTExplanation 
Anxiety as you sit downPanic more, and think the feeling will continue the entire examFocus on controlling your breathing. Ignore everyone else, close your eyes, inhale for 6 seconds, and exhale for 6 seconds – do this 5 times. Know that you likely won’t feel like this once you start writing. Anxiety is normal. Everyone will be feeling it. It will also get in the way of your brain working how you need it to, but if you control your breathing and regulate your heartbeat, your brain will be your friend again. 
Not the question you hoped forPanic – give up – don’t write anythingTake a moment to think – how does the question link in some way to what you have been revising?If you know the texts well, the question will be able to be linked in some way to what you know. Examiners ask questions that sometimes are directly related to what you’ve done, but sometimes want to test you harder. But it’s always related to the text in some way.   
Question is too hardPanic – give up – don’t write anythingTake a moment to think – how does the question link in some way to what you have been revising?If you’ve found it hard, it’s likely that everyone in the country feels the same. This will mean the grade boundary will adjust, so it’s really important that you keep writing. Even if you are not confident in what you’ve written, it’s much better to write something than nothing.  
Don’t understand the questionPanic – give up – don’t write anythingLook for any key words in the question. There must be some reference to the text you recognise. Write about the story of the text. Remember the story doesn’t change. Writing about the text’s storyline and themes will still get marks, and when all the marks are added over both literature exams, picking up 5 or 6 marks for this question may be important overall.  
Others seem to be writing lotsPanic – give up, you’re obviously not as good as everyone else. – don’t write anythingStop looking at everyone else. Focus only on yourself. Keep writing.You don’t know what others around you are writing, or thinking. They may be doing a different question, or they may be writing rubbish. You can’t judge yourself on others. Also, remember you’re not going to be judged by those in your class
Time is passing but you haven’t finished your answerKeep writing. Stop writing on that question. Move on to the next question.The first few marks are easier to get than the last few marks in EVERY question. You will spend 10 minutes to get the last 2-3 marks in a question, but 10 minutes will get you 4-6 marks in the beginning of the next question. 
Spent too long on a questionPanic – give up – don’t write anything. Do a quick calculation of what time is left, and how many questions you need to answer. Apportion time related to how many marks questions are worth. Miscalculation of time in one question probably won’t ruin your whole exam. It’s so important to keep writing. You may be able to salvage things; just reduce time spent on remaining questions.  

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.

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