As I approach an exam I’m not wholly prepared for, I feel remarkably calm. I don’t feel in anyway particularly stressed, especially as one would expect third year University exams to have some sort of impact on your stress levels.
This isn’t an especially new feeling for me though, I’ve managed to maintain a relative cool throughout most of the exams I have faced in my sixteen or so years of education, and I think it may be one of the few things that has kept my grades up.
As you progress into higher and higher education,the general trend is for your grades to slowly drop down as you progress. This isn’t to do with your laziness, or lack of work at these levels (as I personally find myself working harder now than ever before) but because everything just gets harder. Obtaining an A at GCSE meant reading through the textbook the day before, and familiarising yourself with the questions. At A Level past papers in a large enough volume would secure that grades, but at University hours and hours of intensive studying have no inherent guarantee to increase your grade. If you can’t get the subject, you won’t get the grade.
However despite this obstacle, my grades have remained at a relatively consistent level (and with a rather significant peak in my exams last semester) despite feeling no more prepared for these than the past. I worked bloody hard for those last results, but so did many others who didn’t do as well. One of the variables that I believe makes a huge difference is how calm and collected you are.
Especially within Physics, though I can imagine it applies to many other subjects, the questions often ask for quite a long, and often complicated, series of steps to be followed through to produce the result. One could obviously learn these rote but a slight tweak in the question can throw you off. The more common approach is to learn the manipulations required, and the outcome expected, and solve the rest yourself. Doing this however when you are stressed, and on edge, is never going to work out fantastically.
I find that when the adrenaline is surging my mathematical ability does not peak. My mind simply goes to other places. My focus will not be retained. Staying calm, and approaching the paper with a steady, but sprightly, pace allows the answers to flow a lot more easily. Your whole mind becomes dedicated to the task of solving the problem before you.
I also find i comforting that my frustratingly short attention span is suddenly lengthened when placed in an examination hall. I can barely make thirty minutes of revision before becoming exceedingly bored and restless, but can sit through 45 minutes of exam without even noticing time passing. I can dedicate my entire mental faculties to accomplishing the task at hand, and I attempt to do so with ferocity.
With an examination in 11 hours, I intend to get some sleep before awaking early to carry on revising and sit the exam with the information still freshly imprinted on my soft, squishy brain.