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Exams

The Lowe Down

Freddy Lowe Published: 28 May 2023

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Exam season can be hellish. Granted, some pupils purport to do everything perfectly and seem to experience no stress whatsoever (and well done to them!), but for most of us mortals, it’s a stressful time. However, once we’ve accepted that it’s hellish, it becomes slightly less hellish! Once accepted, the stress is less of a burden.

In Wymondham, exam season is soon for GCSE and A-Level students. To any students reading (or parents of those students), you can freely lose any guilt you may have that the hellishness is somehow your fault. The stress is a rite of passage; you are doing fine.

One of my A-Level pet peeves was those smug YouTube videos or web articles entitled, “Top 10 Tips for Guaranteed Exam Success” or “I got all 9s in GCSEs – here are 30 Simple Steps to Do The Same” (as if we needed any more lists to memorise). These videos were often unhelpful because one person’s “ten tips” list will be another’s “don’t-touch-these-revision-strategies-with-a-bargepole” list. I am currently in exam season at uni, and I only tell myself three things:

1) Keep eating.

This is crucial! You need all the resources you can get. Now is not the time to stint (the diet can wait until after exams). This is the time to strip your life of all other pressures you usually put on yourself. Any non-exam thoughts should be for self-preservation!

2) Never feel guilty about ‘not doing enough’.

If you’re not doing enough, you’ll know it with certainty. If you are stressing and asking yourself, “Am I doing enough?”, the fact that you’re asking is proof that you are probably fine! If you’re exhausted and your body is telling you to stop, stop guilt-free. There will always be more hours in the day that you could spend revising, but were you to use all of them for that purpose, you would go insane. Another – more general – rule of thumb is to get rid of feelings of ‘guilt’, be it about your revision hours or what you’re doing outside of them. If you crave to binge-watch Stranger Things after hours of revision, do it! No guilt is required. I often fret that I’m not ‘doing enough’, as if ‘doing enough’ is somehow a quantifiable measurement. It took me a while to calm that instinct. If you are genuinely doing your best, that is all you can do. You can only chip away slowly.

3) Don’t worry about failing!

In Derren Brown’s podcast Bootcamp for the Brain, Pragya Agarwal describes a study in which two groups of people were put in separate rooms to solve the same maths puzzle. The first group were told beforehand that women typically performed worse than men, whereas the second group were told no such thing. Consequently, the women in the first group did perform less well, because their cognitive resources were wasted on their fear of failure.

Freddy Lowe

The point is that (regardless of gender) saying to yourself “I’m going to fail – help – I’m predestined to fail” only wastes energy better spent on the tasks. A small dose of nervousness is good, but so is a small dose of confidence.

That’s the triad: keep eating, lose the guilt, and remind yourself that you’ll be fine.

Things are even allowed to go pear-shaped! In my English Literature A-Level (the real thing), I realised twenty minutes in that I had missed a whole double-page spread of the answer booklet and had started my answer halfway through it. I believed – incorrectly – that they only gave you that one answer booklet for your essays. I spent several minutes not writing a thing and fretting that I wouldn’t have enough space to finish the exam. This was not helped by the fact that this was an “analyse the extract” question and that the given extract was rubbish anyway.

It turns out that a) they will gladly give you more paper, and b) if you breathe, follow the allotted time per question (even if you’ve spent much of it not writing anything), and get to the end of the ordeal, things will be okay even if you’ve had a nightmare. My English grade turned out fine.

You’ve got this.

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