How I became a confident exam taker
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
My first year of post-secondary involved a lot of school-related anxiety. I, like most new students, was struggling to get my bearings in university. It felt as though everything high school had supposedly prepared me for was irrelevant to my new educational environment and its conventions—I had never even encountered a citation format until my first semester. While a visit to the library quickly helped me learn my MLA basics, it did not help me to deal with the stress of taking exams that were sometimes worth a third of my grade. I remember spending the first hour of my first major exam frozen in fear and the next furiously writing in an attempt to finish on time; I cried on my roommate’s shoulder when I got home, terrified that I had jeopardized my grade-dependent funding. Five years into my now-ending undergrad, I’ve developed a way to approach similar breakdowns, so, in the spirit of the upcoming exam season, here’s how I became a non-nervous test-taker.
First, you have to be willing to do the leg work. You’re given an exam schedule at the beginning of the semester—set yourself up for success and give yourself enough time to do a good job studying. There’s just no way to confidently take a test if you don’t know the material—period.
Second, know how to effectively study. Different subjects each require a different sets of skills, so they all require a different approach. Sociology, anthropology, biology and other subjects that similarly test memorization all benefit from flash card studying; math demands that students know how and when to use different operations, and English requires students to link course themes to each text covered, so anticipate possible essay questions and prepare outlines for them, or at least be aware of correlative themes. This last rule is what really contributed to my confident test-taking: I don’t study material on the day of the exam. This will sound negative, but, by exam day, there’s no amount of studying you can do to change the outcome of your exam—it’s too late; you either know the material or you don’t. Use the time you would have otherwise wasted trying to cram as much information into your brain as possible to, instead, focus on getting yourself in the right head space. If you go into an exam with a calm mind, you’ll be able to focus on your work rather than the clock ticking away on the wall. I like to find a quiet place outside to focus on some controlled breathing (I find the cool air really clears my head). When it comes to setting your intentions, don’t expect too much of yourself. Expect that you’ll complete the test to the best of your ability, because that’s all you can ever do.
Going from a nervous test-taker to a confident one only requires a change in perspective. You’ve put in the work, now prove it. Remember: Your degree will be a series of different tests, both academic and personal, and will ultimately not be determined by any one exam for any one course.