Day of the Exam: Show Time!

Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

Image "Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Theatre" courtesy of Flickr User Ben Becker (brokentrinkets), licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

An exam is nothing but a one-person show. Like any sports competition or a theatre show, it’s a chance for you to prove how good you are. Thinking optimistically, it’s a challenge to undertake and an opportunity to shine. As any athlete or thespian will tell you, getting physically and mentally ready before their big event is absolutely necessary and can make the difference between being spectacular and just ok. Athletes and thespians warm up, familiarize themselves with their venues, and check their equipment/costumes/props before they compete or go on stage. To be an excellent exam taker, you’ll want to do the same things before your finals.

Warm up:
Both physical and mental muscles need to be warmed up. Although you’ll be sitting for 2 or 3 hours in an exam, it’s always good to stretch and work out any physical kinks you may have. Writing an exam with back pain, a stomachache, and a foot that is falling asleep is no fun and will detract from your performance. Take care of yourself during the exam season (even if you’re not writing an exam that day). Eat well, sleep lots, and get some physical activity. Avoid drugs and alcohol, and don’t become over-reliant on caffeine. You can’t perform well if you’re exhausted, high, or hyper.

Mental warm up is a lot trickier. The idea here is to get into your “zone” where you are both focused and confident. This is one of the most important determinants of how well you’ll actually end up doing. Performance anxiety and exam stress will bump down your grades even if you’ve studied your rear end off and know everything. So how to get mentally ready? Everyone is different. Some examples of mental warm up “activities” people do include: singing, listening to white noise, chatting with friends, playing video games, reading the newspaper, napping, free writing, debating a completely unrelated issue, and telling jokes. If you don’t know what to try, start with something simple, like listening to music or meditating for a few minutes. Likely you’re already doing something to get ready – just make the process more systematic and routine. Feel free to borrow from sports or theatre or even TV warm up exercises. Think outside the box, whatever works to reduce your exam anxiety and stress.

Familiarize Yourself with the Venue:
Are you familiar with the room in which you’ll be writing your exam? How’s the lighting? The temperature? The ventilation? What about acoustics? Are you assigned seating or can you sit where you like? Are the desks big and evenly spaced apart or is everyone packed together like sardines? Is there anything that could negatively impact your performance?

Scout out the exam venue beforehand. If the lighting is dim, make sure you sit where it is the brightest. If the temperature is too warm, too cold, or changes erratically, wear layers. If the room is stuffy or drafty, try to find where it isn’t as bad or dress appropriately. If noise transmits easily in the room, consider bringing earplugs to avoid distraction (though not all exams will allow this). If you’re assigned a seat, know where it is. If the desks are tiny, consider wearing shirt of pants with large pockets so you could put your extra pens and pencils in there.

On the day of the exam, check your desk and chair. Are they Creaky, slanted, or not stable? Can you see the clock or know how much time you have left? In general, try sitting near the front so you can hear all instructions clearly (especially if you’re in a room with poor acoustics) and avoid doors (as people will be tripping over you to get out).

Check Your Equipment:
Make a mini checklist of what you need for each exam in advance. Remember to bring extra pens, pencils, erasers, and whiteout. Don’t forget your ID, calculator, cheat sheet, and dictionary. Bring some water, a quiet snack, and a watch (yes, a real watch, not of the cellphone/ipod variety). On the day of the exam, just grab everything on your checklist and go.

Dress carefully in what is comfortable, appropriate for the conditions, and gives you confidence. Avoid tight jeans, pants with loose waist, off-the-shoulder shirts, tube tops, hats, scarves, and stiletto heels. Discomfort is distracting.

I am a huge believer in doing whatever you need to do to get ready for an exam. Keep it simple, but don’t worry if it seems ridiculous or stupid (if you have to do a handstand against a wall while counting from 100 backwards in hebrew, do it!). Know the conditions in the room in which you’re writing your exam, make sure you have everything you need, and take time to warm up (even 5 minutes is beneficial). Your grades will thank you.

I hope that you have found this series of exam preparation strategy helpful, and good luck on your exams!

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One thought on “Day of the Exam: Show Time!

  1. Pingback: What to bring to an exam – A Resource for First Year Students

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