Exam Performance: Take charge of your exam preparation

As performance psychologists, our expertise and knowledge base transfers across a number of different contexts.  That is, the skill set that works with athletes in getting them competition ready also works effectively with individuals getting them ready for exams.  We see a number of clients based largely on helping them perform in upcoming exams.

Whether they are in their senior years of secondary schooling or sitting career-defining exams (e.g., medical specialisation), it boils down to being able to get the best out of themselves, especially on the day.  This is where Mental Notes Consulting enters the scene.

One key similarity between an exam situation and a sporting competition is preparation.  To enable an individual to perform at their best, they need to have done the preparation prior to the examination/competition.  For example, a swimmer cannot just turn up to Age Nationals and be able to achieve their goals and perform well if they haven’t done their training and actually qualified for the event.  Similarly, a student wanting to be accepted into medicine cannot simply turn up on the day of GAMSAT and perform to their own expectations without having done the preparation for this time-pressured exam.  Therefore preparation is important for success.  That age-old saying, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail” is very applicable in this context.

Preparation is the processes undertaken to achieve the desired result.  During preparation, individuals need to be clear on what skills, content, and knowledge they need to acquire and consolidate to be able to achieve the desired result.  Just like an athlete who identifies their competition schedule, individuals sitting their exams need to be able to map out their exam schedule.  For example, if their exams are in six months time it is important to identify this on their annual calendar as this will help give a clearer picture of what content needs to be covered and by when in the remaining time period.  The exam schedule can be both the simplest step and at times the most overwhelming part, because it shows what is needed but not exactly how to get there.  The next step after plotting out the exam schedule in your calendar is then setting clear goals about the completion of content in the given time frame.  Step it out.  Weekly planners are very useful to record exactly what you are doing and to keep you on-track with your preparation leading into the exam schedule.

Within the weekly schedule, it is helpful to plan enough time to consolidate the information and to allow time for some simulation training.  Before big events, athletes will go through simulations at training to prepare themselves.  That is, a 100-m sprinter will set up a race to run a number of times in training to go through their pre-race routine and race plans exactly the way they want to for the actual race.  For examination, it is useful to go through practice exams under exam conditions to remind yourself that you not only know the content but you can perform within the imposed time periods.  Additionally, simulating exam conditions with success helps build confidence, which is definitely what is needed to perform well.

Despite these aforementioned points, one major uncontrollable factor within the exam condition is the exact questions or cases that will be presented.  Having this uncertainty can cause stress and undue performance anxiety, which can then disrupt focus and the ability to recall important information needed to answer questions correctly.  In addition to emphasising quality preparation, there are also techniques and strategies that can complement preparation.  These include breath control and optimistic self-talk.

However, the fact remains that the largest controllable factor is preparation.  So do it and do it right.  See one of the Mental Notes Consulting psychologists to help with performance for important exams.