PLAs share their secrets on how to deal with pressure inside the exam room

You’ve done the study, used SWOT-VAC like a boss and nailed the assessments all semester.

So why does it feel like it will all come unstuck when the exam invigilator says, “Your time starts now?”

We are not all elite athletes used to performing under pressure. So it makes sense that a lot of students will feel at least a little bit daunted during exam season.

We want to alleviate some of that stress by equipping you with tips and tricks to make it all that little bit easier. And who better to ask for advice than your Peer Learning Advisors, who’ve done it all before (and done it really well, too!)

Here’s how they responded to the common concern, ‘I know my stuff, but then I get into that room and forget everything. How can I keep a cool head on my shoulders under pressure?’

Margaret Tran: This is a tough one because you can’t exactly practice this until you are actually sitting down for the actual examination. To help, ensure you have everything ready and prepared the night before so that you are not flustered in the morning trying to find things for your exam. Eat a really good and filling breakfast. I find that I like to avoid talking to people before the exam because their lack in confidence or their over-confidence can sometimes throw me off. When you enter the room, find your seat and make yourself comfortable. Take deep breaths and close your eyes while you wait the examiners to begin speaking. Try to calm your head space before you even pick up a pen. 

Shannon Robinson-Dore: Take deep breaths. Use the reading time wisely. Focus on the questions you can answer and answer those first. This will help you to get into the right headspace and help to boost your confidence. Then you can move on to the more challenging questions.

Amy Millard: Avoid anxiogenic substances before the exam (i.e. coffee: people think it helps them concentrate, especially if they’ve stayed up all night cramming, but basically you’ll still be tired just with a much faster heart rate).

The moment reading time is over and you can write, quickly jot down any formulas or tricky things you might forget later somewhere. If you’re panicking during the exam, take a second to slow down (breathe!), and then try to switch your brain into thinking mode by working through your exam paper strategically. In your first pass over the paper, you want to work fast, answer the questions you know for sure, put an asterisk next to the ones you think you know but can’t answer immediately, and put a double asterisk next to the ones you think you don’t know at all and will have to guess on. Answering even one or two will give you confidence and get the gears turning.

In the second pass-over, take your time and try to answer the ones you put an asterisk next to and make the best educated guess you can. In the third pass over, go for the ones with the double asterisk that you had no idea on initially – hopefully by now something may have clicked and they’ll be easier to answer. If not, make your best guess and put something down on the paper. Getting any marks is still better than no marks!

Anje Hafkamp: Don’t cram before the exam, be organised with your studies instead. I tend to not study the day before the exam and do things that relax me, going for a walk or watching my favorited show. This is because when I study the day before the exam it makes my stress and anxiety increase. So to avoid this, have a study timetable and follow that. One thing I always do while waiting for the exam venue to open for students is tell myself, no matter my grade I wont be disappointed because I have done everything I can. That calms me down to sit, relax and do my absolute best, knowing I took advantage and did everything in my power to prepare of the exam. You cant give more than 100% so feel confident and proud of what you have done to ace the exam.

Mel Birch-Inwood: As a mature age student who had not been in that situation in over 20 years I found it terrifying. I wanted to do well but the pressure in an exam is quite high. After a mini panic attack as I sit down at the desk, I found I calm down once I read the paper. I complete the work throughout semester so I know my stuff. As I read through the exam my brain slowly switches back on. For the questions where it doesn’t come back to me, I leave them until last and do the best I can.