Perspective and strategy: The keys to managing a mid-exam meltdown
Despite their best efforts, many learners and students currently writing their mid-year exams are having to face up to the fact that their performance on papers written thus far isn’t what they hoped it would be. There is however still time to get back on track, and they should guard against catastrophizing their current situation, an education expert says.
“It can be hugely disappointing when you’ve put in the hours, did all you can to prepare, and then still find yourself sitting in the exam room awash with anxiety because you can’t recall and reflect what you’ve learned,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.
She says learners and students who find themselves in this position should avoid panic and regain perspective so that they are able to do their best on their remaining papers.
“Firstly, you should recognise and acknowledge what is happening. Mid-exam meltdowns are not unusual, and can happen to anyone, even to usually high-performing candidates,” she says.
“By facing the situation head-on, you can take back control and ensure you do better on upcoming subjects, which will go some way towards normalising your aggregate marks.”
Dr Mooney says there are a number of reasons why students and learners may experience mid-exam meltdowns, including the general anxiety and stress related to writing exams, lack of sleep, burnout, and of course inadequate preparation.
At this stage, it is important to take a step back and take stock of the situation, put things into perspective, and devise a strategy for the remaining tests and future ones, she says.
Look forward, don’t look back
What’s done is done, and it serves no purpose to fret about papers you have already written. Put it behind you, and focus on what still lies ahead. Undertake to do whatever you can to ensure you do as well as possible on your remaining tests, and let go of the disappointment of previous papers which will only negatively impact your future efforts.
Put things into perspective
Your academic career is a marathon, not a race. Each day provides a new opportunity to do better, and in the long run a few papers on which you didn’t do well won’t spell the end of your dreams and aspirations.
Review your expectations
If you are consistently not performing in certain areas, you may need to review your approach. Perhaps you require a certain subject to gain admission to a specific institution or course, which is why you continue with it despite repeated setbacks. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to consider whether you are on the right track in terms of your plans for your future and career. Chances are good that there are other options out there for which you will qualify, and which may in fact be a better fit for you.
Plan your strategy and look to the future
Resolve that, from today, you are taking back control. Ensure you stick to a schedule of eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercise, and upping the ante on your preparation, for instance by putting in an extra hour or two to complete a past exam paper.
You can also add in some fun, alternative ways of studying. For instance if you’re unsure about a section of work, find some YouTube videos on the topic. As an example, if you search for “isiZulu past papers” or just “isiZulu”, you will find a multitude of past papers and memos as well as tutorials to assist with vocabulary and grammar. The same can be done for pretty much any other subject or topic.
Bag some wins to get your confidence back
Find something every day that will boost your confidence, and allow you to prove to yourself that you are able to work hard and improve on past performance.
“Bad results are not the end of the road, and you still have ample opportunity to improve your performance if you take control right now,” says Dr Mooney.
“The most important thing is that you don’t allow panic to set in. Face your situation in a calm and pragmatic way, and take all the concrete steps you can to take back control. Staying calm is your most important weapon in the exam room, as is keeping a sense of perspective at all times, and endeavouring only to do your best in whichever situation you find yourself.”