My Exam Demons

I’m not bad at exams. I’m good at answering questions in a relevant way and at creating arguments. I don’t usually get overwhelmed when I walk into that room, although I do get a little distracted by other people’s reactions to the environment – it’s fascinating. But my GCSEs went smoothly enough and I did well at AS Level.

It was my second A Level year that threw me off course. I initially decided to take a year out of ‘education’ to follow my interests in an unpressured way, but that idea didn’t last for long. I was attracted to structure and to the ‘fun’ of choosing subjects. I decided to take three A Levels and to learn them at home – Geography, English Literature, and Thinking Skills. Mum dug out the syllabuses and past papers, and bought numerous recommended textbooks.

It turned out to be far more difficult than I imagined, working out what I needed to know – in Geography there was quite a bit of conflicting information. I make it sound like it wasn’t my fault and, in some ways, it wasn’t. The difficulty of the task, my struggle to think and write quickly, my often-bad health, and my low stamina (which is still often a problem), all contributed to the lack of motivation. However, I can’t blame it all on that.

Half the time I was simply being lazy (perhaps hard to believe for the people who know me now!). I hadn’t tried my best. I ended up with stressful exams and disappointing results. I still remember exactly how I felt when I found out, and had no wish to feel that way ever again. It was a huge confidence knock.

I once again find myself face to face with ‘Exam’; the final assessment of my OU degree. It is my first exam in five years. It’s not surprising that the prospect carries negative associations. There are two weeks to go now. Last week, I was as jittery as if I was about to enter the exam room; unprepared, failure, I can’t do this.

But I can do this. I may struggle a little with retaining information and getting the words onto the page, but there are big differences between this time and last time. This time I’ve worked hard – I’ve done my best. However well the exam goes, and whatever mark I get, I will leave this experience with no regrets. I know that my best is good enough.

I am also aware that this exam doesn’t matter at all. Well, it matters a little to me, but the world will go on turning regardless. My world might have a tiny stutter, but that too will keep on turning, regardless of whether I have a mental block whilst staring at a white piece of paper.

Recent events have reminded us all that sometimes our worlds can stop turning with no warning. My prayers go out to the families of the Manchester 22, and to all those who were injured and traumatised by the horrific bombing on Monday night. As I sit cooped up in my bedroom the following morning, poring over books, my mind keeps turning to it and I struggle to hold back the tears. I can’t allow myself to stress about an exam right now. Everything feels different today. We don’t know how long we have.

So, although I will inevitably have exam anxiety, I am determined not to let the feeling dominate me anymore. I can do this. I will work as hard as I can, but let the exam (and the result) take care of itself. I’m going to give it the disrespect it deserves: it isn’t everything to me and nor should it be. Life is short and precious and so easily lost, which brings a whole new perspective on things that are important.

It’s time to lay the exam demons to rest.


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