This post, originally written in June 2011, was featured in the Irish Times in 2014 alongside plenty of other good exam advice.
1. Breathe (right down to your tummy – that’s where all your nerves are – if the oxygen doesn’t get there, life’s more difficult). Breathe all the time. Breathe through every moment that you have to listen to someone telling you “Good Luck,” or “It’ll be okay,” or “I didn’t do anything,” (when you know they did) or when anyone says anything that gets between you and your focus. Breathe.
2. Wear something comfortable. It might be cold in your particular exam centre, or it might be warm. Wear a hoodie and a few layers, so that you can strip off or put on as you need to.
3. If you have some kind of lucky charm, hell, put it in your pocket. No harm having everything possible on your side.
4. Bring more than one pen to the exam hall. If possible, bring a few different pens to the exam hall. Don’t forget calculators, protractors, calculators, erasers, pencils, coloured pencils etc etc…all the things that you’re allowed to bring in that will make your life easier and your exam paper better.
5. Consider eating some sugary cereal before you go in. (I always favoured Frosties for my own exams in school, and then through college – eat it dry though – the whole milk carton scenario is too messy). Why? Well, the reasoning is that half an hour into the exam, just as you’re getting into the swing of things, you’ll get an extra boost from the sugar rush – but it won’t be followed by a sugar low, as it would be if you had a bar of chocolate. I always brought a little bottle of water to the exam too, but drink only enough to keep you from being distracted by the thirst – and not enough to make you need to go to the loo. If you think you’ll get hungry in there, bring a banana…quiet to open, full of slow-burning sugar.
6. Be nice to whoever is looking after you during your exams: parents, siblings, relatives, guardians, teachers…they are all worried about you. VERY worried! Help them to help you by appreciating what they do for you (even if they’re driving you mad!).
7. DON’T leave early. Anything you remember outside the exam hall will be useless. And besides, what will you be doing with that “extra” half-hour? You might say you’ll be studying, but really…really? It’s more likely you’ll be standing around outside, either saying or hearing the following:
“I didn’t study for that at all…”
“No way…oh my God…is that the answer?!”
“Oh no, I didn’t write that…”
8. Be on time! That way you can have everything laid out in an obsessive manner on your desk. You might also get to know the examinations invigilator and even be asked to sign the opening of an exam pack! (Don’t laugh – this may be the high point of your life over the next fortnight). Remember that although the exams begin at 9.30, you need to be there at 9.00 on the morning of the first exam.
9. Put each exam behind you as you do it – it’s done; you have to move onward. Give yourself half an hour to do a mini post-mortem with your friends, then consciously put it aside and move onto preparing for the next paper. What’s done, is done.
10. Breathe. Smile. Very, very soon you will be putting all of this behind you….Make sure it’s forever by giving it your all.