English & EAL

How to Overcome the Mid-Exam Crisis

Ariel Parker

October 23, 2018

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What’s your exam nightmare?

Mine was always that I would open my booklet in reading time and find essay topics that I had never considered, and that I would waste time just trying to figure out where to start in tackling my essay.

That’s not what happened to me, because with that in mind, I spent all of my SWOTVAC planning essays for every topic my teacher could think of. So, in my exam, I was lucky enough to be able to write a Text Response and a Reading and Comparing essay on topics very similar to essays I had already written. This meant that for the first hour or so of my exam, I was quietly confident that I would be more than fine.

But the English exam is three hours long, it’s early in the morning, you switch writing styles three times. If you’re human, it’s scary! So many students put much more pressure on themselves than they can actually handle, and I was one of them. Halfway through my exam, I completely lost my train of thought. I was suddenly very overwhelmed and all I wanted to do was spit out my last two essays and get out of that hall. Because of this, I walked out of my exam teary - I thought those had to be the worst essays I’d ever written!

Luckily, I was wrong about those essays. Despite how frazzled I got during my exam, I stuck to a few key strategies to make sure I didn’t completely derail. In hindsight, I know that without them, I wouldn’t have overcome my “mid-exam crisis” and done as well as I did.

Here are my tips for staying on track and getting past any panic you might feel during your exam.

1. Before your exam: Prepare for the 3 hours of writing!

It’s obvious that preparing your mind by studying and practising is the biggest essential before your English exam. However, what use is your knowledge if you spend your exam trying not to fall asleep?! If you’re tired in your exam, you are more than likely to lose your train of thought and end up stressed. I know you’ve probably heard the ‘self-care’ talk many times, so from student to student, let me sum it up for you:

For the 1000th time - sleep! Honestly, you can’t cram the night before for English. If you don’t know your content by 9PM the night before your exam, you’re not going to know it by the morning. You’re better off getting rest so that you can think clearly, work with the knowledge you have, and perform your best in the exam. 

Eat well! My breakfast favourite during exams was oats with raspberries and banana - a bit of sugar, a good amount of carbs, and having a nice brekkie always put me in a good mood! There’s also your last-minute sustenance - even after my good breakfast, I always ate a banana or a mars bar right before I walked into an exam, because they’re great for an immediate energy boost.

2. During your exam: Start out with a plan!

Taking a minute or two before each essay will be your lifesaver when you’re mid-way through your exam and start second guessing yourself. Before starting each essay, jot down a basic plan that will help you remember your key points and contention. For example, say my topic is “Medea is symbolic of the intelligent woman caged in by the patriarchy”, my plan might look like this:

  • Contention: agree to a degree - caged in & intelligent BUT not symbolic of women in general
  • Body para 1: how she is caged in - marriage & infidelity, exiled by men, not given choice
  • Body para 2: intelligence - outsmarted Creon & Aegeus (manipulation) - intellectual superiority over Jason
  • Body para 3: not symbolic of women - demigod &sorceress - filicide - deus ex machina

While that may not make much sense to you, as the person writing the essay it helps me remember what my key points are, which is incredibly helpful if you start feeling overwhelmed.

3. Take a breather.

Yes, the English exam is all about time management, and so I can understand wanting to push through any panicky feelings, and keep writing when your time is precious. But if you’re not thinking clearly, you’re probably not writing clearly. Give yourself one minute. Watching the clock, think about nothing for a couple of seconds. Drink some water and give your brain a break. Then, as your minute comes to an end, calmly think about the approach you’re taking in your essay (again, this is going to be easier if you have a plan), and start a fresh sentence!

Overall, preparing yourself to maintain a clear head is the key to success. These tips helped me get past what felt like a “mid-exam crisis”, and I’m sure they’ll help you do the same. Stay positive and confident that you’re doing the best work you can, and keep these strategies in mind to help yourself out of any sticky situations. Good luck!

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