A Game of Chance

Exams are probabilistic. There will always be an element of chance involved. You could get lucky or unlucky with which questions appear. In the heat of the moment, you may not be able to remember a particular fact when needed. You might suddenly feel ill, or desperately need the toilet. You might become overwhelmed by a wave of panic and make a series of bad decisions. Maybe you’ll be distracted by a horribly noisy group of pigeons at the window. I was.

You can’t completely eliminate chance, but you still have great power over how much it can affect you. In order to manipulate chance to your advantage, you need to really understand how the game works. You might be very intelligent but if you’re following the wrong set of rules then you won’t get very far.

There are countless students out there who could easily get excellent exam results, but don’t. The tale of the very bright and capable friend or family member who fell surprisingly short of their potential is far from unique. In fact, it is rather more common for students to produce disappointing results than to exceed expectations.

This happens because most students forget one critical rule: by far the largest element of chance in this game is your own behaviour. They make the false assumption that they can stay extremely motivated and work extremely hard for many weeks or months before their exams. This is a nice idea, but very few students are able to turn it into reality. In the world of exam success, nice ideas are only good ideas if they are realistic.

You need an approach that works with your imperfections instead of one that pretends they don’t exist. This is why the common advice of “work really really really hard” is useless. It leaves no room for error.

Rather than speculate about what should work, I’m going to talk to you from the point of view of my own experience. I’m going to show you what actually works. I won’t tell you to do anything which I haven’t directly tried myself.

The best way to protect yourself against yourself is to embed the fundamental principles of exam success in your thinking, so that they become part of your mindset. When you think about exams in the right way, you will automatically make much better decisions without even having to make an effort. This is why your mindset is the most powerful exam-crushing tool at your disposal. Let’s begin improving it.