Exam success has a lot to do with how well you can handle sticky situations or something unexpected. When these scenarios arise, you are placed into a position of uncertainty. Uncertainty is bad because it leads to panic and indecision, which in turn can have a disastrous effect on your performance.
Solid preparation will reduce the likelihood of sticky situations, but never completely eliminate it. There is an inescapable degree of uncertainty you will face when taking exams. Problematic scenarios will arise at some point.
One thing that consistently happened throughout my education was that in every exam at least one or two “star students” would produce a disappointing result. This was not because they did not know their material. It was because they knew it so well that they expected to be able to answer anything that came their way without a problem.
When problems inevitably arose, they panicked and their plans fell apart. Their confidence was shattered and couldn’t be recovered during the exam. Students like these prepare with the intention of entirely eliminating the possibility of anything going wrong. They fret over every little “what if” and try to anticipate every possible sequence of events. This fragile exam mentality relies on the whole operation running smoothly and will crumble from the slightest bump. And there will always be bumps.
Don’t be a perfectionist. No matter how prepared you feel you are, there will always be something to catch you by surprise. You should enter an exam expecting a few sticky situations. This is absolutely not to say that you should expect things to go badly, only that you might have to navigate some obstacles along your path to exam success. After all, if exams never presented problems then everyone would get 100%.
A sturdy mindset is the most important tool for handling sticky situations. If you can cope with issues properly, they will have little to no impact on your score. It is during these moments that it is especially important to project an aura of competence into your answers. You should still give the impression that you know what you are doing. Even if you don't.
When you get stuck, stop for a minute and consider your options:
You will do many exams throughout your education, so it's highly likely that a few really nasty questions will show up along the way. When this happens, you must remember that everyone else is doing the same exam as you. If it’s a difficult question, it’s likely that everyone will find it difficult. If it’s a badly-worded or unclear question, everyone will have to struggle to interpret it.
Exam performance is relative, so what matters is simply that you handle the nasty questions better than everyone else.