Writer's Club #2: Sun Tzu and Exam Stress
A little while ago, we held a competition to create a new club of writers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to our winners, and the entries they submitted that got them their spot! First up is Louahanna-Rane and her blog on making ancient war strategies work for your exam prep!
Most people have had some form of assessment in their life, be it a spelling test, GCSEs or an in-class quiz. No matter the pressure, type, or difficulty of a test, exams can place copious amounts of stress on us. If you’re like me and find the pressure of exams intimidating, these assessments (especially with the Centre Assessed Grades malarky caused by a global pandemic) can feel almost like a battle...a ‘war’ if you will. So, what can you do to work through this war-like situation? Well, maybe war tactics can be applied to this situation!
I am in year 11 studying history, art, Spanish and drama on top of the compulsory subjects. This can be very stressful, especially when exams are now a complete mess! As you may have gathered from my choices, I enjoy history. Now you may be thinking, ‘How does enjoying history align with exams and war?’ Well, in the year 544 BC, a man named Sun Tzu was born in China, and went on to revolutionise war strategy. You may know him for his famous writings in the book The Art of War, or by his quote “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
A wise guy I’d say! So wise, that I have analysed and interpreted his battle strategies into exam and revision tips!
“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”
Here’s a scenario all too familiar to me: you settle down, ready to revise, but you begin working on polishing what you already know, rather than tackling something new, as it is less stressful and requires less hutzpah. You turn up to your exam and whilst you know a few questions and could easily get full marks, there are other questions that leave you completely stumped. You never even touched the unit, and you now sit perplexed in the remaining time as you’ve already answered what you know. To avoid this, try and direct your focus to what you are weaker at. Avoid avidly revising what you are extremely strong at (don’t hesitate to ask your teachers for a course summary/ knowledge organiser to help with this) and identify what you do not know. Look for what you are uncertain of and prioritise this in your revision. This leads me into the next tip:
“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.”
When you revise, you may rely on the fact that a question will not show up in the test as it is quite a hard subject. However, if there is even a small chance it is on there, at least give it some time. Don’t stress yourself out of course, but this will lead to less overthinking once you’re in the exam room.
What would you prefer? You turn up to an exam and begin to work through the paper, but once you’re about three quarters of the way through, nearing the home stretch, the question that you never expected to be there, is there. You are unprepared and this can cause stress. You struggle to reach back in your mind and remember how to answer it. Or, would you prefer that this situation occurs but you can answer the question as you have revised all units on your knowledge organiser (I cannot stress how useful these are!) and you continue happily.
“Excessive rewards are a sign of desperation. Excessive punishments are a sign of exhaustion.”
The process of revision itself can become quite self-destructive for some people. You pressure yourself heavily to get it done, maybe restricting breaks and giving every ounce of yourself to the work. Or, you might give yourself a thirty minute break every ten minutes! I’m not saying rewarding yourself is self-destructive, but consider how frequently you’re doing it and maybe just spread them out a tad further.
When it comes to revision, “Great results can be achieved with short forces.” When you revise, do give yourselves breaks, a change of scenery or a change of topic every now and again. Don’t spend an hour reading a textbook when you could spend 20 minutes practicing a technique. These shorter bursts will be more effective overall.
Overall, my message to you is this: don’t over-do it. For “If rewards are immoderate, there will be expenditure that does not result in gratitude.” If you overdo it, you won't see the benefits or the pay off on the work you’ve done, rather you may look at it with resentment.
Make sure to keep hydrated, let yourself have breaks and please stay rested. At the end of the day, these numbers aren't a direct representation of you, don’t let them get to you if you don’t get the grades you want! And finally, “You have to believe in yourself”. I know you can get through it!