Writing Under Pressure: Discussion

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Exam Preparation: Discussion Topic.

How does being prepared help when writing under pressure?

Pressure, naturally, removes our ability to think effectively or make rational decisions. Thus, preparation allows us to follow a somewhat pre-established guide on answering questions when we are not quite thinking properly. Say, preparing a basic exam structure before the exam means you won’t have to waste ~5 minutes trying to think of one – as simple as it is, simplicity is only a mindset and this mindset generally disappears in an exam setting. Knowing at least how to write an essay and only having to think about content for the prepared structure is easier than being completely lost in stress…

Which aspects are most important when preparing for timed-writing exams?

The most important aspect is the preparation of a rational mind… you know the exam is limited in time and you can’t do anything to change that; worrying about it won’t do any good. Enter the exam with the correct mindset and realise that worrying either means rushed answers or mental distraction (i.e. the comedic cliché of banging one’s head against the table out of stress). The more time you take stressing or overthinking means less time to do the test itself…

Thus, practice breathing techniques and/ or other concentration/ mind-relief techniques.

I don’t necessarily have any tips for actual educational aspects… but to me the healthy mental approach to a timed exam is important.

What advice would you give someone who’s preparing for high-pressure exams?

Cliché answer: “breath.”

Often overused, it is indeed a good suggestion. Walking into a high-pressure exam while hyperventilating and scruffling through notes seconds before is, well, not going to help. Prepare times within the test for each answer, select answers you know the answer to first and then move to the ones you don’t. Don’t spend five minutes thinking about the answer to one question… move on and come back. This might be a bit of a not-approved(?) suggestion but sometimes it even helps too, at the start of the test, don’t touch your writing material but rather set aside 5 minutes to just read through the test and breath… maybe circle some headings or questions you fancy and don’t fancy… breakdown the paper so that it is “mentally smaller” to you – I’m not sure how to explain this but hopefully I did > Rather spend 5 minutes just reading instead of 5 minutes panicking; use time productively.

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Another very thorough and insightful response, Shawn :partying_face:. Thank you.

I particularly like this quote “you know the exam is limited in time and you can’t do anything to change that; worrying about it won’t do any good”. I wonder, is a certain amount of anxiety healthy/to be expected though? We wouldn’t wish to be too blasé, right?

I also like how you advise to set aside 5 minutes to read through the paper before beginning. Are there are any other processes perhaps in terms of time management that someone sitting exams could follow? Do you draft a plan, for instance?

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To add to your first point:
I plan how much time I am going to spend on each step to an answer (understanding, drafting, editing, etc.) so that I can always check if I am on time with my tasks. This helps with unnecessarily worrying from the beginning on when one does not need to be stressed (rationally) yet.

To add to your advice:
I really want to stress that one should not spend too long with a question if they get stuck. Chances are that that just adds more pressure and stress and you cannot think of anything you revised anymore. So I always come back to the question later.

I would also recommend to not get confused by hastily trying to revise everything with your peers right before an exam. For me it is important that I start an exam with a relaxed mindset and without distractions. So I take at least 20 minutes beforehand to prepare everything, get focused and breeeaathe.

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Yes, hasty revising or ‘cramming’ can be detrimental - thanks floflo! Thinking about revision more generally, do you think it’s better to spend ten hours a day for two days revising just before the exam or two hours a day for two weeks? & why?

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Thanks Shawn and floflo for your advice, I really agree with all your points. In the last formative I spent way too much time on writing my basic paragraph about Clausewitz’s Trinity simply because I wrote it for the first time. I really want to avoid that in the final exams so this is how I plan on preparing for the exams:

(i) materials

  • Read as much as I can, so I really know the concepts (Bionic Reading is my friend)
  • Write down main concepts in my own words (with Authors and Dates)
  • Explain to other people
  • Since I am very visual, I will try sketching some of the ideas or representing connections

(ii) body

  • Get enough sleep
  • Have a good breakfast
  • Do some sport in the morning/drink coffee to start my brain
  • Have water with me

(iii) mind

  • I stop studying the afternoon before, do something relaxing
  • I do not engage too much with stressed peers, listen to music instead
  • Remind myself that know the material and that it will be fine
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