Exam stress is often hard to fight. It can suck you down and beat you up as you overanalyse every decision you’ve made. Here’s an example from me:
I remember after my bio senior external exam a friend asking if it was okay for the experimental design question to have put the plants in test tubes rather than in volumetric flasks. Meanwhile, I was sitting there going “what?? We were meant to say what glassware it was in???” and next thing you know I was planning out how really I was going to score so much worse than my practices, get a bad score, not get into my course etc. The examiners didn’t care about that, I got a great score and into my dream course, and I had a lot of unwarranted stress. Whatever questions you’re overanalysing, you might have the same ending to your exam stress too. Let’s break this down a bit to help you doubt your exam stress.
To determine what marks you’d earn from a question there are a few things you need to know:
– How many marks the question is worth
– What the question is
– How you answered it
– The marking scheme for the question
– How to correctly apply the marking scheme to your answer
Let’s assume that you can remember how many marks the question was worth even though you’ve been doing dozens of exam questions. You would still need to remember the wording of the question to get even close to figuring out a marking scheme. Only then could you apply that to your memory of your answer. From your practice exams you’d know that applying the marking scheme can be a bit ambiguous too. If you’re stressing about a question you think you answered poorly, you’re doing this on a guessed marking scheme made from your flawed memory of the question and answer. To know your exam mark you’d need to combine these guesses-of-guesses for every question. No matter how much you might tell yourself you’re doomed, you can’t have a high level of confidence in that.
Even if you knew how many marks you had obtained on the exam, that doesn’t mean you know what the contribution to your ATAR will be. For example, let’s say that the specialist maths exam was really hard – not just for you, but for most people who took it – and this meant that people tended to get lower scores in spec than their other subjects. QTAc would automatically address this with scaling. Additionally, QCE external exams contribute a maximum of 50% of your subject mark and for most subjects it’s only 25%. The coronavirus adjustments won’t change these. So, let’s say you really did mess up on one of the papers for one your subjects – this would only affect a minority of your mark.
Let’s say that you do score lower than you aimed. An ATAR being lower than clearly-in entry to the course you want doesn’t mean you can’t get into the course. You might be able to get there using access schemes and bonus points that boost your selection rank. You could also be lucky and have the course demand (and hence ATAR cut-off) being lower than the uni’s guess. If you don’t get into your desired course directly you can look at alternative pathways like bridging programs or transferring from a similar course. Even if that doesn’t happen, whatever path you land on you will have options and are never tied into or cut off from a profession based on your ATAR. Plenty of people transfer or take another pathway and I’ve never seen someone be treated worse for it.
Our brains often have a tendency to dwell on the negative, so it can be easy to build exam stress. You might convince yourself you’re doomed to some undesirable future but that doesn’t make it real or likely. All you can do is your best and try to act in ways that will help you. That might mean focusing on upcoming exams or distracting yourself with celebrations if you’re finishing up. Either way, you should be proud of what you’ve achieved and no number can take your effort or learning away from you. You were thrown into the deep end of the ATAR system being new to QCE and then had covid added on top of that; just making it this far is an achievement and if you’ve fallen a bit apart you can sort the pieces into a mosaic later. For now, remember that none of this defines you. You’ve got this.
If you have any questions about this please feel free to post them here. Best of luck 🙂