Title:  Dispelling irrational beliefs about exams

Here are six common beliefs that are held about exams and their outcome, all of which have some elements of false assumption or irrationality about them.

1. MY future will be ruined if I fail/don't get the grades I want.

Examinations are an import!ant way in which professional groups in our society select their membership. Success in them does open doors to particular jobs and careers. Lack of success will mean certain jobs and careers are not immediately open to you, at least at the level of entry you originally intended. Some may be closed altogether.

However, happiness, wealth, peace of mind, a rich experience of life, meaningful status in the eyes of others, a worthwhile career, a useful job and a sense of purpose and self-belief as a human being do not depend upon examination results. The world is teeming with people who have found that to be the case whether they have passed examinations or not.

2. I am not luckly with exams.

Some people do appear luckier than others at games of chance, with acquiring money, in making relationships, or in achievements. There is certainly an aspect of chance involved in which questions appear on the examination paper, compared to those you have chosen to revise.

However, examination technique can be learned very effectively by anybody, and the element of luck reduced to a minimum. Practising what you have to do in the examination room is the key, as Arnold Palmer, one of the most successful golfers of all time is quoted as saying: 'The more I practise, the luckier I get.'

3. I'm just no good at exams. Some people are. I'm not.

There are two elements in this view. One is that your past performance will determine any future attempts. The other is that in comparing yourself with others, you find your performance inadequate. The answer to the first element is that the past frequently is escapable. By buying this book and reading this page, you have set out to become 'good at exams'. Other people are largely irrelevant. They do not depend for their success upon your lack of success or vice versa.

4. Exams get more difficult as you work your way up.

Difficult is a relative word. What is difficult at one age is not at another; what is difficult when you are inexperienced in an activity is not when you are experienced; what is difficult to one person is not for another; what is difficult on one day is nit on another.

Certainly, examinations demand more specialist knowledge, understanding and expertise, as you move through their different levels. They may become more technical, involve more abstract ideas and concepts, involve you in greate specialization and more specialist jargon. This does not mean they become more difficult.

5. I haven't covered the syllabus, so I won't pass.

It isn't irrational to fear that you haven't revised or understood enough of the subject you have studied to pass a course. It may be true that if you have studied and revised little of the course you have left yourself at risk of failing to accumulate sufficient marks to pass it. It may be that you will need some luck in the choice of questions that appear in the exam paper.

However, it is irrational to believe that of you haven't covered the syllabus you are inevitably going to fail the course. Few course, teachers or students 'cover the syllabus' in the sense of paying full and equal attention to all parts of it. Examiners do not expect you to have done so. They accept that there are bound to be areas where you are under-prepared, unclear or uninformed. They want to see you demonstrate what you do understand and what you have prepared.

Even when you are struggling to find enough questions to answer, you will find that many have some kind of link or association with your course content. You will normally find some links which you can build up into an answer.

6. The exams will expose me as a phoney, or stupid.

You may experience the common fear in many students that the exams will expose them as inadequate, lacking in even basic know-how or understanding. There is a further underlying fear-that the exams will expose your lack of ability to be tacking that level of study, whether it be GCSE or post-graduate qualifications. The fear can be further intensified by fantasies of the judgement by examiners, tutors, family and friends. Examiners can be seen as poised with red pens to expose your ignorance and misunderstanding. You may feel that family and friends see you as stupid, or that tutors will reject you, as they feel let down or fooled.


The focus on ability is largely irrelevant. The vast majority of people who set off on a course of study are quite capable of successfully completing it. It is practical life circumstances, false beliefs and negative attitudes, which, coupled with poor study techniques, may cause problems - not lack of ability.