Updated: Jan 8, 2020

When Exams Don’t Go So Great

It’s December! I hope your first semester at Mac has gone well and

that you’re excited for winter break!!

In this month’s post I’m going to be sharing my experience writing

exams at Mac for the first time and what I learned. I’ll also be sharing

tips and personal experiences from other upper year mentors so that

you can see the variety of experiences students have during exams. I

hope that after reading this post you’ll learn some tips for managing


My Experience

During my first exam season at Mac I was on a roll since I’d crushed

my first two exams and I was also feeling pretty confident about my

calc exam coming up. I did as many practice questions as I could,

redid past assignments, the whole 9 yards. Everything was going as

planned until I opened the exam booklet and my mind went blank. I

felt panic rising up in my chest as I scanned through the problems

and saw the numbers swimming in my vision.

I knew I couldn’t let that be the end so I started with easier problems

to get my confidence up and sure enough what I studied started to

come back to me. However, there were still 2 or 3 questions I knew I

answered wrong so I finished the exam feeling uneasy. After I

handed in my exam, I remember looking out over the sea of IWC

examinees and wondering if anyone else had found the exam tricky

or had blanked out at some point like I did.

I felt embarrassed for not finding the exam doable after hearing

classmates talk about how easy it was or how they were glad their

studying paid off. Did I study wrong? What went wrong? Did I ruin my

chances of specializing in second year? Am I cut out for Life Sci?

These were just some of the thoughts swirling through my head as I

anxiously checked the Mosaic grades page. Finally, I got the “Marks

are up!” text from a friend and braced myself for my grade.

My heart sank.

My final grade was lower than what I had entered the exam with. I felt

so defeated I felt almost unmotivated to study for my next exam. After

the sadness dissipated anxiety began to settle in. What if I did worse

on my next exam? What if my first two exams were flops and I just

didn’t know it?

I had begun to lose confidence in my knowledge and I was second

guessing my answers as I did mock exams for my next exam. I knew

that this was no way to finish the exam season but I didn’t know who I

could talk to about this.

Mentors Weigh In

“I took astronomy 2b03 in second year as an elective. I went into the

exam feeling confident but it actually ended up lowering my mark at

least 2 grade points. I realized that I spent a lot of time on the pre-

midterm material that we had already been tested on, because it felt

good to go through it and know what was going on. I should have

spent more time being patient enough with myself to accept that I

didn't know as much of the post-midterm material, so then I could

have studied it more easily. The exam was almost exclusively post-

midterm material so it makes sense that I did so poorly. “

“I was doing really really well in Math 1LT3 , but I didn’t study well

enough and didn't do well in the exam at all, thus leading to my

course GPA decreasing dramatically. It was difficult for me because I

loved math so much and was so disappointed that I didn’t do well,

and was worried that I wouldn't get into the program of my choice, but

I did!!”

“In first year physics (1A03) I had been doing pretty well in the class

all semester. I studied really hard for the exam and thought it went

well. I ended up getting a terrible grade on the exam and I still don't

really know how that happened."

5 Tips From Mentors

Take a Break!

“After writing an exam, if I don't have exams the following day, I

always go to the gym or to lane swim. It's sometimes hard to

remember to get exercise when you're intensely studying, but it really

helps me manage my stress."

“I found a good book to read during exam season so that during my

breaks I had something calm and enjoyable to do.”

“Spend time with people who didn't write the test. It is good to talk

about things that are completely different with people who have no

relation to the bad experience.”

One Exam Doesn’t Define All

“The most important thing is not to let your performance on one exam

affect your grades on others. If you do poorly, reevaluate the way you

studied and work hard to make up for it on the rest of your exams.

Everyone has bad tests but the difference is what you do differently

for the next one to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

Changing Your Strategy

“That was my last exam in first year so I didn't have other exams to

do better in, for that exam period, however I have made an intensive

exam study schedule that starts 2 weeks before my first exam to

ensure that I am capable to cover as much as possible!”

You’re Only Human

“Life is hard. Add school on top of it, and it becomes even harder.

We're allowed to have off-days, self-care days (in any form), and

we're allowed to not be okay for a little bit without feeling guilty. We

will be okay in the end, everything works out!”

Everyone Is On Their Own Path

“If you bomb a class that your friends do well in, chances are the

roles are reversed in another subject. But that being said, the best

advice I’ve been given is that comparing myself to others won’t make

me better or smarter or have higher grades. If anything, it will make

me feel bad about myself and do worse. So it doesn’t matter what

other people are doing or thinking or getting. What matters is

LEARNING and growing at your pace and on your terms, because

ultimately that’s what you came to this school to do. No one can put a

number or weight or letter on your learning and your experience

because that is defined by you!”

Closing Thoughts

Looking back I would’ve appreciated hearing these experiences and

knowing I wasn’t alone. As I wrote more exams I got better at

managing my time and balancing rest, the tips from other mentors

definitely would’ve helped first year me! I hope your exams go well

and that no matter the outcome you know that your grades truly do

not define you and a bad grade is, as cliche as it sounds, not the end

of the world.

Good luck!

Aisha Elmi