Exam Mindset & Attitude

Exam Mindset

There are people who work hard all year, study well, know everything, revise well and then in the exam crumble. They lose the plot and freeze on the day. This is an extreme case of course, but most students tend to do worse in the exam than they would doing a past paper at home. But there’s no real difference. It’s just someone’s perception of it all. Yes, the exam counts and the past paper doesn’t but why can’t you adopt the same exam mindset and attitude as when at home?

Exam Mindset – Reframing

We’ve all heard the same old exam clichés over and over. We are all conditioned to believe that exams are bad and scary things, and even that they are unfair.

The problem is that exams are the only way that they have to assess you and you just have to get on with it.

It is not in your best interests to believe any of the clichés, even if they were true. If you think the exam is bad, you are likely to be nervous or in a negative frame of mind. If you think the exam is down to luck, then how can you possibly be confident? You are undermining all your hard work!

So you need to reframe it. This means think of it in a way that will help you.


1. Everything they ask you is based upon something that you did in class. It is straight out your book in some form. If you remember this then it is firstly motivating but also there are no tricks! It is not based on luck.

The questions might not be instantly recognisable but they can’t just ask you it in a very factual manner as in the book. So you just have to identify the real question as we have discussed already.

2. The revision period can be stressful. But exams are the end of the revision! Therefore that should be a good thing surely? You get your life back! Exams are actually the last part before a great summer.

3. If you have studied all year and done countless questions and past papers how can you possibly think that you are going to do badly? It makes no sense.

4. If you have studied hard and tried your best, then you are ready. You have done yourself proud, you can’t ask anymore of yourself, you have no regrets. This is a great mindset to have, it’s quite difficult to feel bad with this in your head.

5. If you have done badly before, so what? This is a different exam! It has absolutely nothing to do with last year or the year before. Nothing! This time you have studied better and have prepared well. The previous exam or previous ten are irrelevant.

6. Roughly add up how the number of hours of all your year’s study. It will be in the thousands. Now, your exam is going to be somewhere between 1 and 3 hours. This is almost negligible in comparison! It has almost no importance! As long as you don’t freak out and remain calm it is impossible not to do well.

7. Thinking badly, negatively, blaming everyone and everything etc. is not going to put you in a good or confident mood. So just don’t do it. Help yourself, think that it is going to go great.

Exam Mindset – Attitude

If you can flip this round, it can actually enhance your performance so that you do better in the exam than you would at home.

You might think it is better at home as you are relaxed and not nervous. Afterall, feeling nervous isn’t a good feeling is it? But being a bit nervous can actually aid you. You can use this energy as fuel. Excitement and nervousness are more or less the same feeling.

If you are thinking positively and have a bit of nervous fuel, this is when you will find an answer from nowhere when you need it most in an exam. It’s hard to do that at home as you are too relaxed and too comfortable.

This often happens in sport. Someone will do something unbelievable in a World Cup Final or in the final of Wimbledon, when seemingly under the most intense pressure. Others in the same situation will freeze and make mistake after mistake. It’s all in the head!

Before The Exam

From above, an extension would be to start to think that you are going to do well in the exam. No, forget that, you are going to do your best ever in the exam.

Further again….you are going to destroy their pitiful excuse for an exam! I mentioned this in the How to get an A tutorial too. A bit of aggression is a good thing, a bit of intensity, be very focussed and very single minded.

  • You should be quietly confident based upon all your preparation.
  • You should be calm but probably will still have a bit of a nervous feeling; this is normal.
  • You should be determined and almost eager to get started.
  • You should have just a little bit of aggression.

About the Author

Kevin Boyle is a full-time A-level Chemistry Tutor with 15 years experience and a proven track record with students of all abilities. As an online chemistry tutor, he works with students across the UK, equipping them with the skills they need to excel in their exams.