Self-belief is possibly the biggest and most important issue that you have to deal with. It is a difficult one to tackle as it is likely not to just be an exam problem. It is therefore essential to start to look at this as early as possible into the academic year.
What is Self-Belief?
By self-belief, we are really talking about what we think that we are capable of in a certain scenario. If you believe that you can do something and you then prove that you can do it, you will soon become confident in doing that task.
If you don’t think that you can pass exams or get a specific grade, then how on earth are you ever going to develop exam confidence? You can’t unless you start to believe first.
For example, do you believe that you are clever enough? Do you think you will get a good grade? Do you think that exams are scary?
There is a million question that we could ask. But for every person that thinks that they can’t do exams, there will be someone else who believes that exams are easy. And that is the secret to it.
What Are Beliefs?
All your beliefs are a figment of your imagination. You have picked up certain ideas throughout your life from a variety of sources, and eventually, they became beliefs that are now part of your everyday life. You now live your life according to those beliefs. This doesn’t just apply to exams but anything you can think of.
The Definition of Beliefs:
“an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof“
This is a definition from the Oxford English dictionary. Read it again. An acceptance that something is true, especially one without proof! This is what a belief is! We accept and believe that certain things are true, even if we have absolutely no proof! Does that sound crazy to you? It does to me!
Think about it. Do you believe in ghosts? Or UFOs? Or that life exists on another planet? Or the tooth fairy? Or Santa Claus and his magic flying reindeer that can get around the world to every house in a few hours?
If you do, why do you believe that? Is there any proof? I mean real hard scientific fact. Probably not so much. But if you talk to someone who does believe in any of the above, they can become really passionate, even aggressive in defending their beliefs.
At some point, something or someone has influenced them, and they have ended up believing in whatever they were told.
You think this way based upon what you think is real evidence. This could be from watching tv, from what your friends say, what your parents told you, what newspapers tell you etc.
But they are just beliefs. They are not set in stone and can therefore be changed. Beliefs are all nonsense; they are based upon opinion and someone’s viewpoint or interpretation of events.
To put his into exam terms, if one person thinks exams can be easy, then you can too. You are in charge of your thoughts, so make them work for you, not against you. It’s a simple decision. Don’t fight it. I have heard many students then say “but…” Don’t do this. Just make it easy for yourself, and you can start to turn this around, and you will feel better towards exams.
The problem with beliefs is that once you have a particular belief, your brain looks for evidence to support it at the expense of everything else, even ignoring cold hard facts and obvious reason or common sense!
This is dangerous, and if someone is struggling with exams, then a vicious circle or cycle can occur.
For example, a bad grade (or several bad grades) could result in a drop in confidence. From there a student may start to believe that he or she is bad at exams or that subject.
The grade is the evidence that the brain needs and the student believes that they must be bad at that subject.
The good news is that a bad grade does not necessarily mean that someone is bad at that subject or will never get a good grade.
The opposite can happen too, where you are getting great results, and your confidence is soaring. You just have to gain some perspective and not get drawn into a negative way of thinking.
You have a choice. The only reason you won’t get good grades is if you think you won’t. Give yourself a chance. Just start thinking positively; it’s a simple choice.
You can either think that you are not clever enough or you can think the opposite and take responsibility for yourself and give yourself a great chance of success. Just do it. And please don’t say “but…but…what about…” it’s not going to help you.
If you asked almost anyone doing any exam what they think of exams, you would get a negative response. It would be close to a 100% negative response rate.
If you can apply common sense to a lot of this, you can dispel any negative belief. It’s a case of standing back from the whole exam thing for 10 minutes, thinking about the exam myths and seeing if they make any logical sense.
Beliefs aren’t logical. As we said above, they are more or less made up. But people live their lives according to them. The way to change these beliefs is to apply logic. Think about what you believe and ask yourself, does it may any sense? Where is the evidence? You may even find some real evidence, but is it true 100% of the time? Probably not. Are there ANY scenarios where, for example, you did get a good grade, you found the exam ok, you understood something easily? You need to start to find evidence to disprove the annoying belief.
The truth is exams aren’t scary. It’s actually the previous six months you should be worried about as that is the time that determines your grade, not the exam.
You are just believing what you have been told and what the majority of people think. Exams are seen as bad, and it is just accepted. An exam is nothing to worry about. It’s just like doing another past paper. If you are prepared and ready, then what’s the problem?
Realise that believing negative things about exams and yourself will not help and that you have a choice. Some people will cling on to what they believe no matter what, scared to make a change, resisting any help, but they will never improve. They have been used to it, it’s a part of who they are, and it is hard to accept that maybe you were wrong. It’s easier to do nothing and blame the world!
You, on the other hand, can decide now, as quick as clicking your fingers that you are going to start looking at things positively.
How to Start Believing in Yourself
Even if you have had poor exam results for the past two or three years, it doesn’t matter. Whatever has happened is history. It’s gone, it’s done, and it should have no effect on your next grade. You cannot change the past, but if you dwell on the poor results, then it will harm your future exams.
So the first step is to realise that what you think and what you believe now is really important and will affect your grade. Exam grades are not just about reading books or remembering facts or learning how to do questions.
If you’re stuck in a negative frame of mind, then it will harm your studying all year round and then the revision period and then the exam and ultimately your result. You may still do ok, but you will never know how good you could have been.
Most people who need help with exams tend to have negative thought patterns, which is understandable and perfectly normal. But we have to break this cycle, and it all starts with being aware of what type of thoughts you have.
You need to recognise what you really think of yourself and your attitude towards exams. This is the hard part. Most people will never be aware of what they are doing to themselves with their negative thought patterns or even realise what way they are thinking.
But having read this or anything else on beliefs you should be aware and you can now start to monitor your thoughts. Once you become aware of what you are thinking, it becomes a lot easier to break the cycle.
If you want to sit down and do this as an exercise you need to be honest with yourself.
For example, write down as many reasons as you can to answer questions such as why exams are difficult for you, why you haven’t been getting good grades or why you don’t like them.
Having done that, I am going to tell you that almost everything that you have written down is garbage. You have invented the majority of the points that you wrote down. These are your current beliefs, and they are harming your results. But because they are invented, they can easily be removed.
Keep Telling Yourself
Next, you have to start telling yourself that you CAN do it. Whatever exam you are thinking of tell yourself that you can do it. And keep telling yourself this over and over, every day, every hour, every minute….as often as you like.
If you have any moments of doubt, immediately tell yourself that you CAN do it, don’t let the negative thoughts creep in. If someone else in your class is getting good grades, then you can too. Believe this and start telling yourself it now. Remember, no “but…buts” allowed!
Drum it into yourself day after day, and even if you don’t really believe it now, eventually you will. At some point, your results will start to improve, and this is when you really can change your beliefs. There is no better confidence booster than good results. That’s the proof that your brain needs.
Even if you start this process and you are still not getting good grades after a few weeks or so, you have to stick with it. You have to believe that what you are doing will eventually work. If you give up after a few weeks, then you might as well not bother starting.
The beauty of all of this is that it doesn’t even matter if it’s true! Even if you are genuinely hopeless at a certain subject, if you think and start to tell yourself that you are actually good at it, it is going to help a lot. You will do a whole lot better than when you put yourself down all the time.
On the other hand, I have come across students who are naturally good at a subject, but for some reason, they believe that they haven’t got a clue! And their exam results reflected this mindset.
I have had students where I asked them questions, went through all their books and notes, and they knew everything. In the same session, they would tell me that they are really bad at Chemistry! In reality, their results were nothing to do with Chemistry.
Tip: Tell yourself that everything is easy. Every subject, every topic, every concept…easy. Again, it’s a simple choice….you can choose to approach it from an “oh no, this is too hard for me” angle or you can believe that you are good enough.
The very fact that you are doing the course shows that you are good enough.
You got the grades to get into that course. That means the school, college or University has put their faith in you that you can do it….they believe in you, so why don’t you believe in yourself?
One Step Further
Confidence can be fragile, especially when at school. Other kids can affect you, as can teachers or even parents. But again, you have a choice, you can let it affect you in a bad way, or you don’t let it bother you at all. Even better, turn it around and use it as motivation.
Get annoyed, get angry with whoever has dented your confidence, even if it is yourself you are angry with. Tell yourself that you are going to DESTROY their stupid exam and prove them all wrong. If someone gets a better mark than you, get annoyed. If you “only” get a B in homework, get annoyed that you didn’t get an A. When you have this attitude, it is hard to be fragile and scared.
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.