• Ian Gibbs

Exam Tip #13: Stay Positive


Have you heard of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light-bulb?


When he was a schoolboy, he came home one day with a letter from his teacher who had told him to give it to his mum.


She read it solemnly.


“What does it say, mum?“ asked little Edison.


“It says ‘Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself’.”


Years later, after his mother had died, Edison found the letter in a drawer. It said, ‘Your son is mentally ill. We won’t let him come to school anymore.’


If it wasn’t for the positive attitude of his mum, Thomas Edison, one of the world’s greatest inventors, would have been branded mentally incapable of learning anything. But his mum believed in him and that made all the difference.


It’s important to maintain a positive attitude.


Another great inventor, Henry Ford (who coincidentally was a neighbour of Edison’s) is often quoted as saying ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.’


If you go around saying to yourself things like ‘It’s too hard. I can’t do it. It’ll be a disaster’, you’ll be less likely to make the effort and therefore less likely to succeed.


If you go around saying to yourself ‘I’m just as capable as everyone else. I can do this. It’ll be fine’, your positive attitude will help you keep going.


If you cultivate a ‘can do’ attitude, you are much more likely to do much better.


This is not just a rule for exams, it’s a rule for life.


You are an intelligent human being capable of learning a great many things.


If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve learnt English, a notoriously difficult and illogical language for its grammar and its spelling.


You’ve learnt the names and details of your favourite pop-stars, sports heroes, YouTube celebrities and Fortnite players, haven’t you?


You’ve learnt to do things others find difficult.


You achieved this.


As they say, if you throw enough dirt at a wall, some of it will stick.


If you say to yourself ‘I can’t do this. I’m rubbish at it. I’m going to fail’, then that’s what you’ll happen. Some of those ideas will stick.


Similarly, if you tell yourself something positive, the positive will stick a little, too.


Here are a few sub-tips for staying positive:


1. Start the day by saying to yourself ‘I can do this.’ Although it might sound a bit ‘cheesy’, it works. If you don’t like ‘I can do this’, try ‘Today is going to be a great day’ or ‘Today I will get a little bit better.’ Pick your own affirmation and use it regularly.


2. Focus on small wins. Completing a study session is a small win. Discovering a way to remember an important formula, quote or date is a small win. Getting a few more marks on a past paper than the previous one is a small win. Every win, no matter how small, is taking you in the right direction. Cele- brate them and keep going. Keep winning.


3. Remember how far you’ve come already. Keep track of all the stuff you have learnt so far. Your Exam Specifications are useful for this. Review them occasionally to remind yourself of all the positive progress you’re making. Reminding yourself of all you’ve achieved is a great positivity booster.


4. Set realistic goals. If you try for too much, too soon, you’re asking to be disappointed with yourself. Challenges are good, but only if they’re within reason. Expecting to revise half a term’s coursework in half an hour isn’t going to work. This is why having a well-planned revision timetable is important.


5. Make the most from mistakes, turn failures into lessons. Don’t beat yourself up if you get something wrong. Look at it objectively. Say to yourself ‘That’s interesting. Why did I do that?’ Then identify what the mistake was and deal with it so you’re less likely to make it again.


6. Remember the magic three-letter word. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff you need to learn, you’ll find yourself saying, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I can’t understand this.’ Try adding the magic word: yet. By saying ‘I can’t do this, yet’ you’re acknowledging your frustration but also admitting that with a little perseverance you will get there.


7. Seek positivity. Just like Mrs Edison, some people are great sources of positivity. Make the effort to spend more time with the ones who can make you feel better about yourself, about your exams and about how great it will be once you’ve gotten the grade you deserve.


8. Avoid negativity. You know who the negative people are. The moaners. The complainers. The ones who belittle your efforts. They resent you working hard and doing well. They are envious. They get pleasure in pulling you down to their level. Spend as little time with them as possible and don’t listen to them. Be your own hero.

If you do find yourself with any reoccurring negative thoughts you’re struggling to get rid of, take a moment to write them down. Analyse them. Rationally deal with them: What is the logical reasoning you’re using to deduce it will be too hard? What hard evidence is there that you are not capable? What proof is there that it’s going to be one humungous disaster?

Once you start to closely inspect your negative thoughts, you’ll find they are unsubstantiated and that they are just emotional rubbish trying to make you feel bad.

So stop repeating negative thoughts to yourself and be realistic: You can do this. It’s possible. You will succeed if you do your best.

On the day of your exam, more than ever you need to stay positive. Keep reminding yourself of the following:


✔ I’ve prepared as much as I can

✔ I’m a capable student

✔ I’m on peak form

✔ I’ll show them what I know

✔ I’ll do my best


Keep these in mind and use them against any unwanted negative thoughts you might have on the big day. Because just like Thomas Edison, with the right positive attitude you are capable of achieving great things.


Tip 13: Believe in yourself. Because whether you think you’ll pass, or you think you’ll fail, you’ll probably be right.

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