Bring your ‘A-Game’: Mentally preparing for Exams

by frank-stuart

Preparing for exams in a sporting context, is just like preparing for your grand final. You carefully undertake your pre-season training, maintaining physical and mental fitness and ‘an edge’ so that your season can start as planned. Each week you complete your sessions and games in order to work through the season and finish on top. You should expect an amazing result and the achievement associated with the success because you know your have ‘put the work in.’

A semester is exactly the same. You can complete pre-semester readings to ensure you know exactly what classes you are taking, so you have a basic knowledge of the content and you arrive at class ready for each and every session. The unique learning environment of ACPE ensures you develop your knowledge each week and then apply this knowledge in a practical setting or to the workplace, culminating in final assessments or exams to demonstrate this knowledge.


Be ready

Study in advance and set up a schedule giving each unit of study equal time. Before studying, ensure you understand how your memory works. In short…memory is the retention of information over time and is your best asset for success.


Short-term memory is like your fast twitch muscle fibres. It has a limited performance capacity (just like that 100mtrs sprint!). Information is retained for about 30 seconds unless mental rehearsal takes place and then it will stay around for longer.

Distance events

Long-term memory holds a huge amount of information for a long period of time and can improve depending on the learning activities you engage in such as practical activities, tutorials, and of course, regular study.

Maintaining your fitness

Working memory is just like your class desk. It is where you will learn, manipulate and assemble information needed to solve problems, and to comprehend written and spoken language. One great fact is that working memory continues to improve from adolescence to adulthood (Santrock, 2010). So aim to maintain your working memory each day.

Team Mates

I am always impressed when I see study groups working on mind maps in the lecture rooms during the study break. In these sessions small study groups work together to create summaries of the key concepts from each week and support one another’s learning and revision efforts prior to the exam week. Set up your study group early and remember, many heads can be better than one!

Pre-Game Psych-up

Use your phone or electronic device to complete voice recordings of your own notes or summaries. Put this into your own words so that you have a complete understanding of each concept. You should listen to this just like it is your pre-game psych-up music.

Maintain your Discipline

You maintain your health and fitness each week so why not study every week? Time management is needed to ensure you maintain regular workouts, time for study, work and your personal life. The ADO has great tips for time management and setting weekly plans. When you are studying, ensure you make time for exercise to negate the extra snacking calories, to clear your head, to help you refocus for study and to give you the Aha! Moment.

So ‘Game Day’ has arrived!

Bring your kit

Like putting on your favourite socks and packing your mouth guard, ensure your pencil case has all of the equipment you need for your exams. In a plastic sleeve include your ID card, pencils, sharpener, rubber, pens and liquid paper. There may be additional equipment requirements for each exam such as a calculator or a specific research paper.

The warm up

Arrive early for each exam session like you would if you had to warm up for a game. Don’t risk traffic delays and ensure you find a place to quietly revise before you enter the exam room.

The Game

Use your reading time to review the whole paper. Read each question and say the question to yourself in your head. Consider creating a mind map for each long response question, covering all information and each aspect of the question. Use this simple formula: Facts, Application, Examples. Recall the necessary facts and research to answer the question and then demonstrate you can apply these facts and include examples where appropriate.


You have two defenders in front of you and three open teammates, which one will you choose? Multiple-choice questions can be tough and often you have many choices, but they contain important and essential meta-language. Multiple-choice can assist you when you are attempting the short or long answer questions in your exam paper. Depending on your personal preference, I always encourage students to peruse the Multiple-choice section to ensure they have completed their written responses to the best of their ability. Your examiner will be looking for meta-language to ensure you know what it is, where to include and apply it! Remember…your first response is usually the correct one, so be wary not to keep changing your answers when you review the paper.


Just like visualizing the perfect race or goal kick, if you draw a blank in the exam, try to visualise the session you had with your lecturer covering the specific exam materials and your study notes. What examples were provided? What contributions did your classmates make? Were there any classmate funny jokes relating to the topic? Don’t panic or engage in negative self-talk. Take your time in answering each question.

Fight till the end

Don’t leave the exam early. The information in your memory may take a little more time to come to the surface so stick it out till the end and use all of the time you are given.

The cool down

Review the paper from cover to cover. Ensure you have attempted every question.

Final Comments

To conclude, I want you to consider John Woodens famous quote…

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Start early and you won’t need any good luck!

References: Santrock, J. W. (2010). Adolescence. (13th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

By Angelee Boyd – Associate Dean (Student Services) at ACPE

Angelee commenced at ACPE in 2002 and in 2007 and was appointed Associate Dean (Student Services). She has held Course Convenor roles for the Bachelor of Education and the BHM (Sport) degrees and managed the Elite Athlete Program. Angelee is currently on leave in the USA with her family for 2012 and is still developing and leading online units for ACPE. She will graduate with her PhD in July 2012. 

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