Four reasons not to worry if an exam is really hard

Don't worry!

You’ve revised for weeks, practised endless past papers and are as ready as you’ll ever be.

But on the day the exam turns out to be not quite what you wanted. In fact it’s really tough. The questions are tricky, the topics obscure and you just don’t nail it the way you wanted.

Don’t worry – everyone who’s ever taken an exam has felt like this at some point.

And it’s probably nothing like as bad as you think. Here’s why.

Exams are supposed to be hard

Exams are tests of the knowledge and skills students should develop after following a course for maybe two years. Often they’re pathways to highly competitive jobs and courses, so they’re supposed to be challenging. 

In fact, if someone finds an exam easy that might not be a good sign for them. It may mean they haven’t quite got to grips with the complexity of the questions. 

It was probably hard for everyone

If everyone finds an exam (or even an individual question) difficult then the exam board can adjust the grade boundaries. They have to make sure standards are the same from year to year so if this year’s paper is harder than last year’s the boundaries will need to be adjusted downwards so a lower mark will achieve the same grade as a higher mark the year before.


How you feel about an exam is not the same as how you’ve done

Students react in different ways after exams. Some feel the need to convince themselves and everyone else that the exam was easy and that they absolutely nailed it. Others surround themselves and everyone else with doom and despondency at their inevitable failure.

The fact is that neither of these reactions are probably accurate perceptions, they just reflect different psychological needs. 

The way students react after an exam bears little relation to the grade they actually get.

You can’t change it

Once completed there’s nothing you can do to alter the exam paper or your answers. It’s gone. 

Best learn whatever lessons you can from it (Timing? Keeping to the point?) and move on to preparation for the next exam or to celebrations and summer plans.

So don’t worry – finding an exam hard is no surprise and probably no problem.

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