Sage Advice | Exams: A Journey into Hades, Examined by the Beast

Sage Advice | Exams: A Journey into Hades, Examined by the Beast

“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”

- Florence Nightingale


This question comes from a loyal reader: “I’m shitting bricks about exams. What are some tips on how to do well in an exam?” Thank you for the question. There is an old saying I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: ‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Now, as far as I can tell, whoever said it first probably went straight from high school into the family business – because they obviously never felt pre-exam stress, nor sweated pre-exam bullets. Nor shat pre-exam bullets. Nor shat middle-of-exam cluster bombs (I’m talking diarrhoea here, folks). A lot of us feel like this because we know the outcomes of exams are important. Exams are a Big Deal. So this week I’ve interviewed a seasoned exam taker, and learned some good tips on weathering this special kind of shit storm. He resides in North East Valley and wishes to remain anonymous.

“Exams are one of my greatest fears. I have sat many in my time – too many to recount – and yet the Fear still grows within me whenever the calendar gives way to June, or October. There is no magic bullet that will cease these feelings completely, but I will share some of what I’ve learned over the years on how to cope.

Lesson #1: With exams, I’ve found it’s best to just focus on the task at hand, and take things one step at a time. Just focus on one fact, one rule, and one subject at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to take on everything all at once. Just focus, take baby steps. This works well for both exams and a lot of my other fears. For example, I’m scared of making eye contact with rowdy teenagers on the bus. But then I just remind myself that I am the grownup here, and that I have to catch the bus, otherwise I won’t arrive on time at my very important job at Wendy’s, and then I just pretend to be asleep so I can’t see them anymore. I am also scared of the rowdy teenagers on the water slide at the pool, so I just focus on the fact that I only get a few hours of leisure time per day, and they will not be ruined by feckless teenagers frolicking and splashing water everywhere. And then I just tell the lifeguard that the teens are swearing and causing a ruckus near the good honest family-folk, and then he tells them to kindly leave the blessed waterslide, else face a ban. I love seeing authority in action.

Exam fear can be tricky, and sometimes your mind can go blank. But never fear; here are some proof-tested methods for overcoming mind-blankness. Picture this: you’re in your history exam. It is essay answers only. You don’t know any of the answers. Ordinarily you’d be done for, but what’s that over there? See that invigilator, the exam supervisor? The one who looks like they escaped from a rest home and are reliving their days as a school teacher (back in the paddlin’ days)? Yes, that one. Lesson #2: All exam supervisors are Old. Old people love talking, and they remember quite a lot about the olden days (it’s still 1973 inside their brains). The ingredients are all there. All you have to do is ask them quietly, ‘excuse me, can I please use the bathroom... Also what effect did Roger Douglas’s economic policies have on New Zealand, in 700 words?’ and you’re all set. Be warned though – some of them are clever and won’t fall for this. They need to be ‘massaged’ first. Which brings us to Lesson #3: Old people are horny. They are amongst the horniest in our society. And when they get horny, they become very agreeable. You gotta make them horny. I’ve found this is the most direct way to extract historical information from a grumpy exam supervisor.

Quietly seduce them; do whatever it takes, even if what they find enticing is often strange and vague. If the supervisor is female, you should say something like ‘mmm, I was just reading about those old trolley buses that used to jostle and vibrate up and down the cobblestone streets of 1950s Dunedin’. You just passed the paper. If they are male, say something along the lines of ‘mmm, what strong looking shoulders you’ve got. I bet you could shovel coal all day on a steam ship, bringing weary migrants from war stricken Europe... handsome.’ You just earned a B+ at worst. Just remember to keep your voice down. Now, I know this only really works for history, politics, and a few other subjects, but what do you want from me? This is real-world advice, not pie-in-the-sky idealism. I can’t help everyone all at once. Don’t like it? Tough shit. Get off my back. Don’t contact me. I am warning you. I will find you. This is a credible threat.”


 “Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars”


This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2017.
Posted 12:07pm Saturday 30th September 2017 by Mat Clarkson.