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Exam Fu: Take a breath to boost your mark

Posted in: General

December 6, 2018 | by Luke

The whole world can turn on a single instant. The avalanche can be started by a single pebble. And if you don’t breathe in and out you’re going to find it extremely difficult to finish exam questions. Welcome to the ancient monastery top of this blog post as we begin to teach you the arts of Exam Fu. And, as with all masters teaching people things that were inside them all along, we begin with breathing.

Close your eyes, feel the air in your mouth, take one slow breath in and out.

(I trusted you to open your eyes and come back after that.)

I know that’s going to sound like fad wellness pretend-revelatory nonsense, but that right there is a powerful exam technique. That’s not just a breath, that’s a mental reset button. You know how your computer clogs up with a hundred programs open, twenty tabs you swear you’ll get back to reading later, all of which leave some small bit of nonsense clogging things up even when they’re closed? You know restarting the computer fixes it. And your computer is nowhere near as complex as your cortex, which is running many, many more programs to keep you alive.

Like all seemingly simple arts in the movies this basic technique turns out to be the perfect counter for an unexpected attack. Many students study by concentrating entirely on a single subject, even a single chapter, for hours at a time. Then what does the exam do? Hit them with every aspect of the course at once, staggering the unprepared by shunting between bits of the course in unexpected orders.

One calm breath doesn’t just defeat this confusion, it clears the entire brain to work on the problem. Before you start any new problem take that one clearing breath and it reminds you to forget everything else, dump all the cache memory from the last problem you tried, the one before that you weren’t able to solve yet, the bits of your brain thinking about where you’ll eat after you’ve finished this, how you need to recharge your phone, all of that irrelevant thought.

Dark, breathe in, breathe out.

See the problem.

That’s all you’re doing right now.

Get in the habit of a simple breath between problems and it’ll be an automatic stress-break and clearing reset every time. Do this with every problem and you’ll be in the habit of using your entire focus every time. You’ll be less tired out by the rapid changes between questions. And any time you’re annoyed by things, you’ll know how to stop, relax, and get back to solving problems.

 

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Saghar

Biol 241, Biol 311, Chem 351
Instructor since 2010
10 prep sessions
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2013–presentPrep Instructor, Mechanics 
2013–presentPrep Instructor, Statics
2012–presentTutor, Statics, Mechanics, Mechanics of Materials
2012–13TA, Engineering Mechanics II
2012–13TA, Mechanics of Solids 
2011-13TA Mechanics of Materials 
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2012–presentPh.D. [Mechanical Engineering]
2012M.Sc. [Mechanical Engineering]
2009B.Sc. [Mechanical Engineering]
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