There’s nothing quite like it! The build-up, the anticipation and the speed: in a flash of an eye it’s all over. We see it all the time from boxing matches to Wimbledon finals but most of us mainly experience it in its most riveting format… Exams.

What a thing!

We stock our draws with highlighters, print every past paper since 1997 and then sit in our caves of dread as we procrastinate for the better part of the season. Only to reward ourselves with a bottle of tequila and regret.

I can’t say we’ve all had the same experience but everyone can relate, in some way or another, to the bitter anxiety of writing exams. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future exams will be a part of the education system and, much to your dismay, game day stress will follow you throughout your life.

So, we must answer a simple question: How should I do it?

The most important factor throughout the game day season is attitude. But it’s not as simple as “being positive” — as it were your phony optimism would most likely drive you to failure. The optimal attitude depends on where in the season you find yourself.


There are three distinct phases of the season:

  • Preparation
  • Game Day
  • Reflection

The essential take away from this article is that there are three distinct attitudes that are required for each phase of the season.

So, let’s have it


Humble Warrior. Now is the time for humility to the border of self-doubt.

No matter how intelligent you are or how overwhelmed you are feeling the only strategy in the build-up to game day is hard work. Your exaggerated belief in your abilities will do nothing to help you get through the mountains of preparation required for game day.

Your mantra is: “Work, you fool!”

Convince yourself of how little you know in comparison to the complexity and depth of your subject matter. If you’ve thought of every way you can be questioned, rest assured you won’t foresee question 3.

During preparation: You are a fool. You are week. You know nothing (Jon Snow).

Your job is to use your humility to uplift yourself from naivety.

Game Day

Arrogant Bastard. Now it is time for confidence to its extreme.

This one is slightly less intuitive so bear with me. We have a tendency to panic on game day. Open the paper, read question three, not know the answer and then spend the next 20 minutes regretting not revising this chapter. This is a waste of time and it will not increase your chances of success.

Your manta: “That’s it, you genius!”

Your arrogance knows that you can’t be fooled by some spiffy question setter. This exaggerated confidence will push you out of panic and into action. You know your work. Every piece of information is somewhere in your brain and you bet you will find it.

During game day, no one can keep you down. You’re Muhammed Ali in his prime. Albert Einstein ain’t got nothing on you.

Your job is to fight through that paper with the highest belief that you can ace every question


Pragmatic Realist. Now it’s time to replant your feet firmly on the ground.

You were a measly mouse during preparation and a mighty lion during game day and you failed. “Thanks for nothing, Ryan” — Don’t worry I’ve got you covered.

It is important to understand that during Preparation and Game Day we use attitudes that do not honestly reflect our abilities. We adopt different mind-sets to leverage our potential. Now that all your potential has collapsed to a single data point it is time for some honest reflection.

The only way to improve your chance success at this phase is through honest reflection.

The heart to heart with yourself:

  • Did I fail to prepare sufficiently?
  • Did I convince myself that I was such a fool that I gave up?
  • Did I panic on question 3?
  • Or was I so overconfident that I forgot to read the question?

The hardest part of this system is that at each phase you must completely forget the mind-set of the phase before (and for good reason). There is a single aim here. All we are trying to achieve is success.

It’s a dynamic process with incremental improvement. At each phase, the objective is to give you the highest survival rate. After each iteration, we get the opportunity to move closer to success.

We have to use our attitude to bolster our chances of success and use our successes (or lack thereof) to tweak our model. In the end fortune favours the brave.

So, next time the season is upon you, remember:

Work, Believe, Reflect