Guest Blog Post : The Secret to Acing Your Exams by Jim Wang
So far on my blog, I’ve consciously avoided using quotes from religious texts mainly because I didn’t want this blog to be one of those blogs – ones which quote hadiths and Bhagavad Gita. Just because they have various interpretations and it would distract from the original goal of this blog. Plus, there was a more rationale theme I wanted this blog to reflect. So, with this guest blog post, I change that unwritten rule. And the trailblazer for this change is Jim Wang. Jim is a first-year grad student who has just passed his pre-qualifying examinations for his Phd and has joined the Bao Research group. He talks about the role of confidence in taking exams and how for him, his faith played a major role. Personally, for me, the topic of faith and belief is very close to my heart, and hence I think it does wonders in terms of eliminating stress. Keep an open mind and hope you enjoy this wonderful article by Jim.
“Derive Trouton’s law for me,” one of my professors requested as soon as I return to the examination room for Q&A. Confidence. I reminded myself.
“Trouton’s law states that effective viscosity is about three times dynamics viscosity,” said I while walking slowly to the far side of the board, buying as much time as I can.
“No, it’s exactly three times.” I knew I had already goofed up but tried not to show it. Confidence.
All of you probably remember a time when you had to convince somebody else that you were an expert at something, whether or not you actually are one. Last week my fellow first year classmates and I took our PhD qualifying exam (actually in our department it is “pre-qualifying,” with an easier “qualifying” phase coming in September). We each received a paper from one of four topics of our choice – transport phenomenon, surface science, polymer science, and biology, and were given two weeks to prepare for an oral critique and Q&A. We had to show a deep molecular understanding in a particular field – transport phenomenon, for me – when in reality we knew nothing.
I have taken many examinations in my life. Just to name a few big ones: SAT, GRE, interviews, and now pre-quals. Yet with the exception of the SAT, I don’t remember ever stressing over any test. I believe that a sizeable portion of the battle is psychological. It’s like taking a penalty kick in football, aka soccer for those bred in America. A well-known fact among football fanatics is that goalkeepers tend to mess with kickers (strangely, interviewers and professors behave similarly to goalkeepers). I remember vividly how the Portuguese keeper Ricardo Pereira studied his so-called notes on English players in full view of his opponents right before the PK shootout in the 2006 World Cup Quarterfinals. His action appeared to startle the English. End result? England missed 3 of 4 spot kicks and crashed out of the tournament on penalties, again.
Of course, confidence needs to be grounded. A professional footballer practices penalty kicks thousands of times in his life. He knows all the technical ins and outs. How was my confidence grounded? To illustrate, I wrote these Bible verses down at the beginning of my exam period:
For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor will my sword save me.
But You have saved us from our adversaries,
And You have put to shame those who hate us.
In God we have boasted all day long,
And we will give thanks to Your name forever. (Psalm 44:6-8)
I compared my exam preparation to an internal battle (though I didn’t have specific adversaries nor was I out to put anybody to shame). During my preparations, I thought of many different questions that could be asked – my notebook became a canvas of sticky notes – but in the end there were simply too many topics for which to prepare. I will not trust in my own intelligence, nor will my knowledge save me. Instead, my confidence rests in God, who controls my destiny. If He didn’t pass me, then He must have a better plan for me; if He passed me, then He wants me to continue with the present task. Either way, I praise God.
Of course, this does not mean that a believer in God doesn’t need to prepare for exams. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD.” The Bible also says, “[Do] not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). I must still prepare my horse to the best of the ability that God has given me, but I will boast of my God, for victory belongs to Him.
For those of you who one day will take a major exam (and most will), if there’s one thing that I hope you find helpful upon reading this, it is this: find something to give you the confidence to perform to the best of your abilities. For me, this was my faith. There’s only so much you can cram up to the day of the exam. Just relax and believe!
Who knows? Maybe with a dose of confidence even England will finally win a penalty shootout in the next major tournament.
If you’re new here, this is the seventh awesome post in the series of guest blog posts. This experiment has been successful so far because of people like you. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to write about anything under the sun. The more, the merrier. Drop me a line, and I’ll get back to you.
This reminded me of when I was writing my JEE exam back in the day (2006) and we had three sections, Physics, Chemistry and Math. Each section had a duration of two hours and then a break of two hours and so on, so it would start early in the morning and go on all day. I remember coming back from the first section (Physics) and bombing it. The next two hours were the most excruciating for me. And the only way I could keep my sanity was to have faith. And I would listen to Naats (arabic poetry in praise of Islam) and keep calm.
The next post is by the awesome Surbhi – who writes about life without plans. I think it’s a refreshing change after all my posts about goal settings and what not. Stay tuned.