How to focus during exams

Today’a post is from Setimela in South Africa.

Dr Marc Dusssault,

I really appreciate the study and speed learning tips you are giving me but I have a problem losing concentration when writing a test and when doing my assignments. This results in me failing the test. This discourages me hence losing confidence. I am currently doing a part-time diploma in occupational health nursing with WITS University in South Africa. I have already written a test and I didn’t do well. Kindly assist me to pull through.

There is the famous saying we’ve all heard “practice makes perfect”, but it’s actually wrong. It should be “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I have another blog called the Mindset Of A Champion where you’re find several posts that will help you focus for your exams. It covers topics such as Mental Toughness and deliberate practice concepts.

As a student, if you want to ace your next exam, you need to PRACTICE writing exams – literally. That means creating the same time pressure, even going to your exam room when it’s available to actually PRACTICE writing a fake exam. I know it sounds crazy, but if you actually do it, you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make.

When I did my undergraduate degree, about a handful of times, I went into the SAME (or similar) exam room to write exams on my own, when I knew there would be no one there (at night or on weekends). Sometimes I would sit the fake exam for the full 3 hours and often I would just do part of an exam for 1 hour – SAME STRESS.

It takes effort because you have to:

  • Come up with fake questions. (Ideally, you ask a friend to write them up for you)
  • Find when a room is available.
  • Go to (or stay at) school.
  • Role play seriously – even if that means panicking because you can’t answer the questions.
  • You need to grade yourself honestly after-the-fact.

If this is all too much effort – just keep freaking out during exams.

If you want to get better at anything – perfect practice makes perfect…

Of course there is the alternative which is MASTERING your subject matter – but that is a topic for another day.

2 Responses to “How to focus during exams”


  • My dad always says “Perfect practice makes perfect. Imperfect practice makes mediocrity.” It has stuck with me all my life, and now when I practice anything, I am sure to put my all into it because I am not one who is satisfied with personal mediocrity.

  • Oooh- Slam! You are right- getting good at test taking is a talent and requires exercise and practice and TIME. If you don’t care to put in the effort, then you really don’t care to do well in test-taking. People just seem to want something for nothing, which drives me crazy.

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