Do you Panic During Engineering Exams?


Post #19 When You Forget Everything but Your Name

The idea of an engineering exam is scary enough.  It’s doubly scary when professors hand you your exam face down.  They specify you are not to turn it over and start writing until they say OK.  Your temperature rises, your heart pounds and you can barely write your name.  Why do you panic during engineering exams?  Why must this process be so intimidating?


Your Heart Starts Racing

As if you’re not already scared, the exam feels as heavy as a small book when you pick it up.  That’s not intimidating!  Your palms are so clammy you can barely maneuver your pencil.  The sweat on your forehead may drip down your face as you sit there with this thick packet staring back at you.  You remind yourself that the next 2 hours will determine 20%, 25% or 30% of your course grade.  The pressure is on.

Take 5 Minutes

First, realize that it is perfectly reasonable to panic during engineering exams.  If only you knew how many others in the class are also trembling with sweaty palms as they attempt to write their names.  It is OK to be nervous, sweaty and even doubtful, don’t think there is something wrong with you.  Second, take a few moments to close your eyes and catch your breath.  It may feel like you’ve forgotten everything you knew.  But it’s perfectly reasonable to spend a few minutes calming yourself and sitting in silence.

Solve the Easier Problems First

Read every single problem first before you start.  One by one, attack the problems that are easiest for you.  If there is only one easy one, fine, do it first.  Then, start on a problem that you think you may be able to figure out even if it’s not obvious at first.  It’s amazing how you could have an ah-ha moment in the middle of solving a problem.  For questionable problems, attempt to solve those only after you have knocked out the easy ones.


Save the Hardest for Last

The easier problems are completed, and the semi-easier ones have your best attempt.  The most difficult problems remain.  If you are completely lost, try to tie the question and information back to a concept or formula.  Do not ever leave a question blank.  If nothing else, there are always things you can write down.  One, always list the given information with relevant symbols.  Two, write a formula or theory that applies.  Three, write a sentence or two about how you would apply that formula or theory.  For example, what does each coefficient/substitution equal?  Four, draw some sort of diagram, plot, sketch, graph, etc. as it applies to the question.  Five, imagine yourself working backwards if you had a known solution.  Write down whatever come to your mind.

In summary, it is common to panic during engineering exams.  There are always words and formulas you can write even if you don’t know how to solve a problem.  Do not ever leave a problem blank.  At a minimum you can show formulas, sketches and written descriptions.   Make it as easy as possible for the grader to give you credit!

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