Your first AMEB exam… what to do!

As exam day nears, your confidence should soar as you prepare to showcase your achievements and gain recognition for all of that hard work. Don’t spoil the months of preparation, self-discipline, sweat and tears when you’re almost at the finish line! You too can prevent exam self-sabotage by avoiding these 10 common mistakes many students make before entering the exam room.

1. Practise like it’s going out of style… the week before the exam.

Sometimes when an exam or concert is looming large, we panic and resort to an extreme practice regime as a source of last-minute, confidence-boosting performance assurance. Remember that your body is a delicate piece of machinery and that suddenly increasing the number of hours spent playing or singing every day is more likely to result in injury and fatigue than super-human musical ability. Instead of shredding your strength in an extreme instrumental all-nighter, try short, targeted practice sessions that focus on problem areas and include plenty of breaks for the muscles and the mind. By suddenly ramping up your practice routine just before the exam you’re actually telling yourself that you don’t know the music well enough. Instead of surrendering to exam panic, step away from your instrument and remind yourself that you do know the music and you know it well. Use a bit of self-talk to ward off doubt and to keep yourself calm.

2. I am so nervous.

If I had a coin for every time this was groaned in an AMEB exam warm-up area, I could buy Mozart’s original pianoforte. Nerves are a part of every performance – they show you that you care! The trick is to direct all of that nervous energy to heighten your focus and creating an electric atmosphere for your performance – use the adrenaline that is suddenly pumping through your system! So next time you find yourself saying ‘I’m so nervous’, feel blessed, put on your superman cape, and let nerves be your secret for success!

3. Red Bull gives you wings.

Or so the energy drink company claims. Wings are handy when you’re late, stuck in traffic, or headed to Neverland, but… not so much in the exam room. What do we mean? Caffeine and similar stimulants alter your body chemistry and can leave you feeling jittery and unfocused, particularly when combined with performance adrenaline. They’re also used as a pick-me-up when you haven’t had enough sleep the night before. Give yourself the best chance by making sure you arrive at the exam room well rested, and rely on examination nerves to give you that extra buzz rather than a can of chemicals!

4. Is that Liszt next door?

For many, warming up before an exam is a crucial part of the process and for some it’s the opportunity to focus on some last minute trouble spots or to calm the nerves with a steady run-through of the technical work. Multiply this by 10 candidates and the result is a cacophony of sound with a running competition for the loudest, fastest, and most impressive playing. Refrain from comparing yourself to others and showing off your inner Franz Liszt by instead trying some slow practice or finding a quiet place to focus. Don’t waste your precious energy trying to impress the candidate in the practice room next door – save it for the examiners.

5. Nothing really matters.

The only thing more tragic than Freddy Mercury singing these lyrics in Bohemian Rhapsody is a performer muttering them before taking to the stage. Performing in front of others can be terrifying and sometimes we prepare ourselves for disaster by assuring ourselves that there’s no significance to what we’re doing and therefore no consequences in failure. Think of your exam as a celebration of the hard work you’ve put in over the last months and years. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt, fist-pump the sky in front-row fervor to Freddy singing ‘We will, we will, rock you!’

6. Section III am.

More likely than not, you didn’t learn to play your instrument in a fortnight or your repertoire over a long weekend so the chance are, superpowers aside, you cannot learn sight-reading, aural skills and general knowledge overnight. Start preparing for the Section III requirements well in advance of your exam. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself staring at unfamiliar concepts, challenging musical passages, three empty coffee mugs and strands of your own hair that you’ve pulled out at 3am the night before the exam. Instead, aim to be staring at the back of your relaxed and well-prepared eyelids. Try using a practice diary to prompt early and thorough preparation.

7. Next top musician.

We’ve all seen performers get on stage donning elegant evening wear accompanied by stilettos or suffocating bowties. Fascinating amounts of onstage skin, maneuvering of high heels over piano pedals or impressive sweat stains are all distractions that take away from our experience of the music. Showcase your red carpet repertoire with a classy and comfortable outfit that you’re familiar with and that allows you to play with ease. Academy dresses come and go but academic dress endures on the musical stage! See more on Academic dress.

8. VIP club.

When it’s time to head to the exam facility, be your own bouncer when it comes to inviting others along. Give yourself momentary celebrity status by bringing only your closest supporters. Exams can be emotional and generally pretty intense. Rather than dragging that girl/guy you’re trying to impress, friends, neighbours or pets to the exam site, give yourself the space to focus on the task at hand – have your fans waiting for you in the limo to celebrate your achievements at the exclusive afterparty.

9. Tear down that wall.

Ok, so you’re about to go into the exam room. Yes, it can be scary and unnerving. However, remember that this is a performance. You’re performing music! You’re not there just to get the notes right. Tell the examiner a story with the music that you play. Express your musical personality with every note, even the scales and arpeggios. Bring some magic into that room! And don’t give up if you make a few mistakes. Sometimes a few wrong notes can help you to relax and break the tension – you’re human after all. Concentrate on playing expressively and bringing meaning to every sound that you make. It may be a small room in a strange building with an unfamiliar examiner in the corner but don’t be afraid. Enter confidently, don’t get distracted and don’t let small things put you off. Remember that the examiner really wants to hear what you have to say. Take a couple of deep breaths and then fill up that room with your charisma, personality and style.

10. Could-a should-a would-a.

The main thing to remember in doing an exam is that YOU did it. Nobody else did. That’s an achievement. And it doesn’t matter if you get an A, B or C. You did the best that you could on the day. Be proud of yourself and give yourself a big pat on the back. Yes, you could have performed that tricky bit better, yes you slowed down towards the end, yes you forgot what key the piece goes into in the middle. These things happen. By doing an exam and putting yourself through the whole process, you’re learning valuable lessons. And… it will be so much easier the next time around!