Why you can't control what exam mark you get
You are the archer (duh). OK I'm sure you've guessed that you are the archer, and the mark you want on your exam is the bullseye. So I won't labour the point. You can largely control how you prepare in the years (attending lectures; being organised with note taking) and months / weeks (both committing the time and effort to revising, and also the way you go about it) leading up to your exams. You have limited control over how you sleep the night before (sure you can read a book before bed rather than stay up playing computer games, but sleep can be very sensitive even to low levels of anxiety) but you can control pretty well (again barring disasters out of your control) how you prepare yourself on the day of the exam, both mentally and physically. Going into the exam you have some power over your mental state, but none of us can completely banish anxiety at will.
What you can't control. What we are here to talk about is what you can and can’t control - carrying a firm grasp of this distinction into the exam can help with anxiety. You might find that simply repeating to yourself in your mind all the things you cannot control about the situation as you are heading into it helps reduce your anxiety. For example repeating to yourself ‘I cannot control what questions come up’ as you’re waiting can be a helpful tonic if your mind is worrying about that. Perhaps you open the exam and the section of the course you know best isn’t there. You can’t control that. You’ll just have to do your best with what’s in front of you. Did you sleep badly last night, and your memory isn’t as snappy for everything relevant to the question you’ve got as it would otherwise be? You can’t control that either - you’ll just have to do your best with what you’re facing. Perhaps you feel like you should have revised more, or in a different way. You can’t control that anymore - all you can do now is your best on this exam. Do you feel like someone let you down - didn’t help you prepare in the way they should have, or took up your time when you should have been revising? Perhaps there will be action to take on that later, but not now – all you can do right now is your best on this exam.
What you can control. What can you control in that moment? You can control how you conduct yourself during the exam. Over the next hour or so, you are shooting the arrow. When the invigilator says you can start, don’t let your anxiety rule you, whipping the paper open and start trying to read at a million words a minute. You’ll just have to read it again. Open the exam slowly, communicating to your brain that all is well. Force yourself to read at a normal pace. Resist the urge to rush straight into panic writing: make a plan like your lecturers have advised you and take the time to write legibly so your marker can read your handwriting. Take the time to think about what you are writing and whether it is relevant to the question, don’t just splurge every thought that comes to mind. Take 10 little seconds after each question to close your eyes, count to 10, and remind yourself of the ideas in this article. Visualise yourself as an archer if you like: no one will know! 😊
After the exam. Once the time is up, your arrow has left your bow. Regret and self-criticism are common at this point but of limited value. Of course, it’s important to learn from this experience to do better next time, but much better to sit down and write that all out (and make sure you put those notes somewhere so that you will take action on them next time) than spend hours and days dwelling on your mistakes or worse, doubting your abilities. The way we get good at anything in life is by learning from our mistakes while still keeping belief in ourselves and keeping going.
Remember when you finally get your mark that there are also eddies and currents in the marking process. Universities have second markers, and moderation processes to minimise variance in grading, but if you sent the same exam to multiple ‘teams’ of markers, you would inevitably get some variation (it should be only a few percent) – some will be harsher, some more lenient. This means that it makes little sense to put weight on the difference between a ‘71’ and a ‘68’. Of course, this is also why your degree mark isn’t based on one assessment – slight variations in marker harshness will average out over all the assessments you do. This ‘long view’ (e.g. ‘This is just one exam out of ~30 assessments over the course of my degree – I’ll just do my best and learn from my mistakes for the next one’) is also a powerful way to not put too much importance on this one exam, which is all too easy when anxiety takes hold of us.
 Again, to a large extent but not completely: if you have a difficult personal life, or have to work to support yourself, this may limit your time available or just make it all harder.
 If you are worried about the level of anxiety you experience at times like this, contact your university wellbeing team (link for my students: wellbeing team).
 Let alone of course the complete illusion that is grade boundaries (although also, technically your modules don’t have grade boundaries, only your final degree mark).
 Due to the same principals you learn in your Statistics modules (i.e. why we study groups of people in research and take the mean, not just one person)