Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Archive for the tag “exams”

Expecting to Fail, Expecting to Succeed

Exams are starting in a couple of days, and I have found myself saying over and over again “I’m going to fail. I’m sure I’m going to fail.” It’s hard not to feel that way right now, with the pressure that is on from five exams, all of which count for 100% of the mark of their respective modules (the exams alone decide if we pass or fail each module, which in turn decides if we pass or fail the year). And of course I have high demands on myself – wanting to get a First class degree. But I am aware that sitting here telling myself I am going to fail is a very bad thing…it could even be a self-fulfilling prophecy…

Expectation is a powerful thing, both consciously and unconsciously. An experiment by Aronson (1962) looked at expectations of participants by setting some up to expect to do poorly on a task, and some to expect to do well. The participants then completed the task and half from each group were told that they did well, and half that they didn’t do well, thus confirming or denying their expectations. A “fault” then occured (actually part of the experiment) which mean the participants had to repeat the task but were allowed to change their answers if they desired. What is most interesting is that the participants in the low expectation group who actually performed well conterintuitively changed a lot of their choices. These participants expressed surprise when they were shown that they changed so many of their choices, and blamed this behaviour either on “faulty memory” or “shifting criteria of judgment.”

There has been quite a bit of research into the power of expectation on performance, even going so far as to show improved muscle efficiency in runners in a high expectation group (Stoate et al. 2012) and motor performance in high pressure tasks (McKay, 2012)! The more certain your expectancy, the more persistent you will be in your task and the better your performance (Dickhäuser et al., 2011) And you don’t even need to believe that you will ace your task; moderate and high expectations have equal benefit (Marshall & Brown, 2004).

So with all that in mind I will pass on this lovely poem that my sister sent to me. I believe this is by C. W. Longenecker.

The Victor

If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a person’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.

For many a game is lost
Before even a step is run
And many a coward fails
Before his work is begun.

Think big and your deed will grow;
Think small and you will fall behind.
Think that you can and you will;
It’s all in the state of mind and belief.

If you think that you are out-classed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the strongest or fastest man
But sooner or later the person who wins
Is the person who thinks he or she can.



You can do it.

I can do it.

We can all do it.

Good luck to all students who are sitting or preparing to sit exams at the moment!






Aronson, E., 1962. Performance expectancy as a determinant of actual performance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social, 65(3), pp.178-182.

Dickhäuser, O., Reinhard, M.-A. & Englert, C., 2011. “Of course I will …”: The combined effect of certainty and level of expectancies on persistence and performance. Social Psychology of Education, 14(4), pp.519-528.

Marshall, M. a. & Brown, J.D., 2004. Expectations and Realizations: The Role of Expectancies in Achievement Settings. Motivation and Emotion, 28(4), pp.347-361.

McKay, B., Lewthwaite, R. & Wulf, G., 2012. Enhanced expectancies improve performance under pressure. Frontiers in psychology, 3(January), p.8.

Stoate, I., Wulf, G. & Lewthwaite, R., 2012, Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners., pp.37-41.

Three Down, One to Go!

Today’s exam – Brain and Cognition – was pretty good, althought I completely messed up one question. The exam was split into two parts, firstly a 20Q multiple choice section with one point per question – which I blazed through in about 30s and am 100% confident on every answer I gave (It was pretty easy). The only question I was at all unsure about was to do with peptides and whether they are neurotransmitters, but I have since (thanks to google) found out that I gave the correct answer to that one too. The second part of the exam was ten “short paragraph” questions for 5 points each. This was harder, I will try to remember some of the questions…

  • What is inattentional blindness?
  • Compare and contrast surface, phonological, and deep dyslexia
  • What isvisual neglect, and what tests are used to diagnose it?
  • Describe double dissociation with an example
  • What is neural plasticity?
  • Describe three common symptoms of schizophrenia
  • What is lateral asymmetry?
  • What are split brain patients? What do they tell us about consciousness?
  • Describe the three components of long term memory, and give examples
  • What is change blindness?

The question I completely messed up was the dyslexia one. I am really annoyed at myself because someone explained this to me last night, and then I (reading from my notes) explained it to someone else an hour before the exam! But when I got into the exam my mind just went completely blank on this topic 😦 If only they had asked about the three types of antidepressants (Moanamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, and selective seretonin reuptake inhibitors), the stages of problem solving (Initial state, goal state, and rules of operation), or even the lobes and their functions (frontal – executive functioning, reasoning, planning; parietal – spatial representation, touch, attention; occipital – vision; temporal – memory, hearing). I learned soooo much for this exam, and pretty much the only thing I couldn’t learn came up in the exam. I even (kind of) finally got Double Dissociation which my brain has been absolutely unable to comprehend so far!

I know I will have passed, but as I was explaining to friends: Just “a pass” isn’t good enough for me. I know it’s only my first year, I know the grades from this year don’t count towards my degree classification. But the grades you get at the end of the first year won’t be that different from the grades you get at the start of the second year. If you can get high grades now, you know you can do it in the other years of your degree. If you don’t get high grades now – be it through lack of ability or, more likely, lack of effort – then don’t expect to do well later.

I’m hoping, no aiming for a First degree. I may not get it, but that is where I am aiming. That is why I do not judge myself against other students, or compare the amount of time I spend revising with others. It is simply a matter of doing the very best I can do and putting the most effort in that I can regardless of what anyone else is doing.

Next exam is Thursday, this one is Statistics. Not my strongest point, but I probably feel better about this one than I have about the others. We’ll see how I feel after my marathon revision session tomorrow!

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