The keys to managing a mid-exam meltdown

Despite their best efforts, many learners and students currently writing their mid-year exams are having to face up to the fact that their performance on papers written thus far isn’t what they hoped it would be. There is however still time to get back on track, and they should guard against catastrophizing their current situation, an education expert says.

“It can be hugely disappointing when you’ve put in the hours, did all you can to prepare, and then still find yourself sitting in the exam room awash with anxiety because you can’t recall and reflect what you’ve learned,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.

She says learners and students who find themselves in this position should avoid panic and regain perspective so that they are able to do their best on their remaining papers.

“Firstly, you should recognise and acknowledge what is happening. Mid-exam meltdowns are not unusual, and can happen to anyone, even to usually high-performing candidates,” she says.

“By facing the situation head-on, you can take back control and ensure you do better on upcoming subjects, which will go some way towards normalising your aggregate marks.”

Dr Mooney says there are a number of reasons why students and learners may experience mid-exam meltdowns, including the general anxiety and stress related to writing exams, lack of sleep, burnout, and of course inadequate preparation.

At this stage, it is important to take a step back and take stock of the situation, put things into perspective, and devise a strategy for the remaining tests and future ones, she says.


What’s done is done, and it serves no purpose to fret about papers you have already written. Put it behind you, and focus on what still lies ahead. Undertake to do whatever you can to ensure you do as well as possible on your remaining tests, and let go of the disappointment of previous papers which will only negatively impact your future efforts.