From 3 Failures to Exam Success – Why some good students go to mush in exams

Posted by:


So, only a few weeks to go until you will be sitting in that exam room.  I have worked with many students; children, teenagers,  adults, those going back to professional or post graduate study, an many of them studied really hard and knew their stuff, yet when it came to exam time and getting it out on paper and showing the examiner what they knew, disaster.

The Heart Connection

The racing adrenalin and stress can sometimes sabotage your exam success

One particular client always comes to mind when I do talks on this particular subject.  He was a police officer and had been trying for the previous 3 years to complete his Police Sergeant exams.  When he called me he was in a panic.  His bosses had stated in no uncertain terms that they thought it should be the last year that he should try to pass the exams.  They said: “Maybe this should be the last year that you go for these exams.  The younger guys are coming up through the ranks; maybe you’re just not Sergeant material.”

As you can imagine, having set his sights on this throughout his entire career, he was gutted and somewhat embarrassed and it had started to take a toll on his confidence levels.  It was fine being a ‘Bobby’ however he knew that he had the capacity to progress if only he could get through the exams.

When we spoke he explained that he’d never been good at exams and always found them extremely stressful and would often freeze up and not be able to plan or complete the questions and therefore never fully demonstrated his knowledge or answered coherently what the question was asking.  He had seen something about PhotoReading™ and wanted to know if it might help him succeed and pass his exams.

He called me a month before his exams which was fine.  He then explained that he was busy for the 3 weeks, and in the final week before the exams could only spare 2 hours for the PhotoReading Coaching Session.

Now I’m good, and I have been teaching Accelerated Learning for over 12 years, however I still had that ‘no pressure there then’ kind of feeling!

So he came along and although not ideal, I squished everything that I could into those 2 hours.  It was immediately apparent that he really did know his stuff and was very knowledgeable on his subjects.

What then was causing the problem?

It’s a ‘state’ thing

I did an overview of the 5 Steps of the PhotoReading™ Whole Mind System with him so that he would be able to at least begin to implement some of it in the time he had available.  I put most of the focus during our Coaching Session on 2 key aspects; Step 1 – Prepare; and a small element of Step 5 which is Mind Mapping.

We mainly worked on banishing his limiting beliefs about his ability to perform well in exams, and on getting into a state of relaxed alertness.  There is where you relax the mind and body and activate the brain to respond to what you want it to do.

It would take too many ‘column inches’ to attempt to explain it all here.

For those that are interested in seeing it in action I have created an online instant access PhotoReading Intro DVD which is available from my website:

In a nutshell Step 1 includes:

Relax your breathing.  It is an automatic signal for the body to relax.  More importantly it sends a good supply of oxygen to the brain.  The brain doesn’t require much of you, a good supply of oxygen, a good supply of water, and clear direction about what you want it to do or be aware of.

Expand your awareness.  In physiological terms expanded awareness sets off what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system which is the body’s natural relaxation response. In Hawaiian Huna terms this is called Hakalau and creates a powerful waking meditation state.  The majority of the nervous students that I’ve worked with sit their exams in tunnel vision which invokes the sympathetic nervous system which is commonly known as the fight or flight response.  That is great if you are facing the threat of a wild animal, not so great when you turn your exam paper into the threat because being in that state closes down your creativity and the full functioning of your right brain creative faculties and the logical analytical brain kicks in to resolve the immediate threat.  Unfortunately for our poor student, this is not where they have stored all of that yummy information that they have been so diligently revising.

Tangerine It.  For those that have never come across PhotoReading this might seem a little strange.  You imagine placing a tangerine above and behind the head which creates a fixed point of awareness.  Based on the research by Ron Davis and shared in his book entitled The Gift of Dyslexia, the Tangerine Technique helps to create clearer focus.  Ron found that one of the key differences between those with dyslexia, and those that were good readers, learners, and studiers, was that dyslexics had a roving point of attention and their mind and focus and concentration would be all over the place.

PhotoReading Step 1 - Prepare

PhotoReading Step 1 – Prepare

Those without dyslexia had a fixed point of focus just above and behind the head.  I regularly have people with dyslexia attending my PhotoReading Workshops.  Aside from that first phone call where they call me up to ask whether PhotoReading will work for them, I don’t hear another word about it and honestly couldn’t pick them out from amongst the delegates because it really doesn’t cause them an issue once we’ve fully been through and implemented Step 1 of PhotoReading.

Intention & RAS.  Set a clear intention for what you want to achieve.  This sets off the part of the brain known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS).  The RAS is the part of the brain designed to get you what you want.  When revising it is a powerful ally.  My PhotoReading clients describe it as having: “The information that they are looking for almost lifting itself off the page” in amongst the 1000’s of other words.  It hugely speeds up your revision time, and you can more easily access the information during the exams.

Combining neuroscience with PhotoReading for optimum learning.

Combining neuroscience with PhotoReading for optimum peak perfomance learning.

Mind Map It. I have been Mind Mapping since I was 12 years old and if you are student or in a profession where you need to be able to remember and recall information ultimately without the use of notes I would definitely recommend that you make Mind Maps your new BFF.  When I am teaching my PhotoReading Classes we focus on Rapid Mind Mapping because you can easily reproduce them in exam situations in just a couple of minutes.  This is one of the techniques that really helped my Police Sergeant when taking his exam the week after our PhotoReading Coaching Session.

Below is a basic Mind Map of the PhotoReading Whole Mind System.  You would of course use more detail when studying.

The PhotoReading Whole Mind System

Mind Map of The PhotoReading Whole Mind System

So how did he do in his exams?

After taking the exams the Police Officer called to say that for the first time in his entire life he enjoyed the exam.  He was relaxed, focused, able to concentrate, and had the time to plan his questions and answers.  He said during that first call:

“I have no idea whether I’ve passed or failed but just knowing that I can do exams is success enough for me at this stage. 

They didn’t give us any extra working paper so I did my Rapid Mind Maps in the margins of the paper.  I can’t imagine what the examiner made of that!”

He called again after receiving  his exam results:

“Well Marilyn, I got my results (he then paused for dramatic effect!) . . . . . .  Not only did I pass, I was in the top 25 percentile for the entire country!”

I still get tingles when I recount and share this client’s story because this was a man who was just about to give up on a career that he had worked hard towards for many years, and face turning up to work for whoever many years to follow with a sense of both failure and dissatisfaction.

Examine your beliefs

Beliefs can also play a big part in exam performance.  If you have studied and prepared yet don’t believe that you are good enough, capable enough, that you can’t do well in exams, for some, these limiting beliefs can throw a spanner in the works just as they did for my Police Sergeant client.  You can work hard and override them, however it makes life so much easier if you just banish them once and for all.

The Huna & Access Consciousness Belief Change Sessions

The Huna & Access Consciousness Belief Change Sessions

I now always add a Bonus Belief Change to my PhotoReading™ Workshops because it dawned on me one day a couple of years ago that the PhotoReading™ Whole Mind System was easy, just 5 Steps, some of which only take 1-2 minutes to complete, and that it was people’s beliefs and mindset that was making it hard for them.  The same is also true of exams.

I know that it might sound strange aiming to be relaxed in your exams (this isn’t the same as chilled procrastination!) however it can make the world of difference when that relaxation is targeted and focused.

From memory like a sieve to super trainer

My NLP Trainers Training exam was one of those defining moments, which I’ll share more about in a future Blog post.  Suffice to say that the day didn’t start well and I was in the toilets in floods of tears 30 minutes before the exam!

NLP Trainers Training Certificate

I completed an 8-hour closed book exam in just 3 hours a few months after learning how to PhotoRead

Is change really possible?

When I first came across PhotoReading my memory was so bad that I had a certificate from my Doctor that gave me extra time in my ACCA Accountancy exams because I could barely remember my own name.

My ACCA 'extra time' notification letter.

My ACCA ‘extra time’ notification letter.

I would spend hours and days pouring over the text books, and then within minutes of stepping away from my revision session the information would be completely gone.   I would have to read something 7 or 8 times before I could even make sense of any of it or get a tiny little bit of recall.  It went beyond just having a bad memory and I did have a medical condition.

Within a few short weeks of learning PhotoReading™ I was standing on stage delivering talks without the use of notes, and aced the NLP exams which I decided to sit for because I was so impressed with how much it had changed and transformed my life in such a short space of time so I do know that regardless of your starting point amazing things really are possible.

I haven’t met many people in the 14 years that I’ve been using and teaching PhotoReading that have medically bad memory, so if I can do it from that terrible starting point, anyone can.

Wishing you all successful studies!

Marilyn Devonish



Marilyn Devonish is a Certified PhotoReading Instructor, Certified Trainer of NLP, Intuitive Learning Coach, Certified Trainer of Hypnosis, and Life and Executive Coach.  She is also a Management Consultant, Prince2 Project Manager, Corporate Trainer, Workshop Facilitator, and Freelance Writer.

Marilyn conducts public PhotoReading Workshops 3 times per year and private one-to-one PhotoReading Coaching Sessions are by appointment.


To download the Free PhotoReading Brochure click here.


About the Author:

Marilyn Devonish has been described as the UK equivalent of Oprah Winfrey, Marianne Williamson, Anthony Robbins, a dash of Doreen Virtue, and the trio from Charmed all rolled into one. I (Marilyn Devonish) have admit that was too big of a statement for me to own, but I equally admit that I do like the sound of it and it did make me smile. Marilyn Devonish - Herself since Year 2000.

Get the Supercharge Your Brain Free eBook

Use this link to get your Free copy of the Supercharge Your Brain eBook by Marilyn Devonish.  Whether you are looking to overcome dyslexia, dyspraxia and the perils of being a slow reader, or simply looking to supercharge your already good performance, this eBook will help. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!