The “Exam Survival Manifesto”: How Even Failing Students Can Survive Big Exams

“You failed.”

The moment I heard those two words from my friend, it made me catch my breath for a moment, as I felt a drop of cold sweat on my face.

It was an incredibly hard test in Communications Engineering — everyone knew how hard it is, even for second (or third) takers of the subject.

For 1.5 hours, it covers 3 different textbooks for conceptual questions, and 2 more references for problem solving.

Naturally, I studied for long hours each day.

I hadn’t discovered Anki back then, and so I took crazy amounts of notes from our lecture slides.

And I used to memorize the important formulas by repeating them over and over again as I walked toward the exam room — in my mind, I kept it “fresh” before the exam.

After all, I’m following the hacks I could find on YouTube, so how could I fail?

But there’s that. As far as I know, out of 70 items, I only got 21 correctly.

“So, what the hell went wrong?”

I thought my process was completely flawless — as a “slow learner”, I figured I needed to study longer and/or use more hacks.

I used drawings, colors, highlights, learning styles.

In hindsight, Ali Abdaal wasn’t a YouTuber back then, so I didn’t know about Active Recall.

That’s also why I went through the hassle of studying all lecture slides multiple times.

And as someone “forgetful” — or so I believed — I figured I needed more “exam tips” or “memory hacks” to ace my exams.

Except the dark chocolates didn’t work.

The “repeat repeat repeat” advice didn’t work.

But I still have to pass the exam — else, I won’t be able to graduate College.

So I told myself that it’s going to be the last exam I’ll ever fail.

The Moment of Truth: Big Exam Day

A little short of 2 years later, I’d start taking my board exams in Electronics Engineering to get my license.

I’d enter the examination room fully knowing that I can pass these huge exams covering a plethora of subjects that took us 5 years to learn in College.

As I scanned the questions, I noticed I didn’t feel the same way I did when I took that last exam in Communications Engineering.

I didn’t worry about forgetting anything important, nor that I’ll get a “mental block”.

Everybody was nervous, and I admit I was a little nervous, too.

Except this “nervousness” didn’t come with anxiety — it came with excitement.

I was excited to get it over with.

I wanted to rank #1 for it, but then I didn’t expect much.

What’s important to me that day was that I didn’t have to worry about disappointing anyone else but myself. (for expecting too much)

And fast forward April 2018, the results shocked me — my friends, too.

As it turned out, I was one of the top scorers in the whole country, ranked 6 out of 2900 takers. (50%+ of those takers were able to pass)

Around 3 to 5 months before that, I don’t even remember that I had to study all night until I got exhausted.

At a maximum, I self-studied new material only for 4 hours each day, (but mostly 2 hours) and attended review classes for 4.5 hours each day.

I always got at least 8 hours of sleep, sometimes 10.

And I always reviewed at least 300 cards each day.

Everything was (almost) on autopilot — not bad for someone who only sleeps for 4 hours before exams back in college.

Heck, I even managed to date my girlfriend each week so we can have a fun, rejuvenating break together.

So, as far as I can remember, preparing for that big exam was one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

How Even Failing Students Can Survive Big Exams

Now, let me tell you one thing:

I didn’t tell my story to brag about “how great I am”.

Heck, I couldn’t even keep myself together back in College.

I was failing quizzes and midterms left and right, barely passing my subjects.

So all I’m doing is impressing upon you that you don’t need to sacrifice everything in the present nor work yourself past your limit — only to enter your exam room not feeling any better than someone who DID NOT even study.

On top of that, I want to show you why you don’t need to become a “fast learner”, nor become someone with “great memory” to achieve the same level of “exam day confidence”.

But before I can show you how you can do that, there’s one thing you have to realize first:

If you’re currently studying for a big career exam right now and at least 2 of the following seems true to you:

  • The volume of information you have to study makes you feel like you’re drinking water from a damn firehose — at maximum pressure
  • You think you’re missing some secret, underrated study or productivity hack that nobody seems to tell you on YouTube
  • You think you need more motivation because you constantly procrastinate and can’t manage to motivate yourself without an approaching deadline
  • You think you need to work harder or study longer because you’re a slower learner than others

…then you need to stop thinking this way NOW.

You see, here’s a flaming fact that only a few people realize:

Big exams are actually more manageable than they seem, despite what everybody seems to believe.

Part of the problem is that many people believe that you have to add even more “study hacks and productivity tips” into your already loaded routine.

What happens, then?

It makes them procrastinate while watching productivity YouTubers…

Spend more time using productivity apps than being actually productive…

And ultimately, get paralyzed by insignificant decisions like “which is the best hack to use? What’s the best way to remember this?”.

But seriously, when did “more” become the solution to “having too much to do”?!

The real problem is that they lack principles.

Second, they also think these exams require great “time management” skills, but then they end up thinking more about “how much they have left” than “what they actually have to study”.

No, big exams just need a different type of management.

See, when you do the same thing as everybody else, you’ll inevitable get the same result.

Come exam day and you’ll feel the same anxiety and fear — maybe even have the same cold sweat temperature, too.

But it’s no wonder they’re feeling this way because this different management skill they need to learn is actually found in the realm of office productivity!

(And the next two might be the most controversial.)

Thirdly, many people think that you need to have a great pool of “motivation” just to stay consistent when studying.

HELL NO.

Motivation is just 1/3 of the equation. There are two other players in the behavior game.

Nobody teaches you this, simply because everybody on YouTube is obsessed with giving motivation band-aids WITHOUT looking at the root of the problem.

And lastly, many conventional thinkers believe that you need to “work harder” all the time.

Why is this a problem? Because honestly, there’s a limit to hard work, and for big exams, it can even make your problems worse.

Now, if you’re itching to discover how I can tell you all of this…

It’s all in the next free course I’m launching — The “Exam Survival Manifesto”.

It’s currently in the works, and just to be clear with you:

It’s for people who are currently struggling to prepare for big exams.

Specifically, I’m talking about:

  • Students who have tried every tip and hack under the sun, have watched all YouTube videos from famous influencers but have only experienced little to no progress
  • Students who work hard but keep getting results less than they deserve
  • Students who think they need more motivation because they can’t seem to stop their cramming tendencies

So if you think you’re one of these people, then I think you’ll find the free course worth your time.

I promise it’s going to be the most valuable minutes you’ll ever spend “learning how to learn”.

I place everything you need in there — so treat it as kind of a playbook. (because it IS a strategy guide)

Some of the things you’ll learn are:

  • Why even doing “hard/smart work” is NOT enough when it comes to big exams
  • The “Exam Strategy Quadrant” that allows you to see the 3 common strategies to avoid if you want to minimize exam anxiety (NOTE: Strategy is NOT the same as tactics!)
  • How becoming a “hard worker” is actually counterproductive for your exam success
  • Why chasing goals are actually making your problems worse
  • The biggest obstacle nobody talks about that’s preventing you from using the right strategy for big exam preparation (and NO, it’s not the popular “fixed mindset” thing)
  • How most “study hacks” are making you spend MORE time studying in the long run, despite the claims on YT
  • etc.

I’ve launched an INCOMPLETE version of it before, and here’s what some of my readers say about it:

Now if you’d like me to send you the training once it’s ready, you can continue to the application process by filling out the form below:

NOTE: For serious learners only

This training might be free, but if you’re just going to consume information and are NOT going to take action, then I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.

Sure, doctors and students alike may find my advice game-changing for them.

On top of that, other people actually have to pay for high-priced online courses just to learn the SAME thing I teach for free.

BUT regardless of who they are or where they get information, they do NOT get results without implementation.

So, if you promise to take action on the training, just fill out the application form below so you’ll be the first to know when it’s ready. (If you get accepted, that is.)

One last thing:

The more detailed you are in answering the questions, the better I can help you.

I’m looking forward to see you inside!

— Al Khan

    If you think the training isn’t for you, just unsubscribe anytime. I value your time and attention.

    Otherwise, thank you so much for completing the Anki Fundamentals course!

    I’ll be looking forward to your success as a Lean Anki graduate. 🙂

    In case you have any questions or feedback, just hit me up and let’s talk about it.

    Thank you so much for your time and attention,

    — Al Khan
    Creator, LeanAnki.com

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