How Superstition Invades Exams

How Superstition Invades Exams

So, the exam period’s winding down, at least in jolly old England. Perhaps stress will finally be eradicated from our world now, at least for a few months (apologies for those still in examinations, I know that feel) or perhaps without the aid of someone’s lucky pen, the summer holidays will be more daunting than even exams themselves. Perhaps it’s not my place to decide what objects can and can’t be lucky; but whether it’s underwear, stationery, socks, anti-psychotic medication or a tattoo that says ‘screw exams’ that you managed to get illegally etched onto your back… well, perhaps lucky’s not the right word.


Superstition comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and scents but there’s a special place reserved for that yearly educational punishment we colloquially call the exam. People who are generally very reasonable sometimes turn to external forces to help them do well; perhaps lacking the confidence to believe that their intelligence combined with their studying will have been enough. I’ve heard tales just this year of people who worked tremendously hard proclaim proudly that their exams were easy because of the pants they were wearing; and while it’s hard to sneak rabbit’s feet into exams these days without a few odd looks and a smell of putrefaction I wouldn’t put it past the stressed and the under-pressure to try, as long as they don’t mind crippling their bunnies to try and get an A.
Personally, when I went through my first major sets of exams I don’t remember trying anything superstitious to try and improve my grades; perhaps I was a little overconfident. I have however, seen a lot of very intelligent people get stressed over the easiest exams thrown at them, perhaps they could have used some handy tools of superstition. Let me list a few for you and you can try and guess which I fell into when I went into my second set of major exams having studied far less than I should have done and missing way too many lessons.
1. Attaching power to an item that you can keep on your person whether it be a necklace, an item or clothing or something else, sometimes these objects are referred to as ‘lucky’ because the user believes they are helping them succeed.

2. Relying on horoscopes or similarly vague predictive tools to determine how they will be doing later, whether the prediction is positive or negative may impact how confident the student is in the exam, despite whatever preparation they have done; this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

3. Praying to a deity to guide them, whether this includes making the questions fit what the student knows, helping the student remember what the exam requires or helping in the marking process is up to the personal faith of the student involved.

4. Using ‘intuition’; an innate clairvoyance that some claim to possess, allowing themselves to answer confidently whether they know the answer to the question or not, often attributed to women in popular culture in a way that insults the intelligence of females everywhere.


As much as I would like to say that I’ve always been a reasonable person, I have not by any stretch. At points I believed everything, but I fell into a more traditional route of superstition during my exams a two/three years ago, and left my fate in the hands of the big man upstairs. (For the record I never believed that God was actually a big man, nor did I think he lived upstairs, I pictured something like an ethereal cloud if that makes any sense.) Perhaps it was because I’d screwed up so much at that point that there was little hope for me by myself, or so I thought. I still managed to get enough grades to go into further education, mainly by making up for the previous year’s awful results with pretty good ones, but with the average results that my excursions resulted in, I didn’t attribute my results to God.
Perhaps it was that day that I learned that God probably doesn’t take an active interest in one teenager’s exams, and perhaps through exams we can all learn a valuable lesson á la every kids show ever: hard work and perseverance are much better at helping us succeed than decaying animal limbs or ‘supernatural forces’.

Eddy is an amateur writer, an even more amateurish musician and the Internet's 3600th favourite redcoat. He writes a mostly skeptical daily blog at jengajam.wordpress.com to quell the voices in his head, writes album reviews for www.alterthepress.com to put voices in his head and writes novels that he hopes to put voices in other people's heads. He is currently studying Biological Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, planning to specialise in Ecology.

4 Comments

    • I believe I commented on them having a real effect on the confidence of the student and therefore the outcome of the exam, this however doesn’t make it any less superstitious.

    • Yes, I’ve also been wondering whether a “lucky object” is really that silly. I mean, of course it is silly to assume that the object will affect your performance directly. But if your “lucky necklace” (or whatever you may chose) makes you FEEL better, and feeling better makes you perform better, it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to take it with you.
      I think that creating a self-fulfilling prophecy is fine, as long as you’re aware that you’re doing it.

    • P. S. That said, I think that discarding that kind of superstition can make you feel free and therefore EVEN BETTER. But that might not work for everyone equally.

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