Coping with exams: Part two - managing stress and nerves before an exam
By Rachel Coffey, May 14 2016 10:50AM
Exams can bring fear into the sternest of hearts, but with a little positivity, things can go much more smoothly and give us a far better chance of success. Here are some tips to help you or your loved ones as they head into their exam period:
Get your strategy right
So many people try to cram bits of information in at the very last minute, either staying up late or squeezing revision in with moments to go. Unless this particularly works for you, you need to take a look at your strategy.
Think about your worst exams and what to you did the night before and that morning. OK, this is your list of exactly what not to do. Now think of something that you are good at that someone else might get nervous about. Think of a particular time. It might have been a test, a presentation you were doing or a sports match. Anything that you know others might have been nervous about but you felt confident. Think how you were behaving that morning and what you were thinking. Think about the night before, what did you do? This is a good place of where to start for the run up to your next exam.
Generally, decide what time you are going to finish revising and ensure you have made a crib sheet - very brief - of things to remember the next day. Get everything sorted, pens, pencils, your transport etc. Get people to be helpful (warn others you need the bathroom free at a certain time or it’d be great if they kept the noise down the night before). Don’t rely on others too heavily unless you are certain you can - use them as back up e.g. set your own alarm AND ask someone to wake you too. Then, at least three times, the day and night before, play through the whole exam in your mind, in colour. Imagine it going really well, with ease, knowing the answers, being creative and to the point. Imagine it right through and having a positive outcome. Do this in detail, positive thoughts only. Then give yourself at least half an hour before bed of doing something completely different.
The following morning, give yourself plenty of time, plan it out so that you feel relaxed and happy. Even if it means doing something that you wouldn’t usually do on an exam day, like going to the gym or out for a walk. Whatever it takes to feel relaxed - that will give you the best chance of success. Keep your head together and you will come out on top.
Watch what you are saying
That is watch what you are saying to yourself! You need to become aware of how you are speaking to yourself in your mind. Anything negative, turn it into a positive and if you can, do something about it. So, “Oh, I hope I don’t forget my calculator” turns into “I need to take my calculator tomorrow, I’ll put it in my bag now”. Think of yourself as your own best friend. Make sure what you are saying is both helpful and useful. Hardly any of us would talk to others at a time of stress the way we’d usually talk to ourselves.
The more positive you can be, the better. Carry this through right into the exam. If you hear a negative comment in your mind, ask yourself what the purpose of it is and if it is useful. If it isn’t, bin it, if it is, re-phrase it and act upon it.
Also don’t pick up on others interest or worry. If someone asks if you are nervous, don’t put yourself through the wrangler of feeling obliged to divulge your greatest fears. Instead, inform them that you are staying calm and thinking positively as it will give you the best chance to succeed.
Just before the exam, imagine a little force field around you. How others feel or how they think things will go has no bearing on you. Stay in a focussed and keep your head high.
This is really important. Think of something that makes you feel naturally happy and relaxed. Now put your hand on your stomach and close your eyes and really imagine a time when you felt truly relaxed and happy. After a few minutes,notice your breathing. If your tummy is moving slowly in and out, this is your low relaxed breath and it means we are confident and in control.
If at any point you feel stressed or your mind goes blank, go back to this low breath and it will send a message to your brain that you are OK. It will get you out of many a tight spot!
Although exams can seem daunting, if we look at it another way, it is our chance to show what we know. It would be awful if somebody just estimated how good we were and it affected the rest of our lives. Being as calm and in control as possible is the way forward. Even if we don’t think we know the answer, trusting ourselves and going with our gut can mean that we dig something up from the deep depths of our brains, that turns out to be correct after all.
Using these tips will help to give you the very best chance of success. Now, go wow them!