Do you suffer from exam stress? In my experience, most students do to some degree. It's perfectly natural to feel anxious, apprehensive, even shaky but if it's reducing your chances of success, you need to take action, now!
If you haven't already, please read my previous post on how to cope with exam stress before the exam. It will give you lots of tips on how to prepare for what is probably one of the most important periods in your life so far.
So, your exams are upon you. You've revised as much as you can, but still feel stressed. What can you do to reduce exam stress?
Fuel & Sleep
I wrote about the importance of fueling and recharging your brain and body in my last post, so I won't go into great detail here. One thing to reinforce though is that you should continue healthy eating and a routine of 7-9 hours of sleep throughout the exam period.
You can do this!
Unwind before bed. If you still feel that you need to revise, stop a couple of hours before you plan to go to bed so that you have enough time to relax and switch off.
Tidy your room! Sorry if I sound like a nagging parent, but creating an area of calm will help you nod off. A bedroom full of mess, clutter and study books will not help reduce exam stress!
Find out where the exam hall is at least a day before. The last thing you need right now is turning up in a state of panic because you don't know where you are going. Turning up late is not an option.
Ensure your clothes, snacks and exam materials are prepared and ready the night before to give you less to do in the morning. Wear layers of clothing so you can wrap up or remove items depending on the temperature of the exam hall.
Get ready and arrive in plenty of time before the exam. Use the time you have spare to read notes or focus your mind.
Obvious, huh? A common symptom of exam stress is quick, shallow breathing, which in turn can heighten any feelings of anxiety you are feeling. Take the time to breathe in and out slowly…and I mean slowly. Not only will this help to calm you down, it will assist the flow of oxygen to your brain and therefore aid concentration. You may find it more effective if you close your eyes.
It's all About YOU
Don't focus on anyone else. This exam is about you and only you. Ignore what everyone else is doing. There will always be someone who looks fabulously confident. There will always be other students who are more stressed than you, whether they show it or not. It doesn't matter. YOU are the most important person in the exam hall.
OK, that's probably a stupid subtitle if you are suffering from exam stress but here's what you can do to relax a little. Take your time! I don't mean go slow and not finish the paper. I mean start slow. Take the time to breathe (again!) and focus. You don't have to pick up your pen right away – ignore everyone else (again!)
Read the question fully. Some people find it more effective to read the whole paper first, others find it better to tackle each question in order. It's up to you. There are no rules to say that you can't tackle the “easiest” questions (ie. the ones you know best and can answer quickly) first then go back to the “hard” ones or vice versa. You do what's best for YOU.
If you are allowed, take rough notes to enable better planning and structure of your final answers.
A great way to reduce exam stress when you are actually in the exam is to work out how long should be dedicated on each answer. That way, you won't be rushing to finish the paper or have spare time at the end with nothing to do and the mindset that you could have provided more detail.
During your study/ revision period, it will help you to practise with previous exam papers and time yourself to get into the habit of working out how long you should spend on each question or section. The more you practise the better as you will be able to manage your time effectively and with speed at the start of the exam.
If you know you are on target to complete the exam paper on time, you will feel in control and less anxious. Taking the time to assess how to break up the time will reap dividends.
If you feel panic rising inside you during the exam, stop. Stop, put your pen down and practise slow breathing again. Close your eyes if you have to. Taking a minute to do this will help you refocus.
Don't worry that other students are looking at you. They won't be! Remember this is about YOU and not about what anyone else thinks.
If you have a question that you are struggling with or haven't a clue how to start answering, move on. You can always come back to it later. Tackle the questions you aren't worried about first. Quite often, once you get into the flow and concentration of a few answers, a lightbulb will come on and you'll remember.
You WILL feel better
Just think – as soon as you step inside the exam hall, you are closer to getting it over and done with. The wait is always harder than the doing. How many times have you or someone you know stood in the queue for a rollercoaster shaking with nerves? How many times have you or someone you know got off the ride exhilarated and wanting to ride it again?
OK, so you probably won't get the same levels of exhilaration from an exam and it's unlikely you'll be chomping at the bit to do it all again, but you get the picture.
It won't be as bad as you think it will be and you WILL lose the feelings of exam stress quicker than you can imagine right now.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
Read part 3 of Coping with Exam Stress – AFTER the exam.
Do you have any top tips to share on how to cope with exam stress? Please share your comments below.
If you would like to receive some coaching on how to cope with exam stress before, during or after your exams, please contact me.