Almost everyone experiences some anxiety before, during and after an exam. For some, the stress can help them succeed and do their best, but after a certain point too much can cause distress and failure. When this occurs and the anxiety affects exam performance it becomes a problem.
It’s important to address test anxiety promptly. Otherwise you may find that as your exam anxiety continues, your performance will deteriorate to the point where getting ‘cold feet’ on exam day becomes a normal occurrence. Despite how overwhelming exam anxiety can be, it’s important to remember that it is completely normal and manageable by following different strategies.
Stress Busters: Recognizing Your Exam Anxiety
For some it’s hard to recognize and admit that you are overstressed or overly anxious. Fortunately, your body has a way of alerting you and there are specific stress symptoms that can indicate that you’ve been battling with stress. This is also known as your stress coping mechanism.
- Restlessness before bed or difficultly waking up in the morning
- Forgetfulness, ‘mind fog’, lack of focus
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Poor appetite
- Loss of interest in activities
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Increased heart rate
- Blurred vision
If you exhibit three or more of the mentioned symptoms for a few weeks you may need to acknowledge your anxiety. If the suggested strategies below does not curb your stress, then it’s recommended to seek medical consultation.
Stress Busters: Before the Exam
- Build a Relaxation Routine
The more relaxed you feel, the less likely you’ll experience an anxiety attack or exam anxiety. Try to establish a pattern of revision or a relaxation routine, especially before you go to bed. Experiment until you find the best method of relaxation that works for your – a long bath, exercise, listening to must – anything to get your mind of the exam, its contents and anything to have do with it. Finding a safe zone can help you feel more in control and can help ease the panic and stress you might feel.
- Know Your Exam
Being well prepared helps immensely when it comes to your exam. Being prepared will help you feel more in control of the situation and over your exam. Knowing the material is one thing, but try taking it a step further. Mark your calendar on the day of your exam and make sure you know the room. A few weeks before the exam it’s a good idea to look at the room/building so that it feels more familiar. You can even find a spot that you like or prefer that way on the day of the test you are in your ‘comfort zone’. Finally, make sure you know the rules and regulations about what you can take into the exam room etc.
- Develop a Practice-taking Strategy
Relaxation can help with easing your stress, but at the end of the day most of your worries are centered on the exam that you have little control over. What you do have control over however is the test material. This is important, because realistically this is all you need to perform well. Develop a practice/study strategy that reflects your knowledge of the material. For some it might be working off flash cards, others build their own mock exams, others will even school others on the material as a method of displaying their prowess. Find a study method that works for you and stick with it until test day.
- Avoid Procrastination
If you’re submitting a paper or are studying for your final exam, don’t work to the last minute on the night or the morning before the exam. Last minute revisions or look overs can leave you feeling muddled and add to your anxiety. On the day of the exam make sure to have already prepared brief review material and focus on walking into the exam room confidently.
- Eat Right and Exercise Right
Studying and preparing is important, but treating your body and mind right is just as essential to success. Poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to poor circulation, nutrients not being delivered to essential body systems and over all can leave your feeling poorly. The way you feel can affect your ability to retain information, focus and even study. Make sure to make time to exercise, it’s especially best to hit the gym when you feel incredibly anxious as the hormones released from a good workout can help elevate your mood. Snacking during study periods is inevitable, but instead of reaching for cookies and chips try to have an arsenal of fruit, nuts, dried snacks and water to keep you energized for the day.
Stress Busters: During the Exam
- Implement your Test-Taking Strategy
Just as important as your study strategy, your test taking strategy can be the factor that makes or breaks you. During your exam try to approach the material systematically. Immediately move to the questions that you can confidently answer. If you come across a question that stumps you, skip it. There might be later material that can help jog your memory. Don’t get stuck on questions that leave you feel clueless or blank, this will only increase your anxiety. Instead just keep moving along or take a breath and look away from the away (but not at someone else’s paper!). Don’t watch the clock, instead bring your own watch and be sure you set intervals for yourself. Commit to a set amount of time to spend on a question and keep moving. The most important part of taking your test is to answer the questions that you can and to keep moving forward.
Stress Busters: After the Exam
- Take your Mind off the Matter
After you’ve handed in your exam and walked out the test room, that’s it, just let it go. Acknowledge that the test is finished and move onto the next thing. Whether it be a gym session, going out to meet friends, taking a nap – whatever it is just take your mind of the exam. It’s done, you’re finished, remember that.
- Treat Yourself
Hard work should always be rewarded. No matter how you feel walking out the door make sure to have some sort of celebratory plan. Go out with friends, go watch a movie, make that purchase you’ve been mulling over. Whatever it is, you deserve it and you shouldn’t hold back.
- Focus on the Next Goal
Take your mind of the exam and its materials by focusing on your next goal. Is it another test? Do you have some commitments you must tend to? Was there a program you wanted to sign up for? Whatever it is, make sure you tackle it next. This way, whatever the results of your exam are, you’re already moving onto your next steps.
Try to think of exams as a game. You’re simply trying to get to the next level and you’ve prepared yourself enough to make sure that happens. The better prepared you are, the more in control you will be and the better you will perform. Don’t get up on your constant worrying or anxious thoughts, confide in yourself and remind yourself that you know the material.