Exams and anxiety

Everyone knows that it is natural to feel anxious before an exam. In fact, a little anxiety at times like this can help you in a way. When you are anxious your body automatically produces the hormone adrenaline which stimulates your body and brain and can be helpful when responding to challenging situations. Obviously producing too much can have the opposite effect, so it is trying to find a happy medium and keeping things under control.

Planning for anything can help enormously in reducing anxiety and exams are no different. It is important to put into perspective that revision is not learning something new. It is about going over things that have already been learnt so basically refreshing the facts. This is where the long term plan can be a huge help: Make sure you have a steady work routine right from the beginning of the year. Set aside time each day to keep your notes/lessons in order. If there are things that you haven’t quite got the hang of, look at it again, don’t put it off until a later date.

The revision period should start about 6 weeks before the exam. Here are some tips to help get you through this time:

1. Set aside an allotted time each day to revise and stick to it.
2. Focus on the essentials and make notes of these. Writing things down in black and white helps our brains store things more easily.
3. Take breaks every 20 – 30 mins. Get up and do a bit of stretching, go outside for a bit of fresh air or just sit and do some mindfulness. Five minutes is all it takes to boost our concentration.
4. Revision is important but you mustn’t let it take over your whole life. Make sure you set aside time for other activities. Sport or exercise of some kind are great ways to relieve any tension.
5. Be aware of your diet. To function properly our brains need a healthy diet.
6. If you find you are struggling, talk to friends or a teacher. You are not the only one going through this and it is reassuring to know people are there to support you.
7. Keep to a regular bedtime routine (weekends included). When we are tired our brains are unable to function correctly, our attention span drops, as does our concentration. Reasoning becomes more difficult and our memory suffers.
8. Relaxing before any anxious episode in life is the best way to help the body and mind perform well. Keep this body scan relaxation link handy and practice daily. When you have perfected this exercise you will be able to use it anytime anywhere to keep anxiety levels at bay.

Day of the exam:

1. Don’t revise. You have spent the last six weeks doing this. Today you need to concentrate on your well-being and giving yourself the best chance to work well.
2. Take at least one, five minute session of the relaxation exercise. Focusing on the here and now. Not yesterday or tomorrow but today and how you have the power to de-stress your body and mind by doing this simple technique.
3. However you are feeling, make sure you eat and drink something. Our body is like a car, it needs the right fuels to function properly. Fruit, yoghurt, cereal, or toast anything is better than nothing.
4. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the exam. Check in advance that you know where you are going and how you will get there. Rushing will only add to the anxiety.
5. Listen to some favourite music or something funny on route to the exam. Immerse yourself in what you are hearing, this will give your mind a much deserved break.
6. Wear comfortable clothes that you feel good in. A bit of self-confidence can make all the difference to how you feel.
7. Have a positive mental attitude. Use an affirmation such as; ‘I can do this’ or ‘I’m ready and able’.
8. Read the exam directions through a couple of times slowly and carefully. Then answer the easiest parts first. Just getting started will build your confidence.
9. Try to stay focused on your own work. Pay no attention to what anyone else is doing. It is what you are doing that counts.
10. Remember that most people feel tense at this point, which of course is completely normal. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and do your best. By using the relaxation/breathing technique you have the power to stay calm and collected.