24 Apr Exam tips: how to minimise stress levels
OK on the day – how to cope when exam time rolls round
With the major public exams not far off – in Scotland, they start tomorrow! – how can you be sure you’re fully prepared for the big day?
Exam stress affects everyone in different ways. Some people turn up for every paper without feeling nervous at all; others are jittery initially but fine once they’re actually doing the exam; others find these occasions particularly difficult.
Given the variety of different reactions to exam pressure, it’s important that you find your own way of handling stress. A little adrenalin is no bad thing, but don’t let your nerves take over or threaten to jeopardise all those hours, days and weeks of revision slog.
It’s also worth remembering that, curiously, the thought of sitting an exam is invariably worse than the reality.
The days before
Double-check exam locations, dates and times – then check again before committing the data to your traditional or Smartphone diary. Don’t add needlessly to potential exam stress by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (And do enjoy the satisfaction of crossing off or deleting each paper in your diary once it’s finished!)
The night before
At this stage, last-minute cramming is unlikely to have much benefit, and the advantages of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated. Just put the books down and get a good seven hours (minimum) of shut-eye the night before any paper.
On the day
No apologies for nagging here (if you follow the TLC Instagram account, you’ll have seen me waxing lyrical on this subject already!), but please don’t even think about sitting an exam without a decent breakfast inside you.
Going without breakfast means your concentration could be compromised, and you need to give your poor beleaguered brain the best possible chance.
Be punctual, arriving for your paper with a good 15 minutes to spare.
By all means flick through some last-minute revision cards on the morning of the exam, perhaps while munching on that healthy breakfast. Give yourself space if you need to – speaking to other stressed-out candidates won’t help your own anxiety levels.
If listening to music or having a few minutes to meditate (or simply sitting quietly) before an exam helps you to prepare mentally, by all means go for it.
You may start writing now…
Before you look at the questions, take a deep breath. Make that two breaths. In fact, taking several deep breaths – inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for eight – will help any time you start to feel panicky during the exam.
Give your nerves a few seconds to calm as you mentally adjust to being in exam conditions. Before diving in and starting to write, focus your thoughts briefly on all the revision you’ve put in to get this far. Now is your chance to show what you’ve learned.
We know everyone says this, but it can’t be emphasised enough: read every question at least twice before you start answering it…
Give each question the right amount of time according to the marks allocated, and don’t spend too long on any one answer. If you find it gives you peace of mind, try to get the tougher, longer questions out of the way first.
At the same time, remember that you can’t afford to spend too long staring at/puzzling over one question when you might be able to answer the next one easily. So if a question has you stumped, especially with a subject such as maths, consider going back to it later – after your brain has ‘warmed up’ (though it’s wise to put a mark at the side of the question to make it easier to find again later).
Plan essay-style questions in rough before you start writing, and – ideally – allow enough time at the end of your paper to read through your work to spot any spelling errors or missing words, etc.
Most importantly, trust your gut instinct and your own ability. Especially when you’re nervous, it can be easy to start doubting yourself. Have faith in yourself and the revision legwork you’ve put in.
Put your pens down now…
Once you’ve walked out of the exam hall after completing a paper, file that particular paper away in a ‘mental drawer’ and don’t even think about it until results day.
There is little point in a ‘post-mortem’. It’s too late to change anything, and it’s unlikely you can really know for sure how you’ve done until you get your results anyway. Focus on your next subject, or chat to friends about something (anything!) other than the paper you’ve just sat. Better still, if you have time, do something fun for an hour – and preferably get some fresh air, too.
If you do feel particularly upset during the exam season, do talk to someone whom you trust – be that a parent, teacher or friend. Often a problem shared is a problem halved.
We wish all The Learning Cauldron’s tutees and their friends, and indeed everyone who follows us on social media (Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Facebook) the very best of luck in this year’s exams. And please remember: all you can ever do is your best. No one has the right to ask any more of you – including you.