We’ve all been there. You sit down at the exam table. The examiner says “ You may commence” . You turn over your paper, you’re heart is racing, you’re palms are sweaty, you look at the paper and start to freak out. You’re not prepared! You can’t remember anything you’ve learnt! If this has happened to you at all, then relax, you’re not alone. The combination of stress, information overload and uncertainty can easily lead to exam anxiety. This can in turn, mean that you might not be performing at your best and may miss putting into your answers crucial information that will help give you the marks you need. But what if we told you there’s one thing you can do to put you at ease and avoid exam anxiety. It’s simple. FOCUS and STRATEGISE.
Once you remember this the rest of the exam should naturally just flow. The technique for doing this is also relatively simple. First of all, If you find you thinking being clouded by nervousness or anxiety, simply close your eyes and take 3 deep and slow breaths. This will serve to slow down your heart rate and place you in a more relaxed state of mind. Then, once you feel more calm, direct your focus to the questions at hand. Forgot about what you know ( or don’t know) and just read the questions. Take your time and read them a few times if need be. Your brain will naturally start to “ file” your knowledge in connection to the questions.
Once you’re clear on what the questions demand are asking, and what areas of knowledge needs to be applied and where, you then need to develop a plan or strategy for how to approach your exam. This could differ broadly for each exam, depending on the subject matter, format and structure of your exam questions. To start with, knowing how much time you have for the whole exam, allocate an amount of time to each section or question. So for example, if you have a 2 hour exam and 4 questions, you could allocate half an hour to each question. Or, if you know some questions might take more time such as an essay question, vs an essay question, allocate time for that accordingly, perhaps giving more time to the essay and less to the multiple choice.
Make sure you also do a plan for individual, more complex questions, such as an essay. Take the time to consolidate your thoughts and write a quick dot point plan for the structure of your essay. If you finish early, use the time to review your answers and if need be make any alterations.
While it might seem counterintuitive given the obvious limited time frame you have for exams to spend time not answering the questions, it will give you focus, and will mean you waste less time, worrying or trying to recall information. You just let it flow. So next time you find yourself in the exam room, just stop. Breathe.focus and plan. You’ll nail it! How else do you manage stressful exam situations?