In today's world exams are an unfortunate necessity. There is a lot of pressure on people to succeed that exam stress is a big part of many peoples lives. While this article can't make the exams go away it will hopefully help you to deal with some of the stress that you might be feeling and that in turn will allow you to focus on your exams.
What is Exam Stress?
Stress is a natural part of being human. It's your body responding to changes in the world around you. It changes how your body works and puts your mind into different moods. When you're getting stressed about an exam - it just means that you really care about the result you will get. That can be a good thing if it pushes you into working extra hard as you try to get a good result. But it can be bad if you get too worried and the effects of the stress stop you doing well. When exams get too much, the stress can show in your body.
How to spot if you're stressed
You could be showing signs of stress if you're:
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Struggle to focus and feeling overwhelmed
- Feel teary and more emotional than usual
- Struggling to sleep or stay asleep throughout the night
- Waking up from sleep feeling exhausted
- Suffering from regular stomach upsets
- Feeling run down
- Begun to experience panic attacks
Experiencing one or more of these things doesn't necessarily mean you're "stressed"; we all have very different levels of tolerance to exam situations. Have a think about how your body and mind feels day to day and if you start to notice that you are developing these kinds of signs here are some positive actions you can take to keep yourself well.
Developing a positive mindset
It's human nature to be negative sometimes, but developing a positive mental attitude will help you do your best.
- Picture yourself getting a big fat A and visualize this over and over in vivid detail. If you maintain a positive, 'I can do it' attitude building up to your exams, your stress will be transformed into positive energy that can be harnessed to enhance your performance.
- View the exam as a time-bound project of 90 days. Look forward to the fun and challenge in store on completion.
- It’s only an exam! You’re not going to die. Your family will not get kidnapped and tortured if you fail. And there’s always the resit!
- An exam is simply an opportunity to show what you know.
- Exams are designed to HELP you, and provide your tutors/teachers with feedback so they can help you further.
- You will be just the same person before and after the exam. Exams don’t measure anything really important about you.
- You have had a number of successes already and have actually passed many exams - hold on to that. Focus on the positive aspects of the past rather than the negative ones, as this will spur you on to yet more successes.
Stopping negative thoughts
When we become anxious we begin to have negative thoughts ('I can't answer anything', 'I'm going to panic' etc). If this is happening, halt the spiraling thoughts by mentally shouting 'STOP!'. Or picture a road STOP sign, or traffic lights on red. Once you have literally stopped the thoughts, you can continue planning, or practice a relaxation technique.
Use a mantra
Derived from meditation, a mantra is a word or phrase which you repeat to yourself. Saying something like 'Aum' or 'relax' under your breath or in your head, over and over again can help defuse anxiety.
Looking out of the window, noticing the number of people with red hair, counting the number of desks in each row... all help to distract your attention from anxious thoughts and keep your mind busy. Mental games such as making words out of another word or title, using alphabetical lists etc are all good forms of distraction.
It can help to carry or wear something with positive associations with another person or place. Touching this bridging object can be comforting in its own right, then allow yourself a few minutes to think about the person or situation which makes you feel good. This can have a really calming effect.
In exam anxiety or panic we often give ourselves negative messages, 'I can't do this' 'I'm going to fail' 'I'm useless'. Try to consciously replace these with positive, encouraging thoughts: 'This is just anxiety, it can't harm me', 'Relax, concentrate, it's going to be OK', 'I'm getting there, nearly over'.
A few tips
A good way to minimise the amount of stress that you are feeling is to create a revision timetable. This way you can be make sure that you have plenty of time to revise all the subjects that you need to do. Having a revision timetable will also give you the chance to build in rest breaks and time to spend relaxing. This will help you to stay calmer. If you find yourself sitting and getting more and more stressed you need to take a break. Go for a walk or take an hour to watch some television do something to take your mind off your stress.