It’s been a long time since most of us were in the exam hall at school, so the prospect of sitting an exam now, middle-aged, may be a daunting thought. However after recently completing a continuing professional development course I feel I should share with you my top tips for coping with exam stress. For some of us it terrifies and panics, for others it is a walk in the park. If you are like me then you will be terrified.
After being told that 60% of my course would be weighted by my final exam I started to panic – and quite rightly so. In the lead up to my exam I started to Google around in order to find the best tips to help calm my nerves and here’s what I found:
Where to Study
For me personally this was by far the most challenging activity to do, finding a place to study in a small house isn’t easy. As I do not have a dedicated working area, i.e. a desk and chair in an office, I thought that the next best place is my dining room. However, for you this may be different, as you may already have an area where you like to study, but if you don’t then try to find a place with the least distractions!
Get in a Routine
If you get started early enough before your exams, you will find you don’t need to put in any all-nighters. One good hour of study is better than a whole night of trying to keep awake, most people find there concentration goes after 40 minutes of solid working. Even if you are pushing a deadline, taking time out to have small but regular breaks is always useful and will improve your focus. Next you need to identify the best time of day to study for you, everyone is different, so don’t panic if yours is 9 pm at night! Unfortunately this is trial and error, if you have recently been in education then you may already know the best time of day for you. This will be your optimum working time – use it! Studies have shown that ‘multi-tasking’ is not a good idea when studying – different parts of the brain get used and information is not stored well if you are trying to stretch yourself – just remember the last time you tried to watch the TV and text concurrently?
Most of us are working full time jobs with either a husband or children (and looking after them is a job in itself!). Therefore getting in a routine early and sticking to it is the best way to maximize your chances of good grade – from my experience, a diary was was my life saver. You can plan your day and allocate your time wisely, and also you can look back and see what you’ve already covered. Make a list of the most important topics to study for exams, or the assignments that will be due first, this way you can work out how much time you can spend on each.
Coffee is a stimulant and can make you feel more alert, but it can reduce your concentration and make you irritable if you drink too much. Obviously don’t go out of your way to change your caffeine intake but remember that tea and energy drinks are also full of caffeine and may decrease your concentration time. If you think that a glass of wine whilst studying may help don’t be fooled! Alcohol is a know depressant and will only reduce your normal ability and concentration levels even lower.
You aren’t a dog so don’t reward yourself with food – perhaps after every hour of study you do, allow yourself half an hour to watch your soaps or read a book or go to the gym – something that you really enjoy doing.
Today’s the day!
- Don’t try to cram in the half hour before the exam.
- Identify if it is a written exam or a survey software and exam software programme that you will have complete online and if you have an allotted time to start and finish, whether you will need any stationary or reading glasses!
- Be positive because if you have had a good routine in place then you don’t need to be worried, you have done the best you can do.
- Remember to read all of the instructions, it is amazing the number of people who answer too many or the wrong questions in exams. Oh and a trick I learnt – always check both sides of the exam paper!
- Answer the questions you feel most confident with first. This will give you more time for the harder ones later but be very strict with yourself about time. Don’t spend more time on the easy questions, and then run out of time to finish the exam.
- Take some water and a snack in with you (check if this is allowed) so when you are feeling overwhelmed you can have a drink and recompose yourself, this will refocus you and give your brain time to evaluate the question.
- Stay for the whole exam – Go over your answers a couple of times, you never know there may be something you missed!
Remember, planning is the key to success when it comes to exams! The revision work you do before exam day is the most important, so stick to a routine and you will be able to go celebrate with a light heart after the exam is over – good luck!