It probably feels like aggggesssss ago that you sat your school/college/uni exams, but with the rising trend in adult education, it seems that more and more of us ‘grown-ups’ are now sitting exams of some description.
A lot of my clients are currently doing exams through work to help them advance in their career. Others are taking exams in their own time to start a new career or even their own business. More and more people are taking driving tests at a later age and exams for recreational activities such as sports or music are getting increasingly popular.
Which means cases of exam stress from adults is also growing.
As adults, we may well be taking exams out of personal choice (arguably at least), but it seems we are as worried and anxious about them as we were when we sat down in the school hall as teens to take our G.C.S.E’s!
So what can you do to help yourself cope with exam stress?
The MOST IMPORTANT thing that you can do as a student facing exam anxiety is to learn how to calm down.
This sounds really simple but is absolutely vital – very few people have relaxation techniques to draw on quickly when needed.
In really simple terms, when we are emotionally aroused for whatever reason (if we are stressed, upset, anxious, scared etc.) scientific research shows that our neo-cortex (the left hemisphere of our brain) actually partially switches off, meaning that we literally cannot think.
The best thing that we can do is lower our emotional arousal level, which will allow our ‘thinking’ brain to be switched back on.
One of the easiest ways to calm down quick is using a technique called 7-11 breathing.
The basic premise of this is that we make our breath out last longer than our breath in. Try it now!
Take a deep breath in, counting to 7 as you do this. Don’t hold your breath but breathe out as a continuous flow while counting to 11. This forces the body into a relaxation response. If you find this hard to begin with, that’s perfectly normal. Try counting 5-9 or even 3-5 – just make sure that you’re keeping the out breath longer. There’s a downloadable all about this here.
Most exam stress comes from feeling out of control
so being prepared is essential
Make sure you know what you are supposed to have learned, the format of the exam and the marks allocated. There’s no point spending hours revising the structure of the heart when it counts for just 2 marks and little time revising the endocrine system when it equates to 20 marks. Be clear on the structure and begin to make a plan as early as you can.
Recognise when you work best. I used to be a night owl, but since having a child I’m now wiped by 7pm. so it’s all changed. I now have to plan study into my son’s nap times – but I know this will change again throughout life. Recognise what time of day works for you and plan accordingly.
I’m not going to lecture you on eating well, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep and exercise, though it’s all important. Avoiding stimulants such as strong coffee and energy drinks will help reduce blood sugar crashes which can slow down your body and mind.
Building time in to relax helps too – have a look at some mp3s *here* designed to help with exam stress and anxiety. You can listen to these when you’re about to go to sleep or whenever you get 20 mins to yourself. Build in regular breaks if you are revising too.
Our bodies work in ultradian rhythms, which means that we work best with a 30-minute break every hour an half.
Remember when offices had a tea-lady? She’d come round at half 10ish after you’d been at work for 90 mins. You’d have lunch at half 12 and then the tea-lady would rock up again at 3. Practically perfectly timed with our bodies natural rhythms. Sadly, those days are gone – but you can choose to take a quick break in time with your body and brain.
Really importantly – avoid the post exam post mortem and avoid comparing yourself to everyone else. Keep it in perspective. We’re more likely to doubt ourselves than to think our colleagues or friends may have done a bad job. If you think you’ve messed up, worrying about it won’t change a thing! Once it’s over it’s over so until you get the results chill out and stay positive.
Know that you’ve done your best.
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Take care – and good luck,