How to tackle exam stress and emerge still smiling…
Whether it’s SATs, school entrance exams or simply a test of your knowledge at the end of a topic – exams can be scary. They don’t have to be.
As an English tutor and teacher, I have witnessed firsthand the effects of exam stress on very capable students. Normally logical and hard working pupils can be reduced to quivering jelly-like wrecks by the very prospect. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was in the same position myself and I remember the feeling of staring at that horribly blank sheet of paper and the oppressive silence of the exam hall. No sound except for pens scratching away furiously around me. But then, I began to collect my thoughts, put my pen to paper and forgot about the fear I was feeling.
‘Feel the Fear and do it anyway’ is the title of a self-help book. I have to confess, I haven’t read it. But it seems like a good philosophy for life and in particular, an excellent approach to exam stress. It is natural to be a little bit nervous when you have an exam. Being nervous is a sign that you care and want to do well. That’s no bad thing! The trick is, keeping those nerves in check so that they spur you on, rather than leaving you so anxious that you can’t perform at your best. Here are some tips that might help you in the run up to an exam.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you know that you have gone through all your revision notes and learned them thoroughly, you’ll feel a lot better about doing the exam. Sounds obvious doesn’t it! What if you’re not sure how to revise? Well that takes us nicely on to tip number two…
Be creative in your approach to revision. Staring blankly at your notes in the home that they’ll somehow transport themselves into your brain is no good for anyone. Try writing bullet points of the key ideas on to revision cards. Use different coloured highlighters to pick out different themes or ideas. Get a friend to test you (but don’t be tempted to just chat instead!). Some people find that drawing pictures or creating flow charts of information can be helpful. Think of clever ways of learning spellings you know that you struggle with. I will never forget how to spell necessary again since I was taught that it spells out ‘Never Eat Cake Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young.’ You’ll never forget it again now either!
Take regular breaks. It’s not all work, work, work you know. You won’t take anything in if you’re tired, so every hour or so – take a five to ten minute break from revision. Eat something energy giving and nutritious, like a banana. Then get straight back to work…my orders.
On the day itself… eat a filling breakfast. You need plenty of energy to sustain you. You don’t want to be distracted by those tummy rumbles. And no, chocolate does not count as a healthy breakfast.
Read the instructions on the front of the paper and listen to any instructions your teacher gives you. It’s not rocket science, but people often forget the simplest things when they’re nervous. That’s when you can make mistakes.
Read the question carefully. You’d be surprised how many people don’t and then get half way through and realise that they’ve answered it incorrectly. Make sure you highlight or underline the key words.
Keep an eye on your timing. You don’t want to spend too long on one question and find out you haven’t got enough time to finish the paper. Check out how many marks each question is worth and make sure you spend the most times on those questions which are worth the most marks.
Finally – stay calm.
You can do it. As long as you prepare well, you have nothing to fear. The fact that you’re nervous will motivate you to revise thoroughly and try your hardest in the exam. If you’re finding it all a bit much – take a few big deep breaths and think happy thoughts. Don’t be afraid to chat to your parents, teachers and friends in the run up to the exam about how you’re feeling.
I studied English Literature and Language at Oxford University and I have been an English teacher and tutor for ten years. I have worked with many students facing exam pressures, both confident and nervous. I also work as a GCSE Examiner for the OCR Examination board. Currently, I’m in the process of setting up a tutoring centre for students in the North Manchester area.
Allana Davenport (Facebook Page)