Are you preparing for exams? Feeling stressed? Maybe you’re supporting someone whilst they get ready for theirs, and you want to be able to help. Well, look no further, here’s how to create a mindset for success so you’re ready to approach exams with a cool, calm state of mind.
It can be nerve-racking taking an exam, mostly because of what’s at stake. You may be feeling stressed under the weight of expectation from your family, school or workplace to succeed. Maybe you’re afraid you’re not good enough or haven’t worked hard enough, or even fear that you’re not going to get into college or university or take that next step in your career. Not only that but exams also rarely exist in isolation. There may be other events or challenges going on in your life that require your attention too. Whatever your situation, it can certainly be a challenging time!
Everybody’s stress threshold is different. A situation that is too overwhelming for one person to tolerate, may be positively stimulating for another. Managing stress at the right level can work to your advantage, as it can help you to perform to the best of your ability.
If not it can lead to any number of stress-related symptoms, this may include:
- feeling afraid
- loss of appetite
- increased tiredness
- low mood
- feeling tearful
- feeling anxious
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach and digestive problems
Anxiety and stress can sometimes produce physical signs as well, such as chest pain, muscle cramps, pins and needles, dizziness, and fainting. It is important to talk to someone about these feelings and to get appropriate help when necessary.
So how can you avoid experiencing symptoms of exam stress during the weeks and months leading up to them?
Preparing for an exam and successfully completing it isn’t just about how knowledgeable you are, it’s as much about your state of mind. Feeling calm, relaxed, and confident whilst studying and preparing for the exam, as well as when you are sitting it, means you will be much more likely to achieve your full potential.
Accessing this state of mind is a skill, and it can be learnt by implementing new ways of thinking, along with some simple strategies to establish a positive study routine.
It’s important to be organised
Find out exactly what you are facing; get hold of the right information from the very start, make sure you know how you will be examined and finally what you’ll be examined on.
Take time to plan a study timetable that is both realistic and flexible for you. Factor in time to revise, as well as time to relax, eat, sleep, and work (if applicable).
Make sure you start your revision in plenty of time. Identify when you are likely to be the most productive during the day or evening and aim to begin then. This will allow you to plan in your relaxation time and other commitments.
Don’t abandon your social life or hobbies just because you are studying for exams. Having time to wind down and switch off is valuable.
Find the best way to revise
Try to find a space where you feel comfortable and can work without being disturbed. There’s no right or wrong way to revise, it’s largely a matter of what suits you. Your method might be to make notes from textbooks, to write quick summaries on topics in the form of mind maps, or even to recite facts out loud. Alternatively, it could be learning dates or chunks of text by heart, or practising timed exam papers that work for you.
Switching between methods can be a great way to help hold your interest and let you absorb the information better. Try mixing uninspiring subjects with more interesting ones for the same reason. If it’s hard to get started, begin with something less challenging.
Pace yourself, and if you find it hard getting motivated, set yourself measurable goals for each revision period. This way you can tick them off after each session, acknowledge your achievement and reward yourself.
What’s the best way to approach exams?
Be clear about what exam is coming up and when, you don’t want to prepare for the wrong one. Having everything you need ready in advance will help to reduce any pre-exam nerves. Make sure you set off in good time, and have something to eat beforehand so you’re fully prepared.
Once in the exam, if you feel any tension building or your mind going blank, take a minute to do a short breathing routine (see below). Give yourself time to calm down and read the questions carefully.
After the exam is over, it’s tempting to think about all the answers you gave. Instead, try to focus your energy either on the next exam, or if you’ve come to the end then try to centre your attention on rewarding yourself.
How to relax
Learning how to relax the mind and body will be very helpful during your revision period and even when sitting in the exam room.
Feeling anxious and stressed can increase the heart rate and cause your breathing to become shallow. If this happens, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Place one hand on your stomach, and ground yourself with both feet on the floor. You may want to close your eyes and visualise the tension disappearing. Take a deep slow breath in, as if you are filling up a balloon in your stomach. Then breathe out slowly, letting the air out again. Thinking of warmth, heaviness and relaxation carry on until you feel calm. This gentle breathing exercise can be done for 2 or 20 minutes – depending on your situation.
Another excellent way of coping with stress is exercise. As little as 10 or 20 minutes a day spent cycling, walking, at the gym or in an exercise class, can make a noticeable difference in your life. Sleep is also very important when it comes to stress and anxiety, worries can escalate hugely when you are feeling sleep deprived. If you’ve been finding it hard to get to sleep, try cutting down on stimulants such as caffeinated drinks.
Find ways of connecting with others in a similar situation for support. Why don’t you think about getting together in a study group, it may help with revision and give you an opportunity to talk to people about something that is worrying you.
Lastly, eat well. It’s so important to eat properly, and not exist on snacks. The right foods can help boost your concentration, and make you feel healthier in general.
What if things just get too much?
Try and get an accurate picture of your situation. Asking someone who knows your work and the standards required, might just help to put you at ease. Getting your tutor or a mentor to help you organise your work realistically, and offer a fresh perspective can also be valuable. It can help you to prioritise your action list.
Take some time to make you a priority! Self-soothing can aid you in relaxing and feeling calmer. Think of things that you have done in the past that made you feel better, like asking someone for a hug, taking a hot bath, or snuggling under the covers with a good book. You can also think about what is pleasing to each of your senses. Here are some examples, but it’s really whatever is soothing for you;
- Taste – eating a favourite food
- Touch – playing with your pet
- Sight – looking at a favourite object or reading a novel
- Smell – drinking a cup of hot chocolate, or going outdoors
- Sound – listening to your favourite music
Having a support network
Knowing that you have the support of family and friends is vital. It’s really important that they are sensitive to the extra strain you may be under, and that they allow you space and time you need to study.
If you notice that stress may be getting too much for a friend or family member that is taking an exam, encourage them to seek appropriate help, reassuring them that this is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Exams can bring out the best and worst in people. We all achieve at different levels and have different qualities and skills. Exams do not validate you as a whole person. Remember, you can only do your best, and your best is all that you can do!
As well as the strategies already mentioned, Hypnotherapy is a common method used to help reduce exam stress. Here at Mind Reset, I am already helping my clients to fulfil their full potential, by helping them to overcome their fear of failure, and feel more confident and relaxed about their upcoming exams. The power of suggestion and visualisation techniques can encourage an individual to clear their racing mind, and approach exams with a cool, calm state of mind.
If you would like help with creating a mindset for success ahead of your exams, contact me.