Coping with exam anxiety
We take so many exams in life. And, when it is time to take your major exams, you feel butterflies in stomach, nervous, shivery hands; throat goes dry and what not happens. Very few people keep calm. A usual level of stress is good. It works to think faster and efficiently. After 15/20 minutes it improves your performance. The most important thing to remember is it’s just an exam – not the dead-end of life.
We bully ourselves badly by not taking that good 8 hrs sleep in the night before exam; we need to give our body the required rest. Studies have found that if you stay awake for 20-22 hours straight, your mental capacity simply slops like a drunkard man’s mind. Your ability to concentrate, memorize and write – literally collapses. Make sure you get an average 8 hours of sleep a night.
During your exam period you must jog/swim/dance/sing/gym at least for 30 minutes. Stop telling yourself that “I must spend every moment studying.” Exercise helps us study more effectively for various reasons. Firstly, it’s a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Secondly, it gets blood flowing to your brain supplying oxygen, antioxidant and glucose, which can help you to think more clearly. So, activate your body and mind with minimum 30 minutes exercise. Think of daily exercise as being an investment in your final marks.
Often when we can’t think clearly and have a foggy memory, it’s because our brains need to be hydrated. While studying and taking your exams, make sure you take regular sips of water. It helps tremendously.
There is no perfect answer. So, don’t worry about writing a perfect answer. If you’re unsure, still try giving it a chance. Put it down on paper. The examiners may not give you any marks for it, but they won’t take marks off. Chances are there will always be something that you could have studied more thoroughly, give your memory a chance, and think a little and perhaps you may know the answer.
For God’s sake, don’t skip breakfast. A study has found that students who skip breakfast experience a 20-40% reduction in thinking skills. Take a low GI (glycemic) breakfast but don’t torture your body by not having anything. Feel fuller for longer to stabilize your mood and give you plenty of energy for the day. Don’t consume caffeine though is a stimulant drug. It gives you a rush and makes you feel good in the short term, but eventually it wears off and leaves you feeling cranky and wanting more. It’s also a diuretic, so it makes you urinate, which means you lose water, become thirsty and want to drink more liquids. So avoid caffeine. Instead have some safe limewater juice or a glass of milk.
Once you get your question paper in hand, read the instructions on the question paper carefully. Spend time working on a fairly detailed plan. Don’t panic if you see everybody around you writing away. A good plan will make writing your answer much easier; a well structured answer will usually get higher marks, and if you are unable to finish an answer, but your plan indicates clearly what you were intending to write, you may in some circumstances get credit for this. If you come across a question you’re not sure on how to answer in the exam, stop for a moment and take a few deep breathes with minimum counts of 3 inhale and exhale. If you are not sure how to answer it there and then, move on to another question. Don’t get worried, the worst thing you can do is start to panic, stress really makes you stupid. Relax, give yourself little time, and start writing.
Don’t stay back after an exam to talk to your friends about finding what were their answers; instead reach home, eat and take little rest. No post-mortems. You’re more likely to depress yourself than anything else. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Go and relax and then prepare for your next exam if you have one. If you try to find answers to find whether you have done well or not you will feel anxious and lose out on your confidence for the next exam. Remember, the exam is over. There’s nothing much you can do about it, so move on and focus on the next one.
You might experience writer’s cramp in elbow and hand. This can be due to holding your pen too tight. Loosen your grip or get a pen that you won’t have to press down so hard on the paper. The reality is, even with a good pen, your elbow will start to hurt at some point if you’re taking a 3 hour exam. When it does hurt, have a rest for a few moments. Stretch your hand; press your fingers for few moments to release the pain.
To avoid last moment anxiety, visit the exam center a day prior. Arrive in good time. You will need time to find your seat. Don’t forget to carry your personal ID and examination ID. Carry 2 good pens, pencil, eraser etc. Avoid borrowing it from others in classroom. You should not disturb others.
The examination will start and finish in the stipulated time. After you finish writing your paper, check once again; you might want to draw a table/pie chart etc. And, hand over your answer sheet to the invigilator. There is no right answer as to how much you should write. The important thing is to write as much as you can in the fixed time, but, only write what is relevant. Please remember quality of the answer matters and not the quantity. But, generally if you write little more you have a better chance of getting more points across.
And finally, academic competence and intelligence are not simple to measure and no method will fully capture the scope of a student’s ability, but the fact remains that we need at least some formal system in place to judge the competitiveness of the student’s ability, otherwise the academic system will not work. We need divisions between ability levels and the amount of experience and knowledge students actually possess, otherwise students will be in environments unsuited to them and won’t be able to learn appropriately. There is no other way to divide them than by testing them in a fair and impartial manner. Exams are therefore necessary and they are a part and parcel of our life. Learn to enjoy writing an exam. After all, it can be fun to take an exam.