There’s no denying exam season is a stressful time. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to remember that while they are important, exams are not everything! What’s more, they do not determine your worth as a person – if you just had an internal ‘yeah, but…’ moment, repeat that last part until it goes silent.
Of course, some anxiety surrounding exams is normal and, to a certain degree, it can actually help sharpen your concentration. But when anxiety starts to impede your ability to perform as you otherwise would, it may be time to seek help from your instructor or guidance counsellor. In the mean time, here are some useful tips to help you manage your stress levels.
Author’s Note: For clarity, we’ve divided the tips up into a few distinctly stressful periods: 1) the time leading up to exams, 2) the day of the exam & the exam itself, and 3) that excruciating post-exam period as you wait for your final mark.
#1 – Anxiety symptoms can only be worsened by drastically switching up your eating and sleeping routines right before an exam. Instead, make the effort to be good to your body and your mind will be good to you! Physical activity is also a great way to relieve stress: go for a walk or a quick run and feel your shoulders loosen and your focus sharpen when you get back to it!
#2 – Don’t be afraid of working through difficult concepts! Sure, it may be anxiety-inducing to read through something you feel you know nothing about with the exam fast approaching, but think how much worse it would be to read that question on the exam and have no knowledge to answer it with because you skipped over studying it! Even a general understanding of a difficult concept can be enough to earn you some key points on an exam, and you won’t feel the added exam-day stress of the blank space!
#3 – Reach out! Students tend to lock themselves in their rooms around exam time. While it may help you keep focused, isolation can actually increase your stress because, as with stress of other forms, bottling it up is never a good idea. Instead, try talking through your anxieties with your friends, family, or school officials if you are having serious misgivings. Emotional support can make all the difference in navigating stressful situations, so make sure you’re leaving your door open to receiving it.
THE DAY OF THE EXAM
#1 – Give yourself a break from studying in the hours leading up to the exam itself. Make sure you eat a solid meal beforehand (a growling stomach in the silent exam room is sure to throw off your focus) and pack some (non-crinkly) snacks to keep your brain fueled if it’s a lengthy exam. It’s also a good idea to check the batteries in your calculator and the ink in your pens, whatever you may need to do to be 100% logistically prepared.
#2 – Arrive early but steer clear of the frantic one(s). These students are balls of anxiety who will only cause your own anxiety to snowball. Surround yourself with students who are outwardly calm in the time leading up to your exam, and if it feels like everyone is panicking in the hall, remember it is 100% socially acceptable to leave the pack and skim through your notes in solitude before heading into the exam.
#3 – Think positive! And if you don’t feel optimistic enough to tell yourself you’re gonna do great, at least be positive enough to stop thinking negatively. Instead of “I’m going to fail, I don’t know anything!”, remind yourself “I’ve studied as much as I could with the time I had. I know what I know and it will be enough.” Negative thinking will only serve to limit your self-perception and can actually limit your ability to perform to standard on an exam.
DURING THE EXAM
#1 – Scan through the whole exam as soon as you get it so you know what you’re dealing with. This can also work to your advantage, as it will give your brain time to process answers to more complex questions as you tackle the easy ones, boosting your confidence as you go.
#2 – Work smart! Take a glimpse at the marking scheme and plan your time accordingly. The goal should always be to answer every question to the best of your abilities within the time allotted. If you find yourself spending too long on any single question, circle it to come back to later and move on. After all, it’s better to give an almost-there answer to every question than to give perfect answers on only 50% of the exam.
#3 – Stay focused on the process of answering the question rather than on the end result. If your mind starts to drift or you find yourself catastrophizing, take a thirty second break. Close your eyes, take a couple deep breaths, stretch and re-focus yourself on the task at hand.
THE POST-EXAM WAIT
#1 – Don’t overthink! Reflection is good, and if there is some exam strategy to be learned from this exam experience, by all means flesh it out and put it into action for the next one, but know that beating yourself up for mistakes made or things left unwritten will only make your outlook worse.
#2 – Spend your time studying for your next exam, rather than re-studying for the exam you already took. There truly is no point to going through lesson notes to figure out when Question 19 was taught or what the answer to Question 6 was. You’re not going to be writing this exam again, but chances are you will be writing a different exam, so use your time wisely!
#3 – Be confident, but realistic. What’s done is done. There is nothing you can do or change, so be kind to yourself and be confident in the answers you gave. You may not have aced it, but you probably didn’t fail either. Remember that your teachers are not out to see you fail, and if they can see that your train of thought was on the right track, chances are they’ll give you at least partial credit.