Exam nerves. Exam Stress. Exam anxiety. They are like stage fright for actors: A little fear is a good thing and helps us perform better. So too with exams – if we are too relaxed, we don’t perform at our best. A bit of exam nerves is a good thing.
Exam nerves are like stage fright: If they go too high, they can be debilitating and hurt or even cripple our exam performance. Many researchers reckon that one in six undergraduate students suffers exam stress regularly. And many more will suffer it occasionally.
This post explains exam nerves, exam stress, and exam anxiety, and how to manage them.
Good exam nerves are normal. It’s the adrenaline rush that an Olympic athlete (or Little Athletics competitor) feels before a track meet. It’s what an actor experiences before a play and a singer before a concert. And it’s what students usually experience in the lead-up to exams.
Good exam nerves motivate us to prepare, to work, and to arrive in the exam room with just the right amount of adrenaline to focus well. Rather than fear and trembling, they help us say, “OK, this is what I’ve been working for, and it’s time to perform.”
However, exam stress is tougher, and affects us negatively. It may help us study, but it also causes us to worry and be anxious. We might get flustered and have trouble with recall or clear thinking. This happens to many or most of us at some point.
And finally, there is exam anxiety, which afflicts a few of us, and can be crippling. In bad cases, we might not be able to bring ourselves to study and prepare. And then we might panic, get physically sick, go to tears, or have to leave the exam room – if we got there in the first place.
Hopefully, you all have exam nerves. Remember, they are helpful. And most of us will experience exam stress at some point. But some classmates – or you – experience full-blown exam anxiety.
Good preparation normally means less stress. So:
- Start preparing several weeks out. Don’t let a robust social life, ministries, or other assignments crowd out all preparation. Exam stress may kick in here: You feel dread and don’t want to start the hard work, so these things become avoidance tools, and you avoid preparing.
- If you struggle to start, or feel dread in the pit of your stomach, try a few time management techniques. And pray, lean on a few good friends for accountability, and join a group that will require you to prepare something regularly.
- Trust the system! Follow effective exam preparation techniques for recall, understanding, and trust that they will work. Two other tips:
- Testing yourself before you revise – even if you get everything wrong – is a highly effective means of ‘priming yourself’ to learn during revision. It’s the act of testing before you revise that helps. Test yourself with simple recall of material, lecture outlines, or past exams. And don’t freak out over what you don’t know.
- Likewise, teaching or explaining material to others is a highly effective revision and learning technique. When you study with others, explain to each other.
- Download and practise past exams. Get used to the timing, the questions, and the requirements.
- Join a few friends to prepare and revise together.
- Fight the negative self-talk. Remember that thousands of others have survived College and the exams, and you almost certainly will too. Don’t tell yourself you cannot retain the necessary info, and don’t tell yourself you will fail.
- Remember that any preparation is good. Few of us will do all the preparation we want.
- Maintain responsible self-care: Sleep, exercise, sunlight, a healthy diet, friends and fellowship, and a bit of lightness and fun in life. These are good things, and we need them for sustainable living, learning, and godliness.
- Contact the Registrars if you have a diagnosed condition and can document it. Special arrangements can be made to help you.
It may not be until exam day or during the exam that you first feel nerves, stress, anxiety, or even panic.
- Pray as you prepare and on the day.
- Use physical calming techniques:
- Movement relaxes the body – even a brief walk before exams
- Sunlight is great for the mind – it stimulates serotonin production. (Serotonin is a good hormone for well-being and for thinking.)
- Deep breathing exercises are amazing for relaxing the body: Breathe in (counting slowly to 4), hold that breath for a moment (counting slowly to 7), and breath out (counting slowly to 8). (You’ll see other numbers, but 4-7-8 works.)
- Avoid negative self-talk – it wrecks your ability to think.
- Similarly, maintain positive self-talk: You have something to say, and you will almost certainly pass. Even if you are poorly prepared, positive self-talk gives better results than telling yourself you are going to fail.
- And in StuVac I will send you links to my posts on exam days and exam essays. But until then, just revise and consolidate.
Contact me for an appointment if you want to chat through your exam prep, or exam nerves, stress, or anxiety. If this is a serious issue for you, then contact your chaplain and talk with him or her. They are mature, wise, good people, and they care. If this is a persistent issue, then talk to your GP. Skilled counsellors, advice, and even medications are available. And because we live in Australia, you may even qualify for a mental health plan and subsidised visits to a psychologist or a counsellor. We all need help from time to time.
And everyone, lean on your family or friends – talk with them, ask them to pray, and let them love you in this. We are made to carry one another’s burdens, and that includes letting others carry ours.