I’m sure we can all remember taking a stressful exam sometime in our lives. While the majority of exams we take are when we are school-age, they do not stop at this time in our lives. There can be exams for work qualifications, night classes and of course, not forgetting the driving test – with its written and practical exams.

It is only natural that most of us feel at least a little stress when sitting any type of examination. After all, it is this adrenaline rush that keeps us alert while we are outside our comfort zone, and can spur us into having the will-power to pass the exam. While good, too much stress can of course have the opposite effect, leading to extreme stress, unclear thoughts and can result in us failing the exam and making ourselves ill in the process.

With any exam, this stress is not merely confined to the time we spend in the exam room, waiting to turn over the exam paper and get started. Extreme stress can be with us before the exam, being present days or even weeks before the actual exam. It goes without saying that another time for this stress is during the exam itself, but also after the exam has finished – especially if we continuously evaluate and worry about how we have performed afterwards.

In light of this, I will in this article provide some techniques to help reduce this stress in the time before, during and after the exam.

BEFORE THE EXAM

MAKE SURE TO REVISE PROPERLY AND DO THIS WELL IN ADVANCE OF THE EXAM – There is nothing more stressful than walking into an exam room and knowing that we have we have not revised properly. From past experience I know only too well the stress this can cause, especially at the last minute. By revising properly, having a plan/timetable for our revision and making sure to start this days, even weeks, in advance can mean that we walk into the exam room feeling that we have done everything we possibly can and having increased confidence.

GET A GOOD NIGHT SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM – This also links to the amount of revision that we have put-in in the previous days. Cramming information in the night before -due to a lack of revision or last minute panic- will most likely cause us to be tired during the actual exam, liming our potential, but also leading to increased stress. Saying ‘enough is enough’ and getting a good night sleep is one of the best things we can do to reach our full potential during the exam.

START OUT OF THE HOUSE EARLY AND ARRIVE EARLY AT THE EXAM VENUE – Rushing at the last minute can (a) mean that we arrive late and waste time that could be used for answering questions (b) arrive hot bothered and stressed thus limiting our performance or (c) not be permitted to take the exam at all. All of these -especially the latter- can lead to disaster. My best advice is to get up early, leave plenty of time to travel to the exam venue, leaving time to travel slowly and calmly, and to wait quietly to take the exam. A word of caution here though is to not arrive too early as waiting around at the exam venue can be just as stressful as arriving too late and rushing.

DURING THE EXAM

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND TRY TO RELAX BEFORE STARTING THE EXAM – This can be useful no-matter what the type of exam. While this sounds simplistic advice, taking a few seconds or half a minute to relax ourselves can make all the difference, especially if we have entered the exam venue calmly but feel that our stress levels are suddenly increasing – as often happens.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK, OR TWO, AT THE QUESTIONS OR TASK NEEDED BEFORE STARTING – As the old saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ goes, rushing ahead and doing the wrong thing, only realising we have made a mistake at a later stage, could mean the difference between passing and failing the exam – or not getting the result that we want and deserve. Not only this, but making a mistake such as answering the wrong question, especially at the beginning of an exam, or making the wrong move in a driving test, can throw us off-course for the rest of the exam. We will also likely waste time re-writing/doing the activity again if we can – which is a very annoying and stressful position to be in. In a driving test however, we may not have this second chance during the exam.

PUT 100% EFFORT INTO THE EXAM SO THAT THERE ARE NO GUILTY ‘I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER’ FEELINGS AFTERWARDS – Stress, especially as discussed in the previous paragraph when we have made a mistake, can lead us to become annoyed and give up. While at the time we may feel that we do not care or there is no point carrying on with the exam, this can lead to stress and anger afterwards. Of course, by giving up there is the high probability that we will not get the results that we hoped for. Also, we may leave the exam feeling guilty for the fact that we have not put full effort in and we could have done better. At least by trying our hardest, even if we feel that we have not performed quite as well as we wished for, we can hold our head up afterwards and say that we have not missed the opportunity to do this. After all, there are few things worse than a good opportunity missed.

AFTER THE EXAM

TRY NOT TO ANALYSE THE EXAM AFTER FINISHING – Surprisingly, from personal experience and talking to many people over the years, this can actually be the most stressful time of the exam – a similar situation to a job interview. While we may have some short-term relief that the exam has ended, the tendency is to start analysing how well we have done. This is even more tempting when speaking to other people who have finished the same exam. As I have said in a previous article about job interviews – at this time there is nothing we can do to change the result of the exam, it is now history and out of our hands. By analysing the situation, our natural tendency is to understate ourselves and feel that we have not done quite as well as we may actually have and thus stress ourselves. The best advice here is no-matter what, simply try and forget about the exam until the results are published. Only at this time will we know for certain how well we have performed and what we can do next. Worrying will not solve anything and may impact upon our chances in other exams or tasks we need to complete. Also, until we find out the results, there is nothing we can do no-matter how worried we are. Once we know the results, we can then take further steps, but only when we know these.

To conclude then, I hope that these basic techniques have been helpful. While for any exam there is no substitute for good preparation in the form of revision or practice – there are times when no-matter how good this preparation has been, a severe case of stress can ruin everything. I hope these techniques help and wish everyone very good luck.

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