Most students find tests and exams a rather stressful experience. No matter how well you prepare, there is always the fear that you don’t understand the questions, don’t know the answer, suddenly forget everything you learned and simply fail.
Being an adult student doesn’t reduce this anxiety, but often even makes it worse. Memories of previous stressful exams and the knowledge that you haven’t been formally assessed for a long time can increase test anxiety to a level where you believe you will be unable to succeed.
However, there are ways to handle your test anxiety and help you to arrive at your exam centre much calmer and therefore able to succeed and reap the benefits of all your hard work.
‘ Be prepared ‘
Sitting an exam knowing that you are not as prepared as you should be will only add to your stress and anxiety. Make sure that you have studied as much as you should have, avoiding last minute studying. Knowing that you did all you could will give you confidence as nothing is worse than having to hope that a certain topic won’t come up in your exam questions as you run out of time to study for it.
At the same time however you should avoid over-studying. Take breaks and don’t forget to live. If you do nothing but studying you will make yourself nervous and put yourself under a lot of unnecessary pressure.
If you struggle remembering all the content try to at least know the basics of each topic. Your chance to pass is higher if you can answer all questions in part rather than few questions perfectly.
Some people learn best by writing information down, others by reading it over and over again and others by listening or talking about the topic. If you can identify which method of learning – or which combination of the various options – suits you best you will gain confidence in your ability to remember it all. Trust your instincts and try to learn in the best way for you whilst being organised and covering all the required content.
Ask your teacher or tutor for sample exams of previous years – questions often are similar and practicing previous exam papers will give you a feeling for the wording and confidence that you can understand the questions and cope.
‘ Get sufficient sleep ’
It is tempting to spend the past few nights before your exam studying. However, if you don’t get enough sleep you will lose focus and your ability to concentration and therefore your ability to succeed will reduce. Especially if you are working and only have time to study in the evenings, it is worthwhile taking a few days holiday before your exam to enable you to revise during the day and sleep at night.
If you are too nervous to sleep it is worthwhile investing in some natural sleep aids, relaxing with a hot bath or a good book or to invite a good friend for dinner with the instructions not to mention the exams!
‘ Don’t forget to eat and drink ’
A fit mind lives in a fit body. If you are hungry or dehydrated, your brain will not work to its full capacity and you will put yourself in a weak position. Always have some healthy snacks (e.g. fruit and nuts) and a bottle of water at your study desk and also take something to drink with to your exam to keep your energy levels up and avoid dehydration which might become worse through anxiety and stress.
‘ Visualize the test situation and success ‘
Many students suffering from test anxiety spend many hours imagining how they sit in the exam hall and are not able to remember a single word of their text books. If you feel negative about the upcoming tests it is important that you reverse your fear into a positive imagination. Try to imagine how calm and confident you feel when you arrive at the test center, visualize how you open the exam paper and realize that you can answer all the questions, see yourself feeling content and happy when handing in your papers and feel how good you will feel when you are notified that you passed your exams.
You can do this by simply daydreaming and imagining the situations, you could put little post-it notes with positive reminders all over your house or you could even try some hypnosis.
‘ Take a deep breath ‘
Panicking won’t get you anywhere. In the evening before your exam you should prepare yourself to avoid any unnecessary last minute stress. Is your alarm set, do you have your pencil / calculator / ruler or whatever you’ll need, do you know your way to the test center and have enough petrol in the car? Ruling out anything in your control that could go wrong will help to relieve some of the stress you feel.
In the morning or in the hours before your test you should avoid any last minute studying – it is unlikely to stick in your mind at this late hour. Instead you should take a deep breath, visualize again your success and focus on being calm. A healthy breakfast will give you the energy to stay focused throughout the exam. You should get to your test center in good time, but if the other students make you nervous stay a little bit away, maybe have a cup of orange juice or coffee in a near coffee shop.
Planning something nice that you want to do after your exams – maybe going for a walk or a nice lunch – will also lift your spirits and help you to become calmer. And the calmer you are, the better you’ll cope with the exam situation.
Whilst tests and exams are a stressful experience it is important to take steps to reduce any anxiety you might feel. The calmer you are in the exam the better will you be able to remember your ‘stuff’ and pass your exams. If you have very bad exam memories or test anxiety it might even be worthwhile talking to your teacher or attending a training course on how to pass exams to give you additional confidence. And always remember – even if you should fail it wouldn’t be the end of the world. In most cases you could just re-take the exam.