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Testing Times: Coping With Exams
by Perplexity January 12th 2009, 06:04 PM

Testing Times: Coping With Exams
Written by: Shaz

Exam time has arrived, the sun is shining outside, but you are stuck inside hitting the books. You may be feeling too much pressure to focus. For students in the process of taking exams, it isn't fun. Exams, regardless of whether for school, university/college or for professional qualifications, can all be stressful. There is often a lot of pressure on young people to do well before and on exams, causing what is called "exam stress". All the work that you've undergone approaching this exam can make you feel worried, stressed or even depressed. Studying you need to do might seem impossible, but there are things you can do to make it a bit easier on yourself.

If you are worried about anything, talk to your school teacher or parents about how you feel. Don't be ashamed to ask for help; it's normal to be a little worried about exams. Remember, exams are important, but they are not the only key to a successful future.

Effects of exams on you

Exam Stress

People use the term "stress" to describe the feeling they have when they are overloaded and don't feel that they are able to meet all the demands placed upon them. Stress is natural and part of being human. Your body is responding to changes in the world around you. Stress changes how your body works and puts your mind into different moods.

Getting a bit stressed about an exam just means that you really care about your results. However, a bit of the inevitable pressure that you will face is good for you! Hopefully it will push you to work hard and aim for a high score. How could we motivate ourselves through 100 pages of The Russian Revolution or anything quite so boring if we aren't remotely bothered? We do it because we know that we have to do well in the exam. So, although being too worried will not help matters, you will get out of the exam what you put into the exam.

How do I know if I'm stressed?

Learning to recognise when you're under stress is one of the first steps of dealing with it. When exams start to cause too much pressure, the physical and emotional signs may become obvious.

Some signs of exam stress are:

* Difficulty getting to sleep overwaking up in the morning
* Constant tiredness/loss of concentration
* Forgetfulness
* Unexplained aches and pains
* Poor appetite
* Increased anxiety and irritability
* Increased heart rate
* Migraines/headaches
* Blurred vision
* Dizziness

If you've noticed three or more of the above symptoms and you've experienced them for a few weeks you may need to take action and work on your stress levels. Perhaps speak to a school counsellor or doctor. Sometimes even simply talking to a friend helps. Write out your concerns and worries to get them off your chest.

Organization, approaching exams and exam tips

Many people are able to learn and integrate information well while studying. However, when it comes to the actual test or exam, they suffer from exam stress and do not perform to the best of their potential.

It isn't just the anxiety or 'nerves' at the time of the exam, though. People often feel stressed about an exam months ahead of the day of the actual examination. It’s natural to feel at least somewhat anxious about something that could have such a big impact on your future, especially if it’s something that you’ve been working towards for months or years. Learning to organize yourself and manage exam stress can change the outcome of how well you perform on exams.


Being organised

If you find out exactly what you’re facing, you can work out a plan for dealing with it. Get your hands on the right information from the start. Make sure you understand as much information as you can regarding the exam. Also, get a copy of the syllabus and catch up with anything you've missed.

Find out about the resources available to help you. School, college and university teachers are expert resources, but they may not have a lot of time to give you. There are also many good revision guides, TV revision programmes and a wide range of internet sites to use which can help you during the exam time period.

Plan a timetable

Try to start your studies in plenty of time. Take time to plan a revision timetable that’s realistic and linked to your exam timetable so you revise subjects in the right order. Give yourself clear priorities and try to balance your studies with other time commitments. Identify what time you feel most focused and willing to study.

Everyone needs time off, and it’s a bad idea to abandon your social life and other hobbies that you like to take part in. For a period near the examinations, however, you may need to cut down. Balancing "work" and "play" will hopefully result in higher exam scores.

Approaching exams


Revision is more than just reading through the notes you made in class--it also means knowing how to answer the appropriate questions when you're sitting in the exam. Revising works best when you practise questions that are most likely to appear in the exam. By concentrating on key facts and writing them down as exam answers, it's easier to remember what you learned in class. In the exam be expected to answer questions on the subjects you studied in class, which means you'll need a full set of notes to revise from.

There's no 'right' way to revise, it’s more a matter of what suits you and the particular exam you’re taking best. Methods might include making notes from text books, writing quick summaries of topics and putting them in places where you'll have easy access to see them, reciting facts out loud, learning dates, formulae or vocabulary by heart, and reading revision books or watching revision programmes. Also, switching between methods helps to hold your interest and absorb information better and for longer. If it’s hard to get started, begin with something easy and work from there.

Try not to cram in learning everything at once. Not only will this likely stress you out, but it will also make it extremely difficult for you to retain the information. Take breaks between your revision sessions, and then relax and reward yourself at the end of a successful session.

It's not always possible to find a comfortable, quiet place to prepare for exams, so try to arrange a set time and space where you can work without being disturbed. If you can't find this at home, look to a school, college, or local library. If you study in the same room you eat or sleep in, try to keep the work area separate, so it's not always distracting you when you're not studying.

Practising timed exam questions can give you some idea of of how to spend your time between questions on the exam you are being tested on. Practice questions are never the same as the questions in the exam, they’re similar enough to be useful.

Avoiding stress before an exam

You may be feeling a weight of expectation from your family, school, university or workplace to succeed. You may be afraid you’re not good enough, or haven't worked hard enough. You may be scared of letting yourself down, or that you’ll miss out on a job, university place or career move. Because of what's at stake, exams, inevitably, are stressful.

Your pre-exam nerves may seem more intense if you are taking exams for the first time, after a long period of time, or have any learning differences. Having high stress levels for too long can be harmful to both you and your chances. Everyone reacts differently to stress, so a situation that is too much for one person to tolerate may be stimulating to another. Controlled at the right level, however, stress can work to your advantage by helping you perform your peak performance.

Exam tips

General exam tips:

Believe in yourself.

You are capable of passing the exam. You wouldn't have been given a place in the class if you didn't have the ability to do it.

Taking action.
If you don't understand some of your course material, getting stressed out won't help. Instead, take action by seeing your course tutor or asking a classmate to help you understand the problem.

Talking about it.

Confiding in someone you trust and who will listen and be supportive is a great way of reducing stress and worry.

Pressure: Do's and Don'ts.
Aim to do your best but recognise that if you think that "anything less than A+ means I've failed" then you are creating unnecessary stress for yourself.

Tips for the Revision Period:

Plan your time.

Boost your confidence and reduce any pre-exam stress by avoiding last minute cramming. Leaving plenty of time to revise means you know you have prepared well.

Taking a break.
As soon as you notice you are losing concentration, take a short break: go for a walk, talk to a friend or just listen to some music. Return back to the revision feeling refreshed and able to concentrate again.

Another cuppa? Don't think so.
Don't drink too much coffee, tea or fizzy drinks; the caffeine will make you feel 'keyed-up' and make your thinking less clear. After the exam period is over, you can go back to being a coffee addict.

Eat some ‘superfoods’.

Eat healthily and regularly; your brain will benefit from the nutrients. Replace sweets and sugar with ‘superfoods’ such as berries, bananas, oily fish, nuts and broccoli. They might not be the most interesting, tastiest foods out there, but 'superfoods' can help boost your concentration, energy and mood.

A change is as good as a rest.

Experiment with several alternative revision techniques so that revision is more fun and your motivation to study is high.

Tips for keeping calm during the exam:

Try to avoid panic
It's natural to feel some exam nerves prior to starting the exam; it can be a positive and motivating feeling. However, getting excessively nervous can become a problem as it hinders your ability to think clearly.

Take deep breaths

The quickest and most effective way of eliminating feelings of stress and panic is to close your eyes and take several long, slow deep breaths, which will calm your nervous system.

Drawing a blank?
If your mind goes blank during the exam, don't panic. Instead, focus on slow, deep breathing for about one minute. If you still can't remember the information then move on to another question in the exam paper and return to this question later if you have time.

Final Note

I hope that this guide to coping with exams has been somewhat useful to you. For a lot of people, going through exams can be very stressful. Exams bring out the best in some people, and the worst in others. At the end of it you can only do your best. Good luck!


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