How To Manage Anxiety In An Exam



This has happened to all of us – and still does to some of us in our dreams! You’ve been studying hard for your economics final assessment, but when you walk into your exam, your mind goes blank. As you read the question paper, you notice your sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat. Sound familiar?



While it’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous before a test, some students find test anxiety debilitating. Racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, or feelings of dread can combine with physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat, headache, or nausea. 

What are some of the underlying causes of this anxiety?

Causes of test anxiety may include a fear of failure, lack of adequate prep time, or bad experiences taking tests in the past. Don’t face this alone, open up about your fears to your educators, parents and friends. Voicing it lessens its impact.

How can one prepare mentally for managing anxiety in the actual exam?

Create an if….then scenario before you enter the exam. So for example you may say to yourself, if I find a question particularly challenging, then I will move onto the next one, and come back to it later on. Make a note for yourself on the question you must return to.

Answering questions builds confidence, so once you have tackled a question you can answer, then come back the challenging one. Do as many past papers, questions or tests as you can. If you have seen a similar question you will feel confident in your exam response. Boston students do summative assessments during semester, helping to prepare the final assessment.

Do not discuss your work in the half hour before the exam – it will cause anxiety if you think others covered work that you haven’t covered.

How does our physical condition impact on our exam experience?

Sleep is an important ingredient to being able to manage your anxiety and emotions. Think of how you feel about challenging situations when you’re lacking sleep – somehow they always feel a lot worse and more difficult to manage. While it’s important to study as much as possible, have a cut off point the night before so that you have enough sleep to help you through the next day’s exam.

Eat a healthy breakfast before the exam, and pack snacks for ongoing energy. Look for foods that offer a steady stream of nutrients, rather than a sugar high followed by a crash.

What are some tips to keep calm before the exam?

Feeling rushed amps up the anxiety. Pack everything you need for the exam the night before, including snacks for the exam if it permitted. Leave home early.

Before you leave, or in the taxi or car, do some breathing exercises. Breathe in for 5, hold for 5 and out for 5, just focusing on your breath. Then picture yourself in the exam room, answering the questions easily and managing the situation calmly.

In this way you focus on what you want to happen, rather then what you are afraid might happen. You can apply this exercise at any point to help centre your thoughts and feel calmer, including during the exam if you feel anxiety building up.

What are some tips to support yourself when answer questions?

First read! Check the directions thoroughly, underlining or highlighting key points in the questions. Then write down some key points for the answer on your question paper. This will help to get the ball rolling and ease you into writing the answer.

Get started. A blank page can increase your anxiety.

After you’ve read the directions, dive right in by making an outline for an essay answer. Or, find some questions you can ace to build up your confidence.

When we are stressed, distractions become magnified. Focus on your paper. If you are panicking, remember the challenge of eating an elephant. One bite at a time!

Key words on the question paper are the first step, next is to write a complete answer, or essay. Focus on writing one point per mark, when you have accomplished that move onto the next question.

Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing. When it looks as though everyone is writing away, it is easy to think ‘‘What do they know that you don’t?” It doesn’t matter. Pay attention to your own exam and pace, and forget about the other students in the room.

What is the role of managing your time in the exam?

Stay on pace by scoping out the whole test before getting started. Allocate a time per question based on the marks allocated to the question, and the total for the exam. Try leave 5 minutes to check at the end.

How can one calm oneself in the exam?

Practice controlled breathing and positive thoughts such as “I’ve got this.” ; “I’m doing my best”; “I’ve prepared myself to get through this exam.” Deep and slowed breathing can slow down a beating heart or a racing mind, so practice these techniques at home.

The very act of concentrating on breathing and thinking can biometrically alter those anxious feelings. Know that exam anxiety is natural. Be gentle with yourself.  




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