Exam stress and how to deal with it – your exam questions answered

16 September 2021

For the final day answering your exam questions, the Brand Financial Training team tackle the age old issue of exam stress and provide some practical tips for dealing with it.

Q: I get very stressed about my exams, do you have any tips to help?

A: This question comes as no surprise; after all, who doesn’t get stressed about exams?! When you’ve invested so much time, effort, and money, in revising for your exam, and you feel under pressure, it can be hard to not get stressed – not just in the exam room, but in the days and weeks leading up to your exam too.

But of course, you need to avoid getting stressed, because when you’re stressed, you can’t think straight, and that’ll hinder your revision and also your ability, in the exam itself, to recall the information you’ve learned.

To think clearly, you must draw on your working memory – the holding space where ideas and facts are manipulated. Unfortunately, worrying thoughts take up some of this holding space – hence fewer resources are available for thinking.

For some people, the most stressful type of exam is the multiple-choice exam – it really gets the pulse racing! In theory, multiple-choice should be easier; after all, the answer is right there in front of you, and you only have to eliminate the wrong answers, but all those options can become a blur if you just can’t think straight.

So, in today’s exam Q&A, we’ve got two recommendations for relieving exam stress: one, the Anxiety dump, for eliminating nervousness leading up to the exam, and the other, a Relaxation technique for calming yourself down in the exam room.

Anxiety dump

Spend 10 minutes, whenever you feel anxious, writing about your worries. Yep! That’s right! Write them down! You might think that this exercise would make you feel more anxious – but repeatedly, research has demonstrated that the opposite is the case. It has the effect of your ‘offloading’, thereby clearing a space in your working memory for the important stuff.

This technique is sometimes used in therapy, for anxious and/or depressed people, and exam scores also go up when students are encouraged to dump their negative feelings in this way.

We are always advising candidates not to use the revision strategy of copying word-for-word from their study text; it doesn’t work. It’s because, the more we write, the more we forget! So don’t do it if you want to remember something, but do use the writing technique for forgetting your worries, leaving space in your head to be brilliant!

Whenever you feel the exam anxiety bubbling up, take a few moments to write away your worries.

Relaxation technique

There are many ways you can get yourself into a calm, relaxed, and focused state, and one of the simplest is to deliberately take long deep breaths in, letting the air out again twice as slowly as the in-breath. Do this a few times, and it’ll really help.

Think of this as another revision strategy which requires practice, practice, practice, so that when you need to use this technique for real, you’re already an expert. By the time you get to the exam room, your automatic, unconscious mind will know exactly what to do and what it’s trying to achieve.

Do this every time you sit down to revise, and it’ll ‘anchor’ your calm, focused state, so that by repeating the exercise in the exam room, you’ll recreate your ideal state of relaxed concentration. Research tells us that you’re more likely to retrieve the information if you’re in the same state as when you were learning it.

Do try out these recommendations, and try to control your stress rather than have it control you!

(Thanks to Lysette Offley at Genius Material who helped us with the above relaxation tips)

 [Main image: elisa-ventur-unsplash]


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