Exam stress

19 April 2016

Exam season is upon us again and you can almost feel the tension as you go past the schools, colleges and universities.

Exam nerves are entirely normal and can help us to perform at our peak, but it is important to try and prevent that energy turning into anxiety. When we feel anxious it is harder to take in new information, harder to consolidate information we have already learned, and harder to recall that information when we want to.

Each student will have their own way of learning and revising. What works best for one person may not work so well for another, so it is helpful to do a small amount of experimentation. Do you find it most helpful to record key concepts onto your phone or dictaphone and then listen back? Do you find it best to answer questions that a friend or family member ask? Or do you find it better to write ideas down, then a day later to try and write down the same ideas without referring to your notes?

There are some key ideas which seem to be generally applicable, and which tend to work well for most people. These include:

  • Study your topic carefully, and make sure that you understand the main ideas.
  • Re-read important sections in your textbooks and notebooks.
  • Summarise the key points, the main ideas.
  • Use visual aids in your notes, such as bullet points, coloured highlights, patterns, spidergrams and mind maps.
  • Revise in small bursts of 20-30 minutes and take regular 5-minute breaks (this is important in allowing your mind to absorb what you have just been learning).
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Repetition is hugely important (even with arts subjects such as English language) and this means that it is never too early to start revising. If you leave revision till the last minute, you simply won’t have time for much repetition. You will probably feel more tense and anxious and this will make it harder to concentrate or retain information. So if you haven’t already started, do so now! You really will feel more in control.

If you want to investigate other exam revision techniques, and to find out about the various dos and don’ts of sitting an exam, one tip is to scan through some of the revision textbooks in your local bookstore. These revision guides include valuable information such as using the marks allocation as a guide to how much to write (e.g. if a question is worth 2 marks, don’t spend as long on it as you would on a question worth 10 marks), and not imagining that everyone else knows the answer to a question you might be struggling with.

To help students conquer their pre-exam nerves a new exam-confidence audio recording is now available here. Listening to this frequently in the lead up to your exams should help you feel much more confident and in control – both while you are revising and during the exam itself.

Good luck