Negativity in exams can lead to a decrease in motivation and time that’s spent worrying is time that could be spent on other things so tackling anxiety is an important issue when it comes to exams and studying.
Not feeling prepared is one of the most common causes for being nervous about exams. Many people begin to panic. When time is limited, effective use of it is vital. Create a revision timetable that helps you optimise your activities and stick to it. So many people create timetables and then don’t use them. Spend time with others in your class to exchange ideas about what’s worth studying and to share answers. Be strategic in your approach to the work; pinpoint critical learning obejcts from lectures and handouts, make sure you have a basic understanding, focus on key facts, and then finally, if you have time, add details and examples.
Another cause of failure anxiety can be perfectionism (something I struggle with). Exams have time limits and tough marking criteria and I’ve had to force myself to realise that with these constraints my work will never be perfect under exam conditions (not that it ever is). Don’t go into an exam expecting to produce perfection. Don’t spend too long planning an answer; yes, plan your answers (especially to essay questions) but only spend a few minutes on this. Don’t spend too long on the initial parts of an answer-focus on actually answering the question. Concenrate on getting all the basic across, and don’t be obsessed with neatness (markers know that you’re going to make little spelling mistakes and that handwriting will be messy so don’t worry about that). After each exam avoid the long talks with friends about how they answered each question; it’s too late to change anything and this will just make you doubt yourself. Instead put all of your effort into working for the next exam (or relaxing if you don’t have any left).
When you’re actually in the exam, everyone has from time to time faced the dreaded mind blank. If this happens, leave a black space and come back to it later. Alternatively, brainstorm connections from things you do know about the subject, work from the basics and ask yourself “Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?” in relation to the subject. Look for associations; read through the other questions and material; they might trigger your memory (this is the one that I tend to use) and get on with the other questions if you can; again they might trigger memories and it’s better than losing time which could be productively spent otherwise.
Sleeplessness is another cause. Make sure that you get enough sleep and don’t stay up revising before an exam. Make sure that you eat something, but nothing too heavy or you might be uncomfortable. Confirm dates and times of exams; take a walk to the exam room to familiarise yourself with the routine of the exam day, If you start panicking in the exam, try some relaxation techniques and then return to your paper. If you still feel bad explain how you feel to an invigilator and ask if you can go for a supervised walk outside or something. If you have problems with the wording of a question see if a representative of the department can help you understand the question. Don’t panic when you’ve got five minutes left, you can write a lot in that time; keep writing until you are told that you have to stop. If you do need to use the toilet don’t be embarrassed, just go and you’ll feel more comfortable when you return.
Finally, and probably the most importantly, THINK POSITIVELY. Whenever I have an exam I’ve started repeating to myself “I can do this” to make myself feel better about the exam.