A good student except when it comes to exams…

I’m a good student most of the time, but I really stuff up exams. I get super-stressed and can’t remember what I am trying to learn and then don’t do so well. I have two exams coming up and I don’t want to fail again. What can I do?

Being anxious about exams is a common experience for students, often made worse when you can’t switch off from those anxious thoughts. Some students describe feeling like they are in some kind of a “mind block”, where one anxious thought leads to another – often attached to physical symptoms like racing heart, dry mouth, sweating excessively and shallow breathing. This in turn reinforces anxious thoughts.

In order to deal with the anxiety, you could start with breathing exercises every time you tense up. Take a short break and just focusing on your breath for a few minutes, then make it slower and deeper (breathing down to your abdomen). Performing these exercises frequently teaches your body and mind how to relax. Leave a bit of time just before you go to the exam to do your exercise in a quiet place.

Another strategy involves saying “stop” (even aloud if possible) to your anxious, negative thoughts and replacing them with positive messages like reminding yourself of previous successes/encouragements.

An effective counter-balance against anxiety is also generally keeping up with your physical and pleasurable activities in the stressful lead-up period to exams. Remind yourself that relaxation is a necessary ingredient to efficient study and not wasted time.

For more detailed information about strategies dealing with exam anxiety, check out our website resources particularly the tip sheet Managing Stress and Feeling anxious about exams? and downloads on Applied Relaxation Training.

If none of the suggested strategies work for you, or if you feel like being on the brink of giving up in despair, book an appointment with one of our counsellors or a medical practitioner.

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