How can I cope with exam stress?
I’m a good student most of the time, go to all lectures and tutes, do the written work but I really stuff up exams. I get really stressed and can’t remember what I am trying to learn and then don’t do so well. I’ve got two exams coming up and I don’t want to stuff up 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 these 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, which in turn re-enforces anxious thoughts.
In order to deal with the anxiety, you could start with breathing exercises every time you tense up by taking a short break and just focussing on your breath for a few minutes, then making 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.
A good counter-balance to anxiety is keeping up with your physical and pleasurable activities in the stressful lead-up period to exams. Remind yourself that your general wellbeing is a necessary ingredient to efficient study and not wasted time.
If none of the suggested strategies work for you, book an appointment with a counsellor or a medical practitioner.