Beat the Exam Nerves


A quick guide to keeping calm and coming out on top, by Jane Bradley, an Oxford Open Learning tutor.

Exams can be scary for even the calmest and most well-prepared individuals. Exam anxiety can lead to silly mistakes that cost marks and those who are most susceptible to stress can make themselves feel seriously unwell. However, here are some top tips to help you keep your nerve and perform to the best of your ability.

  1. You GCSE or A level exam grade should NOT come as a huge surprise. You know what you are working towards (check with your teachers if you are unsure) and you should have a good idea of what your exam paper will look like and the kinds of questions you could be asked. Examiners are not trying to catch you out. Set yourself realistic goals. Think positively and view the exam as a chance to showcase your very best work.
  2. Eat smart to feel smart! Eating healthily is a fantastic way to keep your brain feeling in top condition. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, too much tea, coffee or fizzy drinks, as these are not conducive to a clear head. Energy drinks and supplements are to be avoided at all costs. Instead, prepare in good time and let your body rest when it needs to. Skipping meals, especially breakfast the day of an exam, is not a good idea as a hungry body cannot afford to waste energy on brain power!
  3. Keep active. When your body feels chronic stress it responds by producing too much adrenaline – exercise will use this up in a positive way. Swimming, brisk walks, jogging or yoga are all great ways to prevent the fast beating heart, heavy breathing and tense muscles that are associated with exam stress.
  4. Build in time to relax. Ensure you have time to wind down at the end of the day, particularly before an exam. Get a good night’s sleep and don’t try to cram into the early hours –this will most likely be a waste of time and just result in you feeling groggy the next day. Make sure you’re up early and prepared (pack your equipment the night before), so you don’t rush about the house in a blind panic. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and arrive at the exam venue in good time.
  5. Communicate! Talk to class mates, your tutors, your family and friends about your worries. They can help you with this and the chances are you’re not the only one feeling anxious.
  6. Bribe yourself! Give yourself little mini-treats to break up the monotony of revision (a half hour TV break, a snack, or some time on the internet). Plan something more substantial for when exams are over. Focusing on an upcoming party with friends or a meal out with your family might help you to calm those jitters as you walk into the exam hall.
  7. Here’s a little known secret: examiners are taught to mark positively. This means they are actively looking for what you have done well and are ignoring (for the most part) the mistakes you might make. You know what that means? THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE? There, doesn’t that feel better?

Jane Bradley

Tutor

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