Exam Fear Killing You? Here are Some Tips to Calm You Down
Imagine this scenario. You’ve walked into the exam hall feeling confident. You’ve studied hard. You’ve slept well. You’ve gone through last minute crash courses and followed study tips. For example, CA final exam study tips like how to tackle the CA Final open book exam. Stuff like that. And you’re ready.
But … when you open the paper and look at the questions … boom! All your knowledge has evaporated. You panic. Your palms get sweaty. You breathe shallowly. An overwhelming sense of dread overcomes you.
You’ve been hit with EXAM ANXIETY. Exam stress. Fear of failure. Whatever they call it, you’ve got it.
You know now that you are going to fail.
It’s NOT FAIR. Nothing’s gone wrong with your prep. You JUST CAN’T REMEMBER A THING!!! ☹
Why does this happen? And how can you overcome this? Before we answer, let’s see what it is all about.
What’s Exam Anxiety?
It’s ok to be nervous before an exam. We all are. But for some people, the experience can be harrowing. Lack of focus, fast heart rate, headache, nausea, shallow breathing – all these are symptoms of exam anxiety. It’s like the scenario we talked about above. A bad place to be mentally. But, like we said before, why does this happen? Why do some people fear exams?
Why Do Some People Fear Exams?
To answer this, we must marry concepts from biology and psychology. You might have heard of the flight or fight response. Here your body prepares you to either stand your ground and “fight” or escape (“flight”).
But things go wrong if you’re in flight mode. This is the cause of the symptoms we talked about. And being aware of these symptoms can make things worse. You’ll become even more nervous and flighty.
A psychological cause of exam stress is thinking negative or distracting thoughts. Thoughts like “The CA Final exam is hard”, or “the exam has only an 8 percent pass rate”, or “I’m not smart enough to pass”. Thoughts like that.
Things get worse if you’ve taken the exam before and not done well. Or if you’ve faced test anxiety before. It becomes a vicious cycle. You end up learning to be helpless.
So, does this mean those who are in flight mode doomed?
Here’s what you can do to remain calm.
Preparation is The Key
Yes, we’ve all heard this. But it’s worth repeating. Because The Number One Reason for exam stress is … weak preparation.
So be prepared. Go through the course material thoroughly. Review important concepts.
And if you’ve done all this properly, you’ll walk into the exam hall cool, calm and collected. Your balance sheet will be, well … balanced!
Get Good Rest
Again, everyone’s heard this before. And once again, this is worth repeating a million times. YOU MUST GET SOME GOOD REST! That means no last-minute studying.
Also, you must be aware that the institutes conduct the CA, CS and CMA exams over several days. In some cases, over 4(!). This means that you should remain well-rested over the entire examination period. And have finished your main prep well before the exam. Revision of concepts is OK. Even recommended. But for heaven’s sake, don’t learn new stuff right before the exam! That will only confuse and stress you out.
Eat Good Food
During the examination period, make sure that you eat healthily and well. Concentrate on eating nutritious food rather than those that give you a sugar high. Avoid junk food and sugary snacks. Remember to drink plenty of fluids and water. Carry a bottle of water with you to the exam hall. Be aware that mild dehydration can lead to poor concentration levels. A suitable diet involves consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts and food rich in protein.
Think Positive Thoughts
Science confirms what many of us already know. If you think happy thoughts, you’ll do well. Some ways to encourage positive feelings are meditation, yoga and exercise. Visualise yourself passing the exam. Get rid of negative feelings and stressors. If it means cutting out negative people in your life, do it! Hang out with positive people, friends and family.
Forget About Past Failures
You might have failed the exams before. Your first couple of papers may not have gone well. Forget about all that. Concentrate on the task at hand. Practice mindfulness. That is, be in the moment. Nothing else matters. It’s a new paper. A new exam. A new day.
Get to the Exam Site Early
Don’t leave your house at the last minute and rush. Find out where the exam hall is and plan your route. Use available online maps to estimate the route time and leave home early. Try to reach the exam hall at least 45 minutes before schedule. If it’s possible, it might be a good idea for you to go to the exam location a couple of days prior. So that you can get a feel for how long it takes to travel.
Read and Follow Instructions
Read and follow the instructions carefully. Both before and during the exams. For example, when you enrol and sign up for the exams, you will get information on the procedure, exam timings, location and things to bring. Understand and digest this information carefully. Don’t get turned away if you’ve failed to bring your admit card, for example!
After getting to the exam hall, and reading all the instructions, you may be at a loss of how to continue. Staring at a blank piece of paper may make you feel more frustrated and anxious. All that matters is that you put pen to paper. Find a couple of easy questions to get going. It’ll build up your confidence and momentum.
Don’t Pay Attention to What Others Are Doing
It may seem like everyone else in the room is scribbling away. It may feel like as if they know everything and you know nothing, Jon Snow. Forget about it. Pay attention to your paper. Work at your pace. Forget about the others in the room. They don’t matter.
Watch the Clock
Pay attention to the time allotted. Do a quick survey of the exam beforehand. Figure out approximately how much time each question will take. Concentrate on those that will give you the most bang for your buck. For example, don’t waste 30 minutes on a question that’s worth only 5 marks. Spend more time on questions that have more marks. It’s purchasing power, don’t you know!
Taking a break in a middle of a timed exam seems … strange. It’s not! These exams take a lot out of you. And if you’re feeling tired, put your pen down and pause for a moment or two. Breathe deeply and relax. Then get going again.
Don’t Get Rushed
At some point during the exam, you may realise that you won’t be able to finish all of it. Don’t panic. Do as much damage as you can. Focus on the questions that you know you can finish fast. Think of it as trying to maximise your returns in the shortest possible time.
Don’t Try to Be Perfect
You don’t want to make any silly mistakes. That’s fine. But don’t let a mistake overwhelm you. And affect your next exam in the series. What matters is that you know you’ve done your best and worked hard. It’s after all, at the end of the day, just an exam. Not LIFE or DEATH!
We hope that you’ve found these tips useful. To summarise what we’ve said in a nutshell, prepare well, go through last minute study notes, enter the exam in a positive frame of mind, and you should succeed. Good luck!