At the Student Counsellors’ Office, we often meet students who contact us about the exams period. These may be students who:
All these situations can contribute to exam stress and make people nervous about how to manage their exams. It is normal to feel under pressure during exam periods, but, if you find that your worries and nervousness are taking over and affecting you in a distinctly negative way, it may be time to think about how to approach your exams in a constructive manner.
“I found it difficult to accept that I had a fear of exams, but once I learned how to structure my revision I managed to stay calm throughout the most challenging exam I’ve ever had – and I even got a really good mark,” a student of Molecular Medicine
It is quite normal to feel a degree of tension or nervousness before an exam. This can even be an advantage, because it sharpens our senses and helps us to give our best in the situation. It is often a question of how to use nervousness constructively. However, if nerves completely take over, they can hinder your preparation for and performance in an exam.
You can deal with some of your nervousness by asking yourself:
Write down your answers to these questions and consider talking to a friend, family member or student counsellor about what makes you nervous and what/who can help you.
Your inner critic
Could it also be your inner critic at work? Your inner critic is never satisfied with your performance. Despite your good efforts and results, it belittles and criticises you, rejects compliments and views praise as empty pleasantry. Your inner critic makes it difficult to be a student. It drains your energy and causes you to overlook all the good things you do and the results you have achieved. Worst of all, it deprives you of the feeling of pride and satisfaction and, instead, leaves you with a sense of uncertainty and doubt.
It is therefore important to try to silence your inner critic. Once you learn to see the critic for what it is, namely, an over-simplified and unreasonable voice that should not be taken seriously, you will achieve a greater sense of satisfaction and have more faith in yourself. Exams are rarely fun, but they don’t need to be unnecessarily unpleasant because of nerves.
Most people associate exam situations with feeling nervous and worrying about their own performance. If this nervousness grows stronger, it is often associated with negative thought patterns.
It’s important to find out which typical negative thought patterns may arise in connection with exams, but it’s also important to learn where and when they arise.
Here are some examples of negative thoughts:
Once you’re familiar with your own patterns, you can do something about them. So the first thing you can do is to be aware of your thought patterns.
If you learn to notice your own signs of nervousness, you will find it easier to register what your thoughts are about. This is because the reaction time between negative thoughts and physical reactions is often very short.
When you think of your own pattern, is there anything you already know that could make a difference? What is the first thing you will change?
We all tend to focus on the things that don’t work instead of the things that do. When it comes to exams, this means that we remember all our negative results and mistakes, which increases our nervousness. But you must also have enjoyed some successful exam situations, so perhaps you can use these positive experiences in your next exam. Find your experiences of success and use them! You might also get some inspiration from your fellow students. What works for them?
Think back on an exam in which you did well (or pretty well, at least).
Follow the links below to Studypedia and the Student Counselling Service to find helpful advice and tools for exam periods. It is important to remember that everyone studies in different ways and that there is no one correct way to organise your exam period. We therefore recommend that you try out different strategies to find out what works for you.
If you would like to know more about exam anxiety, please see this information from the Student Counselling Service.