Everything You Need to Know About Exam Anxiety and How to Deal with It

By: Ali Sakr

“I tapped my finger on the desk. Once, and again, and again. I glanced at the clock, so slightly unaligned it ticked me off. The second hand took slow, cautious steps; it was chasing me, but the chase was so painfully relaxed. What more was there to wait for? My name was on the paper, everyone was staring so soullessly at whatever it is they thought they were staring at, but the exam just didn’t want to get it over with. Amidst the heat of this godforsaken moment, I noticed a pattern; with each passing second, my heart would beat twice. I tapped my finger on the desk. Once, and again, and again. Finally – time to start.”

It was just an exam – I’d been in dozens before, and even more probably await me, so why is it that my heart was still beating as though I were being chased by a rabid dog? Not only faster, but stronger too – I could feel the blood coursing through my entire body, building up pressure with each beat, doubling each second. Call it fear, panic, stress, or whatever you want to; it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we’ve all experienced exam anxiety in one form or another before. Why is it such a big deal, and how can we make the most of this seemingly terrible feeling?

For starters, there are 3 main phases in which you can encounter test-related angst: before, during and after an exam. The first phase can often be the most difficult to deal with since it can start anytime between months and hours before the day you’re probably dreading. The best way to delay this unwavering feeling of wavering is quite a no-brainer – just plan ahead. As soon as you get your hands on the exam date, you need an organised schedule to put all your theoretical worries on a physical medium. This gives your mind a sense of security and relief as it no longer feels the need to remember everything you have to get done, allowing you more mental capacity to actually do the things you no longer need to remember you have to do. You can let your mind forget that last sentence too.

Another absolute must before an exam, at least for me, is to relax. A day off – and I mean 100% off – acts as a soft reboot to your mental state. In other words in detoxifies all the stress you’ve been accumulating pre-exam, and finally gets you the chance to binge watch that show you’ve been putting off for the last couple of weeks. Don’t get too carried away though, because this day needs to be more chilling than excitement – some calm music and a book in bed can work wonders. And if you feel like you just have to get something done that day – who are you kidding though? – a short final revision before you sleep won’t be hurting anyone.

So, it’s today. You wake up, have some breakfast, grab your coffee for that daily dose of oh so beautiful caffeine (don’t do drugs kids) and you’re pretty much ready. You make your way to wherever it is you’ll be taking your test and..now what?

“The butterflies in my stomach seemed to flutter up to my throat, irking out a gag reflex whenever I considered them too much. In spite of my slight gastrointestinal agitation, I managed to maintain my resolve: I held my head high, pushed my shoulders back and walked steadily with all the confidence in the world. That all helped ease my subconscious into the unknown potential disaster / potential satisfaction that was about to occur.”

Now I’m no perfect example of course, but I’m the only one you’ve got right now and honestly, if I were you I’d take it. No matter what suddenly fatal realisation befalls you in the middle of the exam, you should always do your best not to care – the stakes are only as high as you think they are. Well , unless they actually are really high, in which case; damn, sucks to be you, and don’t worry, you’ve got this. Your mental state is the single most important deciding factor when you’re being assessed at anything, so as long as you can keep your cool and declutter your mind, you won’t be experiencing any mid-exam anxiety – the kind you don’t want at least.

Studies by the AQA examination board have shown that the most successful students in examination were the ones that had a heart rate 23.9 beats per minute higher than their daily average, during exams. I guess some stress is good stress after all.

You’ve survived this long, we’re down to the final phase. The exam’s over so, you’d think there’d be no chance of stress at this point right? Well, it depends. Mainly, there’s no point in revising the entire exam with that one friend you know never makes any mistakes, because you’ll probably disagree on some answers and we both know who’s probably right. Also if you are that friend, stop making people feel bad.

Anyway, there’s a 90% chance you’ll still be tempted to ask about that one question, then it’s all downhill from there. The best action to take once you’re sure you made a mistake, is to forget about all the “what if’s”. Yes, it’s not as easy as it sounds, so the best way to do this is to get yourself occupied with some other exam that was probably going to start stressing you out soon anyway. Yet another example of good stress.

At the end of the day, never forget that it’s always just an exam. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get to go to your dream college, which really wasn’t realistic in the first place? Or maybe you have to study a little extra in summer? Doesn’t seem like the end of the world to me, and even if it were, you shouldn’t care either. Just take a deep breath, and relax. None of this really matters.

“I could feel the tension in my hand evaporate. My mind stopped racing. My heart beat slowed. I tapped my finger on the desk. Once, and again, and again. One last time.”

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