Performance anxiety during exams is very common. A very simplistic definition of performance anxiety is that it is a fear of not being able to perform a certain task. It could be any task, but because there is so much pressure put on exams many students experience performance anxiety around exams.
Performance anxiety around exams can manifest in a number of different ways, including:
- Racing heart during/before the exam
- Going completely blank on stuff, even though you studied it
- Sweating or shaking during an exam
- Crying in an exam (no judgement here, it’s happened to me)
- And in some cases going to extreme lengths to avoid studying or attending the exam
Most people are a bit nervous about exams, and that’s totally normal. However, when it starts affecting your marks it becomes a bit of a problem.
So we’ve come up with a couple of tips you can use while preparing to make sure that performance anxiety doesn’t leave you with marks you are unhappy about.
- Do past papers. Get an idea of how questions are asked, what kinds of questions are common and where examiners try to “trick you up”. Although you might not get exactly the same questions, it will help you prepare for the kinds of questions asked, as well ask the format of the exam.
- Once you’ve got an idea of the kinds of questions asked try doing a timed past paper. If you will get 3 hours to write the exam, try and do a past paper in 3 hours. Time pressure often causes people to panic during exams. Have that panic moment at home, a week before the exam, and work out what you need to do so that it doesn’t actually happen on the day.
- Work out what your problem areas are going to be and focus on those. It feels great when you study the stuff you know you’re good at. But it’s not going to help if you ace half the exam and fail the other half. So if there’s a section that you know will be tough – work on it! This will put you much more at ease when you are actually writing.
Just before the exam
- Don’t talk to other people who are panicking. Just because they didn’t study properly and are freaking out, doesn’t mean you have to freak out. You already did all of the above while studying, so go sit somewhere where you can’t hear everyone else talking about what they don’t know. If you need to, put in headphones or earplugs.
- When seated in the venue do a breathing exercise to relax. One that works really well and is quite subtle is to breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and then breath out for 8. Practice doing this at home so that it feels normal. It will force your muscles to relax, so that when you start the exam your body is not tense. You can do this while the papers are being handed out
During the exam
- The point of an exam is to get as many marks as you can in the time allocated. This means that you need to start by answering all the easiest questions first, to get as many marks as possible as fast as possible. Once you’ve done this you can go on to the harder questions, and try to answer those. What you don’t want to do is waste time trying to answer a difficult question, get it wrong, and run out of time for easy questions.
So if you are getting stuck or panicked on a question circle it, skip it, and come back at the end if you have time. Don’t let it stress you out or make you panic, you’ll get to it at the end.
- Try and get process marks. In exams like maths or physics, you will often get marks for how you work something out, as well as for correct answers. Even if you can’t solve the whole problem, try to at least start it, and pick up a few marks for working.
- Remember that it’s not the end of the world if you do badly. You can resit exams the following year, and sometimes even write a supplementary exam in the same year. People make it seem like if you do badly in an exam your life will be over and you will never be able to do anything ever again. It’s just not true. You are so much more than a single mark for a single paper, and you always will be.