Exam Pressures and 4 Ways to Help you be More in Control
Time is of the essence.
The pressure is on.
Everyone feels it... the person taking the exam, the educators, the peers, the family/support unit.
Often telling people not to worry or to “Do your best” just doesn’t seem to have the cushioning vibe that is intended.
What if the person taking the exams is not applying themselves, isn't committed and doesn’t ‘seem’ bothered?
What can we do as outsiders looking in to be really supportive when the pressure of exams is looming?
Read on to find out some quick and easy ways to help – effectively.
Initially, I was considering breaking down the examinees as those that appear stressed and worried versus those that appear apathetic and noncommitted. But then I quickly realised that the tips and techniques I’m sharing don’t have any expectations on the current mood of the person in question.
And with that, moods can change fairly quickly so it is even more important that we collectively look at how we can help manage and ideally improve on any underlying and worrying concerns that present themselves – both for the person taking the exam AND for those who are in a supporting role.
Note that if you are a person who is looking for self-help, you can also follow these ideas and tweak them as you see fit.
Please be aware that I am likely to write as if I am talking to the examinee directly (as I am a coach that is my usual methodology). I don’t like referring to someone in the third party, especially when concerned with feelings and emotions. So, if it helps (and you are not the person taking the exam), envisage sitting in a room with us and hearing how I am suggesting that these ideas may work and implement yourself at home.
My 4 Tips on How to Cope With Exam Pressure
My first tip is to create the 5 Question Summary
If you have been advised of certain topics that are quite possible to appear in the exam, then for each of those topics, pick 10 questions about it (even if you don’t know the answer). Write them on pieces of paper and fold up and place each topic in its own jar or bowl. Ask someone supportive to pick 5 and see how well you can answer them. Explain to the person asking the question as if they have not got a clue (sometimes this may very well be the case!).
Note which questions you seem to be able to answer well, those that you can kinda answer and those that you are really struggling with. This will give you a good gauge of what you feel you need to spend your precious time, energy and brain matter on. The idea of this is that the person who hears your answer may not have a full understanding but understands how and why you are giving your explanation. So, if your topic is Physics and no one that supports you has a clue about Physics then that is fine, they can still help by asking you the questions. By you answering them out loud to that person helps you to see for yourself how well you know the topic at hand.
The second tip is the 20 Minute Window
Here we work on the basis that your brain can only absorb so much at any one given time. Some days it feels really hard to try and get anything to go in, other days you feel as though you become completely absorbed. Because of this, on the days when things seem a little harder to do, we believe we aren’t learning and that we can’t learn so we won’t bother or we’ll get really upset and worried about it.
Now here is one of my mantras:
"Every Day is a Learning Day"
No matter what. And to help you feel that is the case, creating the 20 Minute Window ensures that you are being kind to your brain on the days you believe you are struggling and also slows down your brain on the days that you seem to be on fire.
Dead easy to do:
Simply set a timer for 20 minutes.
Work on the particular topic you are trying to get your head around. When the timer goes off, reset it for 5 minutes.
Go and do ANYTHING THAT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH REVISION FOR YOUR EXAMS. It may be a toilet break, staring out of the window, making a cuppa or quick snack, a mini exercise routine to move... anything that gets you away from the space you are currently sitting in.
When the alarm goes off, set it for another 20 minutes and get back into focus time again.
After 3 rounds of this, have a good 45 minutes to 1-hour break for meals, exercise, fresh air, etc.
This trick is brilliant for when you really need to knuckle down and want to feel you have worked through what you intended.
The third tip is – timeout (yep that’s right!)
Now, depending on the urgency of the situation (eg, the exam is in 2 days versus the exam is in 3 weeks) consider either:
Take a 2hr window of timeout twice a day (because you will be cramming so will be working super hard and all day and into the evening), or
Take 2 x half days out a week (eg. Work in the morning and take the afternoon off or vice versa – whichever you know you would work the best at).
Taking timeout can seem so counterproductive but is absolutely essential for your brain to be able to retain the information that you are forcing it to look at. Forcing yourself to study or revise every single hour will actually mean you will perform less on the actual day of the exam.
You are a human being, not a machine. Tiredness can singlehandedly knock you down when it comes to being able to articulate yourself well come exam time. It is better to know a little about many things than to know 2 things absolutely in-depth and not have a basic understanding of the rest of the topic.
The Fourth tip - Practice answering questions from past papers.
Teachers often give these to you although you can search yourself through your education intranet or ask at a library. Often, past papers are handed out and are not utilised by students in preparation for exams – this is such a shame as it can really help with the uncertainty and anxiety that is often felt come exam time. Even just practising one exam question from each of the topics you have to prepare for will be brilliant. Note the timeframe to allow for answering the question (if this isn’t given, ask a teacher to gauge it for you – they will be impressed to see you are committed and will be happy to help).
The purpose of this exercise is not to hope that the same question will come up in your exam (I would say that would be highly unlikely!) but to feel what it’s like to try and answer a question within the timeframe allotted to it and what to do if you can’t finish the question in that time or what to do if you feel that you can’t think of anything else. It is at the time of revision to feel uncertain and practice what you could do, not in the exam itself.
I could go on – but you have revision to do!!
Try one of these for a bit of variety or to help you feel more energised and confident.
Remember, whilst exam time is important:
IT WILL NOT DEFINE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
Try your best, that is all that can be asked of you and of yourself. You will be ok.
For those reading this who are supporting someone who is getting ready for exam time (or is in the middle of it), reassurance and understanding are all they need. Try not to “problem-solve” (unless you are directly asked to help). Often, people who are under pressure simply need to release some of the pent-up energy and focus. So it’s ok to say very little but acknowledge that you hear what they are saying and feeling.
And ask them:
“What can I do to help you feel better about this?”
The answer may be nothing…
...Or the answer may be 10 pieces of paper in a bowl shoved under your nose!
Whether you are the person preparing for exam time or you are a person observing a situation, if you are concerned or struggling then please reach out – I also may not have all the answers but often you might simply need to voice the question to give it the space it needs to work itself out. I can help with that space.
You can email me or ring me on +44 (0)7570 259153 for a single coaching session to help.
© YMR Coaching & Development
Yvonne has qualifications in Coaching, Positive Psychology, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and believes in continual personal development. She is currently based in the UK and also has life and work experience in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. She helps with mindset wellbeing and change which includes significant relocations. She is contactable for client availability, public speaking events and media enquiries here: https://www.ymrcoaching.com/helpful-links