Exams are not just a test of knowledge but also a test of nerves. Some people do well under pressure in an exam setting. For others the pressure to perform and excel can actually interfere with a successful outcome. If exam anxiety is holding you back, here are three tips to help boost your exam confidence.
1. Set the stage for success
If anxiety affects your exam preparation and performance than consider how you can adjust your environment to increase your confidence. The easier it is to follow through with your study and preparation the more likely you are to do well.
Set up a beautiful space to study in. If your materials are disorganized or your books are not in an obvious place than it’s easier to procrastinate and reinforce negative messages that anxiety provokes like “I’m overwhelmed. I’m not ready for this.”
Chip and Dan Heath’s book, “Switch” explores this technique of shaping the path in detail. They describe it as “making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviours a little bit harder.” Even small tweaks can make a big difference when you struggle with anxiety.
Put your phone on airplane mode while you work, disable notifications on your laptop, or work at the library instead of at home to avoid distractions. Leave your study cue cards on your bedside table so you can glance at them before bed or review them while you drink your coffee in the morning. If you struggle with motivation, find a study buddy and book times to review your material together. This can help keep you accountable. The aim is to remove all the barriers you can from your path that increase your anxiety or get in the way of your exam preparation.
2. Enhance your brainpower
What smells like success? A 2012 study shows that Rosemary does. It has been demonstrated to boost overall brain performance. Lavender has been shown to decrease stress, which can diminish your ability to focus during your exam. If you are not sleeping properly or your brain is on overdrive with worry it’s hard to do your best under pressure.
Your diet also affects your brain performance. It can be tempting to load up on sugar or carbs to comfort yourself or fuel your weary brain but healthier food choices will better aid concentration and memory.
There are also proven techniques to enhance your memory including meditation and exercise. One technique that goes against the time honoured tradition of studying all night before an important exam, is to get more sleep.
Researchers in one study had participants memorize illustrated cards. Afterward, they had a 40 minute break. One group napped and the other didn’t. The group that napped retained on average 85 percent of the patterns compared to 60 percent for those who remained awake.
If you struggle with exam anxiety than the temptation to over-prepare can be powerful. If you are driven to study hard just don’t forget that your brain and body need to rest also and this may do more to enhance your results than depriving yourself of sleep in order to cram in more study time. Lack of sleep is a big factor in poor academic performance and cramming instead of sleeping increases stress levels which then negatively affects performance.
3. Pace yourself
Create a series of little wins along the way instead of hyper-focusing on the exam itself. These success markers keep you motivated and lift your confidence grow in small increments before you head into an important exam. Plus learning that is spaced out over time is more effective for short-term recall and long-term retention.
Break your exam preparation plan down into small steps. When you are lacking confidence, you want to set yourself up to win again and again. Even if it is just checking a box off a list that says, “Study Chapter 1 of Textbook” these small feelings of competence and accomplishment send a powerful message to anxious brains over time. When you map out your study schedule make sure you make the steps small so that there are many opportunities to feel a sense of achievement.
One way to prepare for your exam is through practice quizzes. Your instructor will likely provide these at regular intervals throughout your program, but when you have a really important or difficult exam, you may want extra support to give you a confidence and performance edge.
Ashton College offers Exam Prep Courses for some of their popular programs such as the RCIC Exam Prep Course for Immigration Consultants. When you take the extra step of investing in an exam prep course you give yourself more time and practice and the benefit of guidance from an experienced instructor.
After all your education and hard work, anything you do to give yourself a winning edge at the finish line is worth the effort and investment.