It’s exam time of year again. This can mean pressure, overwhelm, frustration, and maybe even a momentary meltdown or two!
If you’ve got exams looming, it can help to remind yourself that most adults hated test time, too. For a great many prominent people, exam success or failure had no bearing on their rise to achievement. Look at people like Sir Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Lord Alan Sugar, Jeremy Clarkson, Claire Balding, or Kate Moss to name but a few!
Life itself can often appear as one big exam or test, so it’s important to understand that there’s a lot more to intelligence than academic ability. Emotional intelligence, for example, can help you build resilience. Resilience means you can better manage fear, anxiety…and exam outcomes.
The reason so many people fear exams is because being tested feels scary. You might not do your best, or worse – you may be revealed as a failure, or incompetent.
But when we really think about it, aren’t exams just a memory test? Don’t they simply show that you’re good at regurgitating memorised facts onto a piece of paper on one given day? Only for you to forget all the information you’ve learned afterwards, never to recall it again.
I certainly couldn’t wait to forget all about chemistry and physics, my worst two subjects at school. I didn’t love them 40 years ago, and I don’t love them now. The feeling was mutual, because I failed those exams – but they didn’t make any difference to my life!
Now as a mother of three, I experience exam stress second-hand (and have done for over 20 years). I’ve witnessed competitiveness between parents and the unnecessary comparison of their children. These days, there is also immense pressure on children as young as six, to sit exams and get a place at the best schools.
But shouldn’t it just be about children doing their best? Whatever their final grades, don’t we all just want them to be happy, and find a job that they really enjoy doing? Why put them under so much pressure to pass, or get top grades?
While exam results can help future interviewers gain an idea of our education and academic ability, employers tend to be far more interested in other aspects. Are you reliable, and can you do the job with commitment and focus? Do you get on well with others, and can you use your initiative?
If you’re good at exams and find them easy, that’s great. But some of the brightest people I know simply don’t test well, and if you fall into this category then it’s easy to lose self-belief at an early age. This means it can be very difficult to build back your confidence later in life.
If you’re a parent trying to help your child through exam time, you may notice that they’re feeling tired and anxious. You know they have it bad when headaches develop, or they feel dizzy or can’t eat. Perhaps they’re having trouble sleeping, which could negatively affect their work the next day.
A stress response to exams is quite normal, telling us there is a challenge ahead that needs to be addressed. However, constant anxiety needs to be kept under control. To help, I’ve put together some tips on keeping exam- related anxiety at bay:
- Comparison is the thief of joy, so focus on yourself. Don’t worry about what your friends are doing, or how much they are revising.
- Don’t obsess over revision. Your brain needs rest, so remember to take regular breaks and keep doing the things you enjoy.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day, and set SMART goals to help you get there.
- Listen to your body. You need fuel, exercise and sleep (and preferably, no caffeine!)
- Drink plenty of water, and eat slow energy-releasing foods such as pasta, bread and vegetables.
As the exam itself approaches, replace “I feel stressed” or “I’m no good and I can’t handle this” with “I can do this” or “I am ready, and I am good enough”. Then, when it’s all over (hooray!)…simply enjoy your summer. You can’t change your results now, so why worry? Try not to fall into the tempting ‘comparison trap’ of analysing the exam with your friends.
And remember: whatever it may be, you are not your exam result. You can be a success in life regardless, and getting a lower grade than your best friend doesn’t make you less of a person. In fact, when you look back on your exams in years to come, you may even wonder what it was all for!
My audio, Exam Stress, will help you in the quest to become your own best revision and exam buddy. It’s completely FREE until the end of May, so now’s your chance to download it, listen every day, and reprogram your mind to be confident and relaxed. The voucher code is StressFree.
New thoughts and feelings will become familiar as you switch off that inner critical voice, and you will dramatically reduce your anxiety.
So why wait? Start today, and get ready to become your own cheerleader in life.