From the Counsellor’s Chair

Posted: 17th May 2016

Anxiety just before and during exams. 

The public examination time can be challenging.  Here, Mrs Good, our School Counsellor gives us some tips for those GCSEs and A Levels!

‘As the ‘season’ for public examinations gets underway, it’s normal to be anxious around exam times resulting in sleepless nights, poor appetite or comfort snacking, irritability, upset stomach or headaches.  However, whilst some stress can be a motivator, if anxiety becomes overwhelming your performance can be adversely affected, so becoming aware of what causes your anxiety will help to reduce the stress.

This article centres on anxiety the night before an exam and panic during the exam.

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Night before panic

The night before: if panic sets in the following may help regain control:

  • Try to use humour to beat negative thoughts, watch a good DVD, read a magazine, remember your favourite jokes or think of something fun you are looking forward to. Don’t get involved in something that could lead to an argument or upset.
  • Prepare for the next day and don’t leave it to the last few minutes before you leave the house. Get pens and pencils ready.  Does your calculator need a new battery?  Are your clothes prepared?
  • Avoid working too close to the exam such as the night before or in the morning before. Go for a walk, have a bath, or talk to someone instead.  Create a bit of distance between yourself and negative thoughts or troublesome feelings.
  • Eat something even if you feel nauseous and have those ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling. Bread, crackers and cereals are good at settling the stomach.   Avoid rich and spicy food.  Some people find dairy products unsettling.
  • Make sure you know the time and place of your exam. Plan your journey taking into account any traffic delays.  Don’t arrive too early or late.  In my experience seeing and talking to other anxious students will only raise your anxiety.  Being late will also increase your anxiety.

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Panic in the exam

  • Walk in slowly. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Have you been to the toilet?  Check you’re not too hot or too cold.  Adjust your clothing.  Make sure your hair is not impeding your vision.  Lower and relax your shoulders.  Take a few deep, slow breaths.  Sit with your eyes closed for a little while.  Create a calm vision in your head.  If affirmations help, use these.  Once you’re ready turn over the exam paper (after permission to do so has been given).
  • Take your time to read the questions and the instructions carefully. Read these twice to ensure you have a good grasp of what is required.
  • If there are choices then pick the questions that relate well to your revision. Don’t rush; taking adequate time at this stage will pay off.  If you can’t decide which questions to answer, pick the questions you can answer and come back to the rest.  Doing ‘easy’ questions first can boost your confidence; tackling more difficult ones whilst you are still alert may be best for you.
  • Plan your answer. A plan with a few rough notes will help you to mobilise your thoughts.  Try and ignore everyone else at this stage.  Focus on yourself and the question you are answering.
  • Manage your time so you have enough time for your last question. If you don’t, a skeleton answer in note form or using bullet points means have put something down that will attract marks.
  • Avoid perfectionism. It’s great to check punctuation and spelling but in many subjects A1 prose is not expected.  Additional information that is not required to answer a question will not gain you additional marks and eats into available time.
  • If your anxiety feels like taking over, stop, put down your pen, relax. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes.  Shake your arms, move your head from side to side to relieve tension, perhaps place your head on the desk.  Say a positive affirmation to yourself.  Imagine you are somewhere relaxing and feel happy and content.
  • If you feel unwell, do attract the attention of the invigilator. Some water or some fresh air is maybe what you need.

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It’s over.  The exam has finished.  The papers have been collected.   Hanging around and comparing ‘notes’ with friends won’t help you gain extra marks.  If anything it may get you worried thinking about what you could have written.  You have tried your best and that is all that can be asked of you.’

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