How to stay positive and manage anxiety during exam season

Many people get stressed before exams, but there are ways to increase your confidence and minimise your nerves

A bit of stress before exams can be good, but if you’re overwhelmed by anxiety your university should be able to help you.
A bit of stress before exams can be good, but if you’re overwhelmed by anxiety your university should be able to help you. Photograph: Alamy

Some students will feel a growing sense of dread as exam season approaches – while others may appear irritatingly unfazed. Shelly Asquith, vice president for welfare at the National Union of Students (NUS), says that exam confidence “comes with good wellbeing in general”.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily about feeling confident in yourself, but feeling that you’re able to do the work,” she says. But that’s easier said than done perhaps. So how can students manage anxiety and stress during exam time – and still get the grades they need?

Know you’re not alone

It’s a good idea to talk to course mates and lecturers to share fears. You won’t be the only person who is nervous. Nadia Violets, 24, has recently completed a master’s at LSE in gender policy and inequality. She panicked during one of her exams when she first opened the paper. “My self doubt meant that as soon as I opened the page and looked down at the questions, I immediately thought I didn’t understand any of them,” she says.

“That cut off a lot of my time. But then when I calmly read the questions again they started to make sense.” Because she has been diagnosed with anxiety, Violets was allowed extra time, sat the exam in a smaller room, and was able to go out for breathers. She says she “ended up doing that about five times”.

Katrina Wigzell, 29, is in her last year studying nutrition at London Metropolitan University. She says she likes the pressure of exams, even though that makes her “a bit of an odd one”. “I work better that way,” she says. “If I attend my lectures and do a bit of revision there is no reason why I shouldn’t feel confident enough to sit an exam.” Her tips are to “learn your subject and remember you aren’t the only person who is stressed”.

Ask for help and let people know how you feel

Asquith says it’s important to ask for help if you feel anxious or panicky. “Confidence comes through having good networks and knowing that you’ve got friends and support around you when you find it difficult to cope. It’s also about having access to certain services,” she says.

“There are routes available for you to get extenuating circumstances if you are suffering from mental ill health and can’t do the exam. If someone is having a panic attack then let a staff member know, because that’s not a state you should go into the exam in.”

Violets found the university’s counselling service very helpful. “I would really recommend using them,” she says. “And don’t be ashamed if you have mental health problems.”

Stay focused on your work

Choosing topics that inspire you will help you to feel enthusiastic. It will also mean that you are more inclined to focus on your work. “I ended up focusing on feminist theory around environmental philosophy,” Violets says. “Because it fascinated me, I managed to do really well.”

Violets adds that prioritising and identifying what is important at that moment and what isn’t is helpful. She says meditation is useful for this. “Like a lot of us, I get caught up in social things. At that point in your life, your priority needs to be your exams and your qualification.”

Asquith agrees that mindfulness meditation can help avoid last minute panics, because it teaches you how to acknowledge that “when you’re about to go into an exam there’s not much else you can do but just go through that experience.”

A bit of stress can be good – but not too much

A bit of stress can be good in exams, says Violets. “When I’m doing performances and I’m a bit blasé about them and I’m not stressed, I perform really badly. A bit of stress is essential.”

Professionals agree that a small amount of stress can be good. “Normal levels of stress can help you to work and think faster and more effectively, as well as improve your performance,” advises Catherine McPhail from the University of Dundee’s counselling service. But she adds that, “if you find your anxiety overwhelming, your performance could be badly affected. Becoming aware of what causes your anxiety will help to reduce the stress.”

Too much stress however, can stop students from performing as well as they could in exams, all agree. “Stress is a massive barrier and it’s certainly something that a lot of our student unions are tackling and supporting students with,” says Asquith. She recommends a new app called Emoodji from mental health charity Mind, which is targeted at students and aims to help with managing stress around exam time. If that’s still not working, take this quiz to boost your confidence.

[Source:- Gurdian]