Managing Exam Stress

People tend to believe that if you are intelligent or smart, you will automatically obtain high marks in tests and examinations.
Contrary to this misconception, it is not...

uncommon to find “smart” students underperforming and weak-to-average students obtaining the higher scores!
The degree to which a student knows his/her work is not the only factor affecting his/her performance in tests and examinations.

Some students just cope better under examination conditions than others. Others make careless mistakes and/or underperform in tests and exams because of the effects of anxiety attacks, panic attacks and mind blocks.

Here are a few examples that you may be able to identity with:

You look at the clock and realise that 15 minutes have gone by. Your mind went blank and you cannot recall what transpired across this time frame.
You are engaging in some last minute study the night before the exams, and no matter how many times you read the same sentence over and over again, the information is not sinking in.
You have studied hard and you come across a question in the examination that you cannot answer or find unfamiliar. You begin to panic and/ or your mind starts going blank. You may even begin to question whether you really do know your work or not.
Mild levels of stress (eustress) activate a part of the nervous system that responds by keeping us alert, motivates us to face challenges and drives us to solve problems. These low levels of stress over short periods of time are manageable and can be thought of as necessary and normal stimulation. It is this stress type that "stress-addicts" thrive on!
Distress on the other hand, results when our body over-reacts to events. This type of stress leads to what is called a “fight or flight” response where our body prepares to fly from a dangerous situation. The parts of our body that are not required for fight or flight shut down, and a group of chemicals that block the free flow of information in our brain are produced so that we are unable to think or reason and waste precious moments of time.Such reactions may have been useful in prehistoric times whereour ancestors were frequently faced with life or death situations.
Nowadays, however, such life threatening occurrences are not commonplace, yet we react to many daily situations as if they were life or death issues (eg. a Chemistry exam) and activate the fight/flight physiological response, and scrambling our brain.
From a psychological perspective, if we perceive something as highly threatening or worrisome, our body will react accordingly. The greater the perception of danger or threat, the more our body tends to shut down. However, when we view something as manageable, our body does not go haywire. Our minds become alert but not alarmed.
So How Can we Avoid Panic/Anxiety Attacks and Mind Blocks?

Students typically develop mind blanks and panic attacks when they do not know their work well enough. This may occur because we have left our learning too late and/or we are using ineffective learning techniques, and even because we have not given ourselves the opportunity to build confidence by consistently answering exam style questions correctly, particularly in the days leading up to the examinations.


Dealing With Panic Attacks and Mind Blocks in Examinations
The good news about mind blocks and panic attacks is that the chemicals that are produced in response to the stressful stimulus (and that are responsible for scrambling your brain) have a short half-life (approximately 30 seconds). This means that if you implement the correct actions, you can unblock the brain networks, and allow for free flow of information within a couple of minutes!
In summary - resolving mind blocks and panic attacks requires a little reasoning and reverse psychology!

Step 1: Distract yourself away from the perceived threat. You may choose to completely dissociate yourself from the threat by closing your eyes and/or resting your head on your hands and imagining you are elsewhere.
Alternatively, stretch your calf muscles, twist your head – do something that makes you aware of your body and that distracts you from the "threat at hand". When all else fails, pain is a great distracter. Place a thick elastic band on your wrist and snap the band against your wrist 2-3 times as soon as you feel a panic/anxiety attack
coming on. You will very quickly forget about any anxiety that has begun to surface!
Step 2: Take a few deep breaths. Deep breaths increase the rate of blood circulation and clear those nasty little mind blocking chemicals at a faster rate.
Step 3: Employ some rational self talk and reverse psychology. Identify what is happening in your brain i.e. the fact that thought blocking agents are scrambling your brain. Accept that this is a normal occurrence under stressful conditions and that the response can be controlled and modified. Then acknowledge your personal situation as it stands.


If you have studied hard, tell yourself:
I have studied hard, I know my work and will be able to do the paper.
Just because I haven’t seen these questions before does not mean that I will not be able to do them. How many times did I come across something different at school or home and I was able to handle it? This is no different.
Accept that there are going to be components of the exam that you will not be able to address and that you are in the same boat as the majority of the student population. Reassure yourself that this will all be taken into account in the ranking process.
Who cares. This is not the end of the world. Even if I do stuff up these exams – there will be other options or pathways that will allow me to reach my goals. All I can do at this stage is my best, and that means calming down.
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