27 January 2012

Dealing with exam anxiety

A measure of anxiety is normal and beneficial before and during exams, and indeed it improves your ability to study and your performance during exams.

Too much anxiety, however, is detrimental since it results in excessive fear, memory blocks, lower reading comprehension, poor attention and physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and sweating.

Tips to Reduce Anxiety
  • Study throughout the year.
  • Organise notes and timetable well. Accept the fact that you cannot give equal importance to every subject/topic, and you may not have the time to revise some topics at all. You will never have a comprehensive knowledge (your examiners don't either). Choose wisely what to study, and to what extent and detail, and what to leave out.
  • Tailor your study to the exam format, and work out past papers if available.
  • Take conscious control of your thoughts; fight negative and anxious thoughts with positive thoughts and prayers. Remind yourself that there's no point worrying about things you can't control and it is completely useless, indeed it is counterproductive, to waste your emotional energy worrying.
  • Sleep well - do not stay up too late or get up too early to study, and don’t feel guilty that your sleeping and relaxing. That’s part of your exam preparation too.
  • Do not take excessive amounts of coffee, tea and cola, especially in the evening (as it will interfere with good quality sleep that your body and mind desperately need).
  • Balance your study with recreation and rest. Take breaks – spend time with family, friends, do some exercise, go out in the sun, take a walk, a shower, and eat healthy food.
Before the Exam
  • Don’t stay awake late at night before the exam; simply revise the main themes, but don’t try to cover everything! Your psychological state on the day of the exam is what really matters.
  • Double-check the exam time-table and place of examination, and allow enough time for travel (and traffic jams) to be punctual for the exam.
  • Dress in smart and comfortable clothes.
  • Do not aim for perfection – aim to do your best. Be confident. Your examiners really want your success, and if you have done your fair amount of work throughout the year, you stand an excellent chance of success.
  • Especially to medical students - your examiners appreciate the fact that your knowledge and experience are limited, but they expect you to demonstrate a basic knowledge of the subject and that as doctors you will be caring, sensible and safe!
  • Personally, I used to commit myself, the exam and the results to God in prayer; I used to keep a card with a Bible verse which I read over and over again, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).