Managing pressure during the exam period

Managing pressure during the exam period

We tend to consider exams difficult, adding pressure and concern as the outcome is uncertain. It helps to put exams in context – they are part of the learning process. It is helpful to reframe the meaning of exams and view them as assessments or learning practices, to manage the emotional reaction to the word “exam”.

Exams are a form of self-testing, where we recall content and write about our understanding of it. Imagine it as a process where you communicate what you have learned so far. Focus on sharing your knowledge, and although grades are essential to pass a module and get your degree, thinking about results is distracting. When you notice these thoughts, view them as a sign that exams are important to you as you want to do well in your degree.

When you notice worry thoughts that distract you, pause and breathe. It will help restore balance so that you can think and access the material you revised. The pressure comes from focusing on the results, and the more distant good grades seem, the more tension, reducing the ability to access the content and its meaning.

When thoughts are about possible negative scenarios, bring your attention back to the present, breathe mindfully, and drink a bit of water to restore balance. View them as just thoughts, they are not facts. Then, focus on narrating what you understand of the topic. Reducing tension increases your ability to access the material you have revised. As you are writing, think of it as a work in progress.

Being prepared is an effective way to deal with the pressure before the exam day. Create a study routine to manage your time and energy – revise consistently to get into a rhythm. As you study the material regularly, it will help to develop familiarity with the content. Keep in contact with your purpose and prioritise what matters.

If you notice it is difficult to persevere with revision, identify what prevents you from studying. For example, is it that it feels like too much work? Or are you worried about results? As you notice these feelings, acknowledge them and view them as part of the human condition. It is normal to experience a degree of unease and apprehension when dealing with a challenge and an uncertain outcome.

The human brain has a remarkable capacity to learn complex tasks. Connect with your learning experiences – you learned to read and write, and it took significant effort and practice to develop the skills. When learning new things, we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, so it will feel uncomfortable and frustrating, particularly when noticing slow progress or facing an obstacle.

We need to maintain our energy to manage our emotions and persevere with our efforts. It is helpful to maintain an optimistic attitude where we have hope and trust in our ability to learn.

Taking exams on campus

This year, some exams will take place on campus while others will be online as last year. Now that you are more familiar with online exams, you may be wondering about taking a timed exam in an unfamiliar environment.

It has been a long time since most students have taken exams on campus. It is normal to feel apprehensive about them as it is an unfamiliar situation. The pressure builds up when waiting to go into the room, and others start talking about what could be in the exam and what they studied, triggering a wave of distress when you cannot remember some of the content mentioned. It can unsettle and raise the tension you experience.

It is best not to talk about the exam content in the queue and focus on maintaining your balance through mindful breathing and reminding yourself that you have revised and prepared as much as possible.

When in the room, it can feel unsettling to wait for the moment to begin. Once you can open the booklet, take a moment to read the questions. If you cannot think of anything at first, remind yourself to breathe slowly, take a sip of water, and visualise yourself writing and telling your story of what you learned. Imagine you are writing a draft, so start writing anything that comes to mind related to the subject – as a warm-up exercise.

The idea is to begin to get a sense that you can remember something, and gradually you will be able to access the content you revised. Starting with a few ideas will begin to focus your mind. Train yourself to bring your attention to the moment and then start answering the question as if you were explaining the material to a friend. It will ease the tension, allowing you to access your creativity and problem-solving skills.

It is essential to look after yourself – taking breaks to replenish your energy. When we have a lot to do, we may feel guilty if we take a break because we have limited time. However, breaks are essential to restore energy. Healthy habits and a daily routine will allow you to maintain motivation and the ability to focus. Make a note each day of what you have covered – keep track of your revision to remind yourself that you have dedicated time to understand the content.

Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Cottrell, S. (2015) Skills for success. Personal development and employability. (3rd Ed.) London: Palgrave, Macmillan Education.

Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.

Preparing for exams: maintaining motivation

Preparing for exams: maintaining motivation

In addition to having good study habits, we also need to manage our inner world to prepare well for exams. It is helpful to understand our emotions and keep in mind what we value to keep us focused on what matters most. Maintain a routine to manage your time and energy level. It will help strengthen your capacity to deal with the pressure and the uncertainty of how things will turn out.

Tips to maintain motivation and keep well during the exam period:

Prepare your mindset: When your thoughts run ahead, focusing on possible adverse outcomes, bring your attention back to the present. Often, our expectations increase tension – “it is too difficult”, “I cannot do well enough”, etc.  Instead, keep in mind you are capable of learning and view difficulties as challenges that can be overcome. Break the tasks down into small steps and work on one step at a time.

Focus on learning: rather than thinking about results, be curious about what you are learning. It will help to increase concentration and help to maintain motivation.

Plan to revise each day. If you miss a day, get started soon as you can, even if you only do 10 minutes, and continue revising the next day. Remind yourself that it is a challenge and that what counts is to keep going. Regular practice boost confidence in our skills. 

Create a daily routine: identify a flexible pattern that includes periods of focused time and insert short breaks. Allow time to look after yourself: maintain healthy habits to keep well so that you have the strength to persevere with your efforts. 

For more information check this blog post and this one.

Move from intention to action: we often have the intention of starting our work to only be distracted from it by something that seems more interesting or less difficult. To follow through with intentions, we need to have a clear plan of the next steps we need to take – as if we could view a “how-to” video. Once we know what we need to do, we can focus our attention to persevere with our efforts.

Preparing for resist this summer

Preparing for resist this summer

Are you planning to take resits? Are you wondering how best to study to prepare well?

If you have questions about resits, you can check the guidance available on Essentials.

Also, check the Study Advice website for their excellent online resources.

If you haven’t managed to get into a revision pattern yet, this is a good time to develop a study routine so that you can have time to prepare for your resits.
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Preparing for exams: Making the most of your revision time

Preparing for exams: Making the most of your revision time

What can you do to manage your inner world and maintain a more balanced approach?

“If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.” (Isaac Newton)

Having the capacity for focused attention is what most students want when preparing for exams. However, with so much material covered during the academic year it can be challenging to review it all in a few weeks prior to the exams.
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Preparing for exams

Preparing for exams

Strategies to revise for resits

You may be preparing for one or more exams in the next few weeks. Perhaps you are feeling frustrated that you have to spend part of your summer holiday revising for resits instead of taking a break from academic work.

It can be difficult to concentrate on your studies when comparing with others who are not taking exams this summer. You may also be concerned about how things will turn out for you, and whether you will pass your modules to continue on to the next academic year. It is understandable that you may have these thoughts and feelings, particularly if you feel you worked hard during the year. Unfortunately, sometimes things do not work out as we hoped despite our efforts, and as a result you may be wondering what you can do differently to improve your results.
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