Overcoming Exam Anxiety

18 July 2019
Overcoming Exam Anxiety

Most students deal with some sort of anxiety or nervousness before an exam. According to a study conducted by Studytime NZ, at least two-thirds of students aged 15-18 cite dealing with stress over exams as a major challenge to learning. Half of students also answered that dealing with exams or exam techniques was a major hurdle. With exams being a significant obstacle to learning for many students, is there anything that can be done to make them less stressful?

Exam anxiety comes at different levels

Nearly every student gets at least a little bit nervous before a major exam. However, for some, the worry and stress can substantially affect their performance, even when they know the material. Study Time NZ defines high-level anxiety as having “intense feelings of fear and inadequacy or debilitating thoughts, which can make even the act of attending the exam extremely difficult”.

Generally, exam anxiety is more likely to happen in secondary school and beyond due to concerns over NCEA. But anxiety can be present at any level, and if you or your child is dealing with it, there are some helpful tips you can try to help reduce stress levels.

1.     Develop an exam routine

Coming up with a routine before an exam can help make them just that; a routine, something normal that happens regularly. This can include going to bed at the same time before an exam, eating the same meal at the same time on every exam day, listening to a specific song before the assessment begins, or even using a lucky pen/pencil. The goal is to make exam days just like any other day, which can be helpful for some people.

2.     Ask/Write down specific worries

If a child claims to be dealing with exam anxiety, it’s helpful to listen to and acknowledge that feeling. What specifically is worrisome about the exam? Is it fear of not knowing any of the questions? Of failing and having to repeat the course? That life will completely disintegrate and everything will be lost? Writing or talking out the stressful thoughts can be therapeutic for many, and many students report receiving higher exam grades after doing this.

3.     Choose sleep over additional studying

As long as studying has been regular—and not crammed in only on the evening before the exam—prioritising sleep over extra studying is beneficial and backed by many studies, including one on sleep loss and memory retention. Staying up a few extra hours than normal to try and learn more tends to have the opposite effect, as getting extra sleep helps the brain process information and allows for greater levels of alertness and attention to detail for the exam.

4.     Use good study habits

Studying is an important part of knowledge checking and mastery. However, many students report not knowing a good way to study. Because different people have different learning styles, what works for one may be ineffective for another. Once a student finds a method that works, it should be used consistently and regularly as part of the study routine. Some studying suggestions to try include:

  • Using flashcards with a brief mention of an important concept or vocabulary word on one side, with a detailed explanation on the other.
  • Teaching the material to someone who is unfamiliar with it and being able to explain it in simple terms.
  • Speaking the material or notes aloud instead of reading them in silence. For some, this greatly increases retention.
  • Trying a study group with other students in the same course.
  • For a more comprehensive list of study techniques, take a look at this list of study methods.

Using a tutor who can focus on 1-on-1 learning is particularly helpful for some students and allows them to talk and bounce ideas off of someone familiar with the material. To setup an appointment for tutoring for yourself or your child, call or contact us today.