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Noelle Krein

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Exam fears and mind blanks? Not anymore!

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Be it school, university or a driving test, exams are just a part of life. If we don’t pass, we can’t achieve our goals – our school leaving certificate or bachelors, for example. Because of their importance, we often worry and put ourselves under a lot of pressure, even though that’s usually just counterproductive. In the worst case scenario this can lead to your mind going blank and having to retake the exam. Today I’m going to share my experiences with you and give you a few tips so that doesn’t happen to you (again) and so you can go into your next exam feeling calm.

Preparation is key

How can you expect to do well in an exam if you’ve crammed half a year’s worth of info into the night before? Exactly – you can’t! To avoid this scenario, put together a schedule, planning in a bit of extra time for yourself just in case. It’s too often that I’ve made a plan and only realized after starting that I can’t keep up because it’s too unrealistic. Starting early and planning things out will ensure that you get everything covered before the exam. Being sure of the subject matter automatically gives you a sense of security, so you can shed your nerves and stay calm for the exam.

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Relax before the exam and take your mind off things - do some breathing exercises to free yourself from panic.

When it comes to subjects (like standard mathematics, for example) that you’re more unsure of, it’s all the more important that you prepare yourself well. In maths, the practice tests from previous years can give you a good sense of where you are and how you might expect to perform. Of course, you should also be aware that with five exams in just one week, they’re not all going to go perfectly. My cooperative study program doesn’t leave me with as much time to study as normal students. Working for the company means it’s harder to figure out how much time there is left to study. Do your best to make the most of the time you have left and try not to drive yourself crazy over one or two minor things you haven’t quite mastered.

External pressures can also be a factor in exam worries and fear of failure. It’s a familiar situation: people always want to know who came top in the exam and what kind of grades everyone else got, especially in school. For me, it was always important to be one of the best, but really your only competition should be yourself, since you’re learning for yourself and your future, not for your classmates.

You know your stuff – but you’re still nervous?

Still nervous when it comes to the exam, even though you’ve taken your time and are well prepared? A bit of nervousness doesn’t hurt since it makes you more alert and focused than if you were entirely relaxed. What’s important is that your nerves stay at a healthy level.

If you think that you’re too nervous and that it might negatively impact on your performance, you should try to relax and calm yourself down. I recommend doing some breathing exercises to help yourself relax. They can always help calm you down when you get into a panic, such as before an exam or when you’re studying and something isn’t working out quite as you want it to. You have to sit up straight or stand. Breathe deeper than you would usually, and hold your breath for around 6 seconds after breathing out. Then breathe in again, and repeat the process for five minutes.

Of course, it’s also important to get enough sleep if you want to be alert and focused. However, it’s not so easy to get to sleep before the exam with nightmare scenarios going around in your head. “What if this comes up? What if I forget everything? What if I don’t have enough time?” These thoughts are no help and will just leave you lying awake all night long. This sleep exercise (German) can help. On breathing in, picture the number 1. On breathing out, picture the number 2, thereby shutting out other thoughts. Repeat this again and again. Concentrating on these two numbers and breathing steadily helps calm you down and distracts your mind from other thoughts. The more you use this technique, the quicker you’ll get to sleep.

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You're worried about the next exam? With the right preparation, your next exam will be a success.

The time has come – exam day

The time has come when all your preparation should pay off – the day of the exam. Here too, I can only recommend approaching the matter as calmly as possible. Those classmates who still have thousands of questions before the exam and seem to be panic personified should be avoided (at least until the exam is over). They’ll only make you even more nervous. You should ignore any strange or even unrealistic questions if you know you’re well prepared. Aside from the fact that you won’t get anything out of it at that stage, you shouldn’t have to discuss the material all over again five minutes before the exam.

Your mind goes blank – now what?

When you’re having a mind blank, you should wiggle your toes. That relieves tension. This provides distraction, since your mind focuses on the wiggling. You can also use the breathing exercise to briefly distract or focus yourself and then try to recall the information again. Alternatively, it might be better to take some time and distract yourself instead of just thinking about the exam and getting stuck.

Those are just a few tips, but there’s many more. I hope I’ve been able to help and that your next exam will be a success. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or if you would like to share some of your own experiences and tips.

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