Strategies for Exam Success

Last time in Why is it harder to remember answers during an exam? we saw what happens in the body when we are stressed or scared. This time let’s find out what you can do to reduce anxiety, feel more in control, be relaxed, yet alert.

Before and during the exam

  • Breathe, this is the quickest way in to bring down your nervous system from hyper-arousal. 
    • Breath in slowly through the nose for a count of 3
    • Hold for 3
    • Exhale through the mouth for 5
    • You can change the count to what suits you, however, it’s very important that the exhalation is longer than the inhale and hold.
    • As you do this it’s very important to keep your jaw completely relaxed (floppy) and your tongue very loose in your mouth.
  • Imagine a lovely tranquil scene, maybe lying on a sun-drenched beach peacefully listening to the waves lapping or somewhere in the countryside, it could be somewhere you’ve been before or pure imagination, you get to choose.
  • Tell yourself:
    • “It’s OK for me to relax, it is helping me to stay calm and cool”
    • “It’s easy to remember the answers”
    • “I am confident, I am in control…”.
  • Set an anchor, which basically allows to replace a feeling with a physical gesture.
    • Wait until you feel really relaxed in your body, and clear in your mind.
    • Press a thumb and forefinger together, or hold one hand with your wrist. It can be anything as long as it’s not something you already do and you can do discreetly, anywhere.
    • Hold it for as long as the feeling is there, as soon as it begins to wear off, release it.
    • It’s very important to practice this about 20 times per day, just for a few seconds, waiting at the bus stop, in a class, before dinner, just so you are ‘wiring’ it into the nervous system.
    • Then use it every day at least for at least 3 weeks, any time, not just for exams. So it will be there in any situation when you want it.
    • Word of warning though, it won’t work if you don’t pick a good feeling, be it in an old memory or something you are creating now, just make sure it’s the feeling you want.

After the exam

  • Burn off the adrenaline that you may have created in your body. For example go for a run, gym session, or take a long brisk walk. Once those strong chemicals have released into your body you can then continue with your life, studying or whatever.

For those of you interested in neuroscience we are acting on the intelligent part of the brain called the Prefrontal Cortex. I like to call it the “Executive Room”, because it can stand back and see the big picture without panicking. So you take control and you breathe. Now you have time to think clearly and make good choices!  You are the BOSS!

Of course, all of this has to be practised, so you get good at it. It’s certainly something that has helped me. For instance, when I give talks and suddenly think “I can’t do this”, and my confidence is just about to ‘bail out’, then I put all my strategies into place and take control ; Basically, I’m in the Executive Room, where I can think straight, make intelligent choices and feel good about myself.

There is nothing like feeling in control of your own mind, so you can feel good in whatever situation you find yourself. However, it does take practice, so do it, even 5 mins a day, to help set up the right conditions in the mind and body.

Let me know if you need any help as it’s quite a deep subject and lots to know, good luck!

PS: Next time I’ll give you an excellent strategy to help you learn and revise better.

I’d like to hear from YOU… What do you do to control your nerves? Or perhaps you are not nervous at all, then explain to us what are your thoughts and tips. Use the “Leave A Reply” below.

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