Do you get really anxious before exams?

You’re not alone. Many students voice their concerns each year:

  • “I don’t think I can meet my parents expectations. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
  • “I think I’m failing my course and if I don’t get a B in maths  I can’t go to college.”
  • “Just thinking of my GCSE’s makes me nervous. I get this sickening feeling in my stomach and I can’t think straight.”

Research published by StudyMedicineEurope reveals that 67% of students have trouble sleeping due to exam anxiety, and have never received support in dealing with their stress.

Therefore, I want to share 3 action steps you can use to stop worrying about your grades… and present what you know in the best way.

Step 1: Watch what you say

The words we use (even if we are unaware of what we are saying) determine how we see ourselves.

For example, how many of us have said something like this…

  • How can he get 8 A’s? He must be a genius.
  • I’ll never be as good as she is.
  • I wish I could ace that exam, but I’ll probably end up with a B.

If you look at those phrases carefully, you’ll see that you’re indirectly disqualifying yourself from accomplishing your goals.

Do you notice the difference between “I wish I could ace that exam, but I’ll probably end up with a B” and “I’ll do everything I can to ace that exam and score higher than a B”? In the first sentence, being a B-student is part of your identity, but in the second you motivate yourself to improve.

While how we think of ourselves may not change over night, the language we repeat again and again becomes our identity.

Action step: For the next 2 weeks, try to catch yourself whenever you say something negative about yourself and try to change that into a neutral or positive phrase.

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Instead of “I’ll fail this test”,  try “Even though I did not prepare well for this exam, I’ll use my knowledge of the course to get the best grade I can”
  • Instead of “I always get really nervous before exams”, you can say “Sometimes tests have stressed me, but I can do well and I don’t need to doubt my abilities”

Step 2: Don’t worry about your grades

It can seem like you need a string of A’s to go to your chosen college/uni, but admissions officers don’t only look at grades.

Dr Terri Apter, a senior tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge University who helps with admissions, says: “We’re aware A-levels aren’t the only indicator of potential. We’re looking for motivation, a real individual engagement with a subject and that may not always be demonstrated by A-level results.”

Particularly at Oxbridge, they don’t just look at results, but take into account your interview, assessments and the module breakdown for your A-levels.

Missing your grade by a few points does not mean that you can’t go to the school/university of your dreams.

And even if they won’t let you due to your exam performance, you can always retake/apply for a remark or find a different way of achieving your goal eg. having a firm choice.

Action step: Look for options ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about making an A, as you sit the exams. Having a back-up plan that you like can do a great deal to calm your nerves.

Step 3: Avoid pressure from parents or friends

If your parents have steep or unrealistic expectations, it’s helpful to let them know that this is pressuring you.

You can ask them about their grades in high school, and probably they didn’t get all A*’s either.

If they did, tell them that it is ok for you to have a C in history (or any other grade and other subject). As long as you manage to pass, they shouldn’t stress about subjects you dislike/won’t study in future.

Action step: If your parents (or other people) are pressuring you about your grades, find out exactly how they are stressing you. Are they telling you to study more? Do they tell you that you need to make a certain grade? Talk to them and tell them that [what they are doing] is stressing you, and making you nervous about your exams.

Which of these tips are you trying today? Please leave a comment below to let me know what worked for you.

I’ve got two more systems that can help you save a lot of stress: a 6-month revision timetable and a guide to avoiding procrastination and meeting your study goals.

 Sources: Quote by Terri Apter from Telegraph UK: Exam Pressure – ‘You don’t need to be scared of failure. There’s more to life than A grades.’