Think back to when you’ve taken exams, either recently or in the distant past.
Now notice what thoughts go through your mind as you’re thinking about this event.
You may experience these memories as stressful, whilst others may look back without any anxiety or stress at all. All of us at some time or another have had to take exams, but not everyone responds to the idea of being assessed under pressure in the same way.
There are indeed many routes to gaining a successful qualification without undertaking examinations, but there will have been a stage in your education where you had no other option but to sit an exam and had to study for it within a very short timescale. In many ways, this mirrors the expectations placed on us in our daily lives, for example working to deadlines to please our bosses; it is generally accepted that to succeed in anything, including exams, we need to be able to deal with some form of pressure.
It’s dealing with this pressure that can become overwhelming in certain situations. Most psychologists would agree there is an optimum level of stress required to perform well in certain situations, but when those levels are too high they can affect both our concentration and our memory.
An exam is a perfect example of a controlled performance task where every participant is put under a considerable amount of pressure, and the results of this performance may have life-changing effects.
The question is, if exams are unavoidable, what help is there for those who find the whole process too stressful?
The answer lies in instilling a sense of resilience to make it through stressful times. When we feel stressed before or during an exam, we are typically distracted and not able to concentrate on what we have to do i.e. prepare and revise properly. The key here is to manage these distractions through adopting certain psychological strategies that can be learned prior to the exam period itself. The other key element is to accept that these feelings of stress are inevitable, and by doing this you will then be able to commit to the process itself.
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