“I’m going to fail!” I’d burst into tears, wailing those words before every math exam. I discounted the twenty-four hours each week I studied for that one course. I discounted my 4.0 in prior math classes, too. Luckily, my stress morphed into confidence once I scanned the test questions.
Those days disappeared. I’ve since become struck with workplace anxiety. The anxiety felt more horrific than burning your hand on a stove once every minute for eight hours straight. Almost every workday, I’d start the mid-afternoon with an eight-hour anxiety attack.
When my work term ended, I enrolled at AU. I hunted for AU courses that had no exams—courses such as Web programming and robotics. Exams terrified me.
In between study sessions, I scoured books for an anxiety cure. I tried cures such as journaling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation, muscle relaxation, raw fruits and veggies diets, heavy exercise, forgiveness, letting go of grudges, positive affirmations, prayer, yoga, no more caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks, and so much more. I tried every strategy I came across. To my shock, the anxiety stopped. I’ve been free of anxiety for nearly five years now.
But I’m still terrified of exam-related anxiety. You might be, too.
So, here are Dr. George Kyei’s strategies on how to bypass exam stress:
First, “understand that anxiety is normal. A level of anxiety for an impending test is normal for everyone. The important thing is to make sure it is manageable and does not overwhelm you” (93%). I read somewhere that journaling about your exam fears can improve your grade and lower stress. But I believe journaling about your exam goals is a better strategy. Even journaling about what you had for lunch can calm the nerves.
Second, “prepare well in advance of the exam” (93%). If you are prone to anxiety, it is vital that you don’t cram. Instead, study daily, weekends included, for as much of the day as possible. Also, do extra preparation for exams two to three weeks in advance of the exams. The more time you prep, the more relaxed you’ll feel.
Third, “get a good rest the day before the exam” (94%). If you suffer anxiety attacks, the last thing you want is an all-nighter. Get eight or nine hours sleep before exams. Once I did an all-nighter. The next day, I almost fell asleep on a sidewalk. An exam chair is much more comfortable. Zzzz. Add an anxiety attack and you’ve got zzzz’s between each “Ugh!”
Fourth, “eat some food before the exam” (95%). Sugar and fats give you quick energy; protein prevents your stomach from grumbling. Prior to an exam, for an energy burst, I’d recommend eating blueberries for brain healthy sugars and unsalted mixed nuts for fat. If you’re allergic to nuts, substitute an avocado. As for brain healthy protein, a can of sockeye salmon stops hunger pangs. Whatever you do, don’t have coffee and sweets prior to an exam. You’ll crash from the highs. From my view, nothing triggers anxiety like a cup of joe prior to an exam.
Fifth, “don’t rush to finish. Don’t try to be a hero, to be the first person to leave the exam room” (95%). If you take the entire exam time (and you’re well-prepared), then the longer you spend in the exam room, the calmer you’ll feel. Plus, if you rush to finish, you’ll make more mistakes. When I received a perfect final grade in multivariate calculus, I stayed in the exam rooms until the very last minute. I triple checked each answer, redoing each question from scratch three times without looking at my prior answers. If the answers were the same all three times, I felt confident. And you want to feel as confident as you can when battling anxiety.
Sixth, “manage your time effectively. Don’t spend too much time on one question and neglect the others. Distribute your time according to how the marks/points are assigned to the questions” (95%). To calm down before an exam, carefully read all the instructions for each section. Read the first few questions in each section. Scan the remaining questions. Then see how many marks each section is worth and divide your time to spend on each section accordingly. Watch the clock. If you notice an essay question, then take scrap paper and quickly write down every point you can recall about the essay topic. You can then write three or more overarching themes. Put a roman numeral beside each theme. Then put the appropriate roman numeral beside each point you made. Then order each point within each theme with lower case roman numerals. Your essay will write itself.
No matter how severe your anxiety feels, you can find a cure. Before exams, push aside the cups of Joe, sleep soundly, eat healthy, study smart, and use test-taking strategies. And long before your exams, do journaling, use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—and try every healthy strategy to calm your mind. After all, you deserve straight A’s.