Exam stress – or is it your stress

There have been a few interesting stories in the news recently that I thought might warrant a blog, not least the results of research undertaken by Roi Cohen Kadosh, a cognitive neuroscientist from Oxford University. He has discovered that if you administer a small electrical charge to the brain it may enhance your ability to process numbers for up to 6 months. But don’t go sticking your fingers into electric sockets just yet. The research is at its early stages and may be more helpful for people with dyscalculia (problems with numbers as dyslexia is for words) rather than not being able to understand calculus.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11692799

Something closer to home was an on-line presentation I gave last week entitled Exam Confidence. Part of the presentation specifically deals with exam stress, something that many students may be experiencing just at the moment as they begin to realise the November and December exams are just around the corner. The first thing to say is that to feel stressed is a perfectly natural reaction; it is the result of being faced with a challenge that initially at least, looks impossible to overcome. The body’s natural reaction to this is to increase your heart beat and get you ready to hit something or run, the fight/flight principle.  Now a few million years ago this was helpful, but in an exam room….

 Who’s voice is it?

The feeling of stress can be instant or creep up on you over time, but something you may want to think about is, that it is not the object or the event that is creating the stress, it can’t be. It is the way that you look at it and what you think it means. Imagine that you are in the exam hall and you turn over the exam paper, the room is quiet, and you can sense the tension. You look at the question and your first thoughts are that you can’t do it. The little voice inside your head begins to shout YOU CANT DO THIS, YOU WILL FAIL , and IF YOU FAIL YOU WILL NEVER EVER EVER PASS…..YOU ARE A FAILURE

 It‘s not the question that is shouting, it‘s you, and what you say to yourself makes a huge difference to how you feel and the level of stress you will experience.

 Now of course the truth might be that you can’t do it, but the problem with stress is that it will paralyse the logical part of your mind. In these circumstances you are programmed to fight or run, not think. So you need some strategies to cope, to reduce the stress, so that you can at least begin to think about what you can do rather than what you can’t.

 Some coping strategies

1 Recognise that it is your voice and that by changing what you say will change the way you feel. Think more positively, say okay I can’t do this but what can I do?

2 Take a deep breath, look around the room, say to yourself, if I can’t do this then I bet no one else can.

3 Reframe what you see, this is just one question, not the entire exam.

4 Think about the bigger picture, this is just an exam, you can always sit it again, it is not life or death.

5 Focus your attention elsewhere by doing something you can do, no matter how small, a question that only has 5 marks perhaps.

 I may do more on how to cope with stress in future blogs but for now I will leave you with the wise words of psychologist and philosopher William James.

The greatest weapon again stress is our ability to choose one thought over another

3 thoughts on “Exam stress – or is it your stress

  1. Pingback: Stress or Pressure – Don’t let the bridge collapse | Pedleysmiths's Blog

  2. Pingback: Kaplan Blog Exam stress – mindfulness and the 7/11 - Kaplan Blog

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