It is not unusual for very capable students to suddenly feel that all their knowledge has suddenly deserted them and they are left with literally nothing to write – help, I’ve drawn a blank!
A simple unexpected question, the absence of an expected question or even the wording of a question can be enough to raise a students’ blood pressure, increase their breathing and send them into a tail spin. The students’ anxiety has sky rocketed and their body has gone into a fight, flight or freeze mode.
It is normal for students to feel nerves and anxiety before an exam. If we believe the stakes are high then we are naturally going to approach the exam with a level of caution. When our anxiety gets out of control we resort to our primal mode and we are ready to fight, take flight or freeze. We feel under attack and our body responds as if it were a physical attack; as if a predator was ready to strike us. In this modus operandum the heart beats faster drawing blood from our larger organs, including the brain, to fuel our big muscles to ignite a race or fight. This can leave you feeling nauseous, sweaty, light headed, shaky and with a sensation of needing to use the bathroom as the body attempts to drop unnecessary weight. The blood leaves the parts of our brains that are not useful in a fight or race such as the parts that govern memory and communication skills.
So what can be done to stop this physical response?
You need to relax, not an easy thing to do in an exam, here are some tips to help you to relax, calm down and regain composure.
Five Tips to Help You to Regain Composure in the Exam
- Close the exam book: This may sound crazy as time is of the essence in any exam but the short time it will take for you to regain your composure is time well invested in your exam. Close your exam booklet and look away from the exam paper. This is the first step in separating yourself from the ‘threat’
- Focus on your breath: Shallow breathing heightens anxiety and leads to panic. Shallow breathing does not allow enough oxygen to the brain, so you need to slow your breathing right down. Take deep belly breaths. Place your hand on your belly and slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep these deep breaths going until you have slowed your breathing right down and regain control of your breath.
- Sip water: When your breathing is under control slowly sip water. Don’t gulp. Just a few sips will give you a simple action to focus on and help to get you back in control.
- Tune into your senses: Become aware of what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Tuning into your senses will get you grounded again. In this exercise you are attempting to keep the focus on your body and remove the focus from your thoughts.
- Start again: When you feel that you have regained your composure then you can open your booklet and start again. Perhaps read through the entire exam paper before attempting to write anything. Identify your strongest section and start the exam again. If you feel you are starting to panic again, you may have started back too soon. Close the paper and try again to use the above steps to get back in control of the exam.
The CareersPortal Team