GCSE and A-Level exams are just around the corner, meaning the next few months can be some of the most stressful times students face. Even though it’s normal to feel a bit nervous before a test, some students can feel extremely overwhelmed resulting in high levels of anxiety. Anxiety can not only affect revision and exam performance but can cause trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and even a depressed state. According to the ADAA, causes of test anxiety may include a fear of failure, lack of adequate prep time, or bad experiences in the past. Here’s some tips to help students overcome exam anxiety and achieve the grades they deserve.
How to identify anxiety
It’s important to know some common symptoms of anxiety so you can keep an eye on your child during exam season. Students who are experiencing anxiety may experience loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach pains, appear to be irritable, forgetful, negative and depressed. However, there’s lots of simple ways to tackle anxiety and put them at ease.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
Making sure your child is fully prepared for their exams with time to spare is the easiest way for them to overcome anxiety. After all, leaving revision until the last minute will only cause stress and panic. Planning time out effectively by using a detailed revision schedule of what subjects need to be studied with deadlines a week before the exam itself, is a great way for students to feel prepared and on track. If they do feel like more study time is needed, they’ll then have a week spare to plan out more revision sessions. Practice papers completed under timed conditions are also an excellent resource, as they can let your child know what to expect on the day. If revision sessions aren’t enough to keep high anxiety levels at bay, considering a private tutor once a week may be beneficial.
Reinforce healthy habits
Reinforcing some healthy habits can help reduce anxiety levels drastically.
Sleep: Students should be getting at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night. A good night’s rest will make sure their brain is alert and functioning optimally for revision sessions and tests. We also recommend avoiding revision just before bedtime as this will only make it tricky to fall asleep. Instead, encourage your child to read a book or listen to some relaxing music.
Stay Healthy: Maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise on the lead up to exams is an effective way to combat anxiety. Avoid junk food and sugary drinks as this will make students feel sluggish and tired. Instead make sure your child is eating lots of fruit, vegetables and drinking water. Doing this will improve concentration levels and help them retain as much information as possible. Remember, food fuels the brain and body- so if you put in the right stuff, it will work hard in return.
Deep breathing can slow down a beating heart or racing mind, so it’s great to practice these techniques at home with your child. Simply concentrating on breathing will help calm erratic thoughts and get rid of anxious feelings. Practicing envisioning their own exam success is an alternative technique you can try to zap high anxiety levels. Doing this allows your child to mentally rehearse the test itself with confidence and in a calm manner, which can highly impact the way they approach it in real life.
Discuss worries together
Talking with your child on a regular basis during exam season is a fantastic opportunity for them to air any concerns or worries. There’s nothing worse for them than keeping it all bottled up inside. Chatting about what’s causing their anxiety or the certain aspects of the exam they’re stressing about will help clear their head. Not only can you offer a fresh perspective, you can suggest ways to tackle the specific issue or simply console them.
Tips for reducing anxiety during the exam
During the exam, it’s important to try and stay as calm as possible, which is certainly easier said than done! Here’s a few quick tips that’ll combat high anxiety levels and ensure your child performs to the best of their ability.
- Before opening the exam paper take some deep breaths and relax.
- Start by looking at how many sections/questions there are to complete and calculate roughly how much time should be spent on each.
- Use all the time given. Even if you finish early, re-read over your answers!
- Read all questions and instructions twice and carefully.
- Don’t pay attention to what others are doing- just concentrate on your own test.
- If a question is too difficult, move on to the next one and come back to it later.
- Don’t rush, there’s no prize for finishing first.
- After the exam, put it into perspective. It’s just an exam- you can retake it if you need to.
Don’t forget to read our ‘Top Ten Revision Tips’ for a handful of helpful revision techniques.