Prepare Yourself Properly

The first two articles in this series on exam anxiety provided information on what exam anxiety is and three effective direct methods of managing that anxiety. Exam anxiety can also be managed indirectly by maintaining a healthy physiological and psychological state through proper exam preparation. There are a wide range of things you can do to prepare yourself for an exam. This can range from having good studying habits, practicing past exams and finding study strategies that work for you; to getting a good night sleep and eating a nutritious meal.

Studying: If you struggle with what content to study or how to do so effectively, this may play a role in creating exam anxiety. Effective study habits and strategies are critical for exam preparation, so it might help to have a list of multiple study methods to refer to.

Forming good study habits:

Choose an area with minimal distraction. For some, this might be a quiet space. For others for whom awkward silence acts as a distraction, it may help to have a little background noise.

  • Know what to study. If you are unsure of what content to focus on, generally you should choose the content you spent the most time discussing and learning in class. Teachers tend to reinforce content they think is important and that is likely what you will be tested on.
  • The lucky number three. It is much easier to recall information after reviewing three times because at this point you are solidifying the information into your long-term memory.
  • Avoid cramming. Not only is crammed information less likely to be stored in long-term memory (because it has not been reviewed a minimum of three times), you may also underestimate the time it takes to study all the content which can cut into other important aspects of life such as sleep time or personal hygiene. This will make it harder to arrive on the day of the exam ready to perform at your best. Cramming sessions also prevent the ability to ask questions on content you are unsure about. If you study a few days before, you will have the chance to ask your teachers for clarification regarding information you are unsure about.
  • Make a study schedule. Having a pre-established study period will help you hold yourself accountable and may help prevent procrastination. A study schedule will also help you become more organized so that you can better prioritize the amount of study that has to be done.

Finding strategies that work for you:

Review your notes. Reviewing notes does not necessarily mean simply reading through what you’ve written. It may help to re-write your notes. It is thought that the action of actually writing down information helps to solidify it into long term-memory. If, however, writing is not your preferred style of learning, it may help to read the information out loud. It is even better if you can find someone to read your notes to because they may ask for clarification on some information and this will test your full knowledge of the subject.

  • Teach the content. Typically, being able to teach someone else subject content means you need a full knowledge of what you are teaching. If you can adequately explain content to someone without being dependent on notes or a book, then chances are you know the subject thoroughly and will be able to recall the information during an exam.
  • Use the resources around you. It may help to form a study group with other students in your class. They may have a better understanding of certain topics which they can help you with, and it also gives you the chance to try and reteach the topics they may not feel comfortable with.
  • The importance of sleep. Sleep is critical the night before an exam. Inefficient sleep impairs cognitive processes making it hard to recall information. Sleep is also important because it plays a major role in consolidating memories so they can be recalled in the future. In other words, during sleep your brain processes everything that happened during waking hours, rejects the useless information, and takes everything it feels is important and stores it into long-term memory. This also means one of the best things you can do is do a quick review right before bed because the last thing you do before you go to sleep is the first thing that will be processed and stored into long-term memory.

If you take the time to study the right information in a way that works for you, you will feel better prepared and less anxious on the day of the exam. Remember, if you do start to feel anxious before or during the exam, take a deep breath, try to relax your body, and say something positive to yourself. At the beginning of the exam, if possible, start with a question you are sure you know. This will help build your confidence going into more challenging parts of the exam. Try to pace yourself accordingly and prioritise the most amount of time for the most important questions. Finally, remember that the exam is only testing you on information that you are already familiar with, so trust in your knowledge and be confident in the effort you already put into learning the subject.