Keep calm during exams

May 05, 2018

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Illustration by Sophia Khan
Illustration by Sophia Khan

As we pass through life, many moments and experiences remain vividly with us despite years having passed by. For me, one such experience was the morning of my chemistry exam of second year Intermediate.

For the first time in my life, I had enjoyed studying chemistry that year because of the wonderful teacher we had. He made all the chemical reactions seem so simple to understand and so easy to remember. I had worked harder than ever in chemistry. I knew everything and was ready for any question that came my way, when I went to bed the night before the chemistry exam.

The morning, a particularly hot one, was so different. Just before the exam, as I and my friends sat down for some last-minute revision, I felt my mind go blank and numb. I couldn’t recall anything! Distressed, I looked at the others around me to get some reassurance. Before anyone could notice my worried expression, I started to cry … and I won’t stop!

sat down for some last-minute revision, I felt my mind go blank and numb. I couldn’t recall anything! Distressed, I looked at the others around me to get some reassurance. Before anyone could notice my worried expression, I started to cry … and I won’t stop!

Understandably, the others around me turned to calm me down as I sobbed that I couldn’t remember anything, my mind was all blank!

Negative vibes tend to spread very fast and before my panic attack could subside, a couple of girls stated crying too and the rest appeared totally distraught. One brave soul among us had remained sane and managed to calm down the rest too and we became composed enough to head for the exam hall.

This is a scenario some of you may be familiar with, when your mind seems to go totally blank even though you have studied so hard and well. Though I hope none of you cried and became too nervous, feelings of these kinds are often experienced by far more students than it is talked about. Wrongly considered a sign of weakness, anxiety and panic are states that can come over the strongest and most confident of individuals, for various reasons, mainly stress.

Why do we feel exam anxiety?

Stressful situations such as tests and exams put us under pressure — the pressure to do well to get good grades, not to disappoint our parents, high expectations from ourselves, etc. This pressure is considered by our mind in a way similar to what we would feel in any situation of real danger. And the body reacts by releasing the hormone adrenaline, among some others, which lead to physical reactions such as sweating, a pounding heart and rapid breathing. Most people have mild forms of these reactions, while for some it may be intense.

As to what happens to our mind, its stress response is in the form of the working memory becoming foggy, recall mechanisms being disrupted and the mind going blank. And in this state of the mind, if negative thoughts creep into it, the anxiety increases.

So anxiety is simply a reaction of our mind and body in such pressure situations.

Illustration by Sophia Khan
Illustration by Sophia Khan

How not to freak out

Be ready: If you are ready to give your exam, you will not be frightened of it or feel it as a kind of threat. Being ready means, of course, studying well as then you will only feel the pressure but will not feel threaten.

If you are not prepared for it, naturally exam will become a situation you will be uncomfortable in, and nervousness and stress is going to hit you.

Being ready also includes more than studying well. You should have all the required things you will need during the test or exam and if you forget an important item of your stationery at home, you will be too mentally disturbed to do your best even if you know all the answers.

Sleep well: Staying up all night or sleeping for just a couple of hours the night before the exam is a very bad idea. You may be able to learn or revise very important topics in these sleepless hours, but then when you are giving your exam, your mind will not be working well because it is resting or is too fatigued to think clearly or swiftly.

The brain is the most important part of us that needs to be taken care of during these important days.

Eat well: Most of us are too nervous to eat before an exam, breakfast is the last thing on our mind at that time. But food provides the brain with energy and nutrition. The gap between dinner and breakfast is of around 12 hours, during which whatever energy we got from dinner has been used up. The body needs refuelling in the morning, so do eat something light but nutritious, such as milk, egg, cereals, fruits or whatever you like.

Also during the duration of the exams, our diet can become all messed up as we may snack on junk food and not follow a set routine of meal timings as we study for hours. This will lead to poor health, which, coupled with exam pressure, can even make us ill. You definitely don’t want this to happen, so stay healthy by maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet.

Think positive: Negative thoughts tend to come to mind more often than positive ones to most of us, in any given situation. And during tough ones related to studies, we are hardly ever satisfied by our preparation or performance. But this can lead or add to anxiety.

So try to push negative thoughts away. Give yourself positive messages by telling yourself, “I can do it” or “I have studied hard so I’m ready to do the best I can” or “I can’t let nervousness distract me from my goal, I need to stay focused”.

Share your fears: Mum is the best doctor in the world and her hug is the best medicine there is for everything. When you feel down, nervous, anxious or just tired from studying, just go to your mother or father, share your thoughts, spend some time with them and you will feel better.

They know you better than you know yourself and they will be able to calm you down and know what to do to make you feel better. Other family members and friends will also be helpful when you share your thoughts with them. There is an old saying about this, “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased,” so don’t suffer in silence.

Take advantage of stress: Yes, I really mean it, let me explain how. Instead of letting stress or anxiety make you inactive, pessimistic and panic-stricken, use these emotions to urge yourself to prepare better for the exams in advance, do all the above-mentioned things and be at your mental and physical peak to be able to study and perform well.

Channelling this stress energy towards a positive activity will keep anxiety from spinning out of control. But if you are stressing on the day of the exam, studying more will only increase your problems as you now need things and techniques to relax you.

Relax: There are many ways to relax and you know what is the best one for you, so we will not be getting into the details here, except for some simple tips.

Take deep breaths, close your eyes and try to blank out everything from your mind. Do it for a few minutes and you will find yourself becoming a bit calmer. Take a shower or wash your face, drink water or juice and keep yourself well hydrated in this heat. These things should restore your energy level and after that you will automatically start feeling better.

Best of luck and stay calm.

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 5th, 2018