Tutor HuntBlog

Exam anxiety and how to cope with it

Secondary Schools
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Once again we are approach exam season. GCSE`s begin next Monday the 6th of May, and conclude on Friday the 21st of June. Each individual exam board will set the specific dates for their assessments, but the vast majority will fall within this boundary. With such an important deadline looming its understandable that many pupils will be feeing anxious. Of course this is perfectly natural, and to be expected. Two years of preparation and study is about to be put to the test, quite literally. GCSE`s are the first set of exams with the potential to have a discernible effect on one`s career prospects, so they should certainly be taken seriously.

Many students unfortunately suffer from exam anxiety, which can affect their performance during their assessments. The ability to think clearly, to solve problems, and to recall information are all negatively affected by this anxiety, which unfortunately means that for all too many students their exam grades will not be indicative of their true ability.

Ofqual - the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation - states three main areas where pupils can be supported by schools in managing their exam anxieties:
1. Teaching students specific examination and revision techniques to increase their sense of agency and competence
2. Helping students identify, share and challenge negative thoughts about their exams, which may otherwise become overwhelming
3. Providing support for managing the physical symptoms of exam stress before, during and after exams

Specific revision and exam techniques can best be approached by sitting past papers under exam conditions. With enough practice most pupils` anxieties should be reduced. Of course nothing can specifically compare to the actual experience of taking an important exam, but recreating the conditions of a GCSE exam will certainly help.

Past papers are also useful in that they will help pupils learn how to pace themselves. GCSE exams vary in length, with most falling between 35 minutes, and 1 hour 45 minutes. Pupils should assess how much time they will apportion to each question before their begin, scanning through the paper, and calculating out how many minutes they want to devote to each part. By managing their time in this way they won`t find the`ve spent too long on earlier parts of the exam, and haven`t left themselves with enough time for a difficult question at the end. No student should find themselves in the situation that the are panicking and rushing in the last few minutes of an exam. This time should be used to carefully go over your work, looking for any simple mistakes.

Concerning point number 2 and negative thoughts, Ofqual cites the work of educational health psychologists, who are able to provide useful interventions that can tackle any negative thoughts that may be hampering a pupils` ability during an exam. The techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be employed to focus on understanding, and dealing with any psychological impediments the pupil may be feeling prior to taking the exam. An example they give of negative thoughts that may contribute to exam anxiety are: ; `I am going to fail,` `Everyone else will do better than me,` `If I don`t succeed, it means I`m not good enough,`or `I will never be able to pass this test.`

The purpose of CBT is to bring the student to full awareness of the negative patterns of thought they are harbouring, and assist them in tackling, and ultimately negating these unhealthy modes of thinking. With these mental blocks removed the pupils will be in a much better position to face their exams.

While a medically trained CBT practitioner may not be available for every student, the principles of the therapy can certainly be utilised and put to good use. A way to achieve this is to be perceptive of any negative thoughts concerning exams that enter the mind. Ofqual gives the example of `I failed the last test because I panicked, I`ll fail it again this time.` The aim of CBT is to retrain your mind, to get your thinking out of certain negative habits. In this case one would, upon noticing such a negative thought, immediately replace it with `I have control over my emotions and will focus on the knowledge I have gained from studying.`

In the time leading up to their exam the student would be advised to focus on the knowledge they have built up over the last 2 years. Rather than fixating of any potential gaps in their understanding, they should allow their confidence to grow by allowing themselves to accept that they have a competent knowledge base of the subject. Engage in positive thinking, telling yourself that you posses good knowledge of the subject, and whatever the result, you will have done your best, and no one can ask for more than that. It`s important to engage in these acts of positive thinking in the days and weeks leading up to the exam, rather than waiting for the very day of the test. By setting up assertive and uplifting thought patters in advance, they will be properly established by the time you have to sit your exam, and any anxieties will be quelled.

Anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms. In the lead up to an exam students might find themselves losing their appetite, having difficulty sleeping, and being unable to focus properly. These symptoms are most likely the result of the body going into `fight of flight` mode. An excess of adrenaline caused by the impending exam can lead to these physical manifestations, which will likely continue into the exam itself, hampering your ability to produce your best work. There are various practices students can carry out to help deal with stress levels. Mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into students` daily routine - techniques such as controlled breathing, and focusing on what you are sensing and feeling at that particular moment. Just a few minutes a day can have positive results, and help attenuate any anxieties.

9 days ago
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