It is that time of year…. a few days away from the State Exams in Ireland. There are thousands of people across the country stressed out about exams – some of them are the students doing the exams, and some are the parents! I’ve coached hundreds of teenagers on the topic of exam stress. Below is a summary of what I’ve learnt and how it may help:
Top Tips for Exam Stressed Students:
- Mind Games – Our mind can play tricks on us. We can get into a bad habit of expecting the worst (what if I don’t know the answers, what if I go blank, what if I feel sick and can’t write anything). We have to take back control and make sure we are giving our subconscious mind an image of us being calm, taking deep breaths and doing the exams, allowing the knowledge we have inside to flow out. Remember to catch the negative thoughts such as ‘I haven’t done enough’, ‘I won’t get the points’ – and replace it with something that serves you better, such as ‘I’ve done what I’ve done’ or ‘I’ve done enough’ or ‘I can do it’ ‘I have a great memory’.
- Deep breathing – If you are very stressed and you haven’t learnt the effect of deep breaths, its time to start. Take 3 deep breaths down into your belly. Right down… or even better imagine you are breathing a deep breath down to your toes. Deep breathing allows us to let go of what’s going on in our mind… Try to make this a new habit, when you are feeling stressed, take a deep breath (as many as you need) and let the thought go. If you find it hard to do you can listen to a guided meditation, they are really good to listen to at night when our minds can race (there are hundreds on Youtube and I have a free exam stress guided meditation you can download here). During the exam if you feel panic or stress, take deep deep breaths, if you need to move, then go to the bathroom and take deep breaths the entire time. Imagine yourself calmly sitting your exam and allowing everything to flow. Get back to your desk and tell yourself ‘I can do it’ continue the deep breaths as you read the questions and start to write.
- Exercise & Diet – Exercise is really good for our mind. If we have a healthy body that feels good it is closely linked to having a healthy mind. Even if you just get out for a walk for 10 minutes a day, in the fresh air (preferably close to nature), it is proven to improve our state of mind – if you remember to practice your deep breaths while you’re walking, it will be easier to remember it on the day of the exam. We all know a good diet and plenty of water also helps us to feel better.
- Sleep & Memory- We all know we need a good nights sleep to feel good, but if you want to improve your exam performance it is critical to get enough sleep. There is a direct link between sleep and memory. This is taken from an article called ‘Sleeps role in Memory’ from the American Physiological Society ‘Over more than a century of research has established the fact that sleep benefits the retention of memory’. On the other hand ‘Sleep deprivation and sleep disruptions cause severe cognitive and emotional problems’. Our state exams are a test of our memory. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep now and during the exams.
- How we think about Stress – Kelly McGonigal has a great TED talk on making stress your friend. I’ve written about this before but I think everyone should know this. Those who feel their heart racing and their palms sweating and other signs of stress, and think of stress as a bad thing, will suffer negatively from stress. And those who feel these signs and think of stress as a good thing; such as ‘This is my body stepping up to the challenge’ and they have the attitude of ‘bring it on, let’s do it’ – and they don’t feel any negative effects of stress.
- Put exams in their place – I’m not saying exams aren’t important. But we all need to remember (Parents included) that the exams don’t define us. They capture a moment in time, on a very specific academic subject. They are not who we are. They do not give a full and rounded picture of all the talents and abilities we have. They are not the ‘be all and end all’. Imagine yourself in 20 years looking back at these exams and realizing that they were no where near as important as you think they are now… you probably won’t even remember what grades you got!
I also wrote an article in January before the mock exams on exam stress with some tips for Parents that also may help – click here for the link.
All the very best of luck to all those doing exams, remember to breath deeply and trust your amazing memory. If you need an emergency exam stress coaching session before the exams, I have a team of excellent life coaches around the country and we also do video life coaching.
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart
Child and Teen Life Coach
The Confidence Clinic
00353833425364 or (01)8493909