What you do just before an exam can make a big difference to your performance and your confidence. Here are our tips for staying positive on exam days and ensuring that everything goes smoothly.
Know when to stop revising
The evening before your exam, give yourself some time to unwind before going to bed. A good night’s sleep will have a bigger impact on your performance than anything you try to learn now.
That said, if you don't end up sleeping well, try not to worry. We can do amazing things on very little sleep when we really need to.
A reviving shower and a sustaining breakfast will help you feel energised for the day ahead. But go easy on caffeinated drinks: a little caffeine may help you feel more alert but too much will only make you anxious.
It’s useful to spend some time looking back over your notes, but don’t try to cram lots of new information at the last minute. Trust in what you’ve already done and can do.
Being organised is one of the great stress busters!
The day before the exam, double-check the start time and location and go back over your exam strategy. Plan your journey and make sure you’ve got something comfortable to wear.
Check you’ve got everything you need for your exam, including your library card and any required stationery, so that you’re not hunting around at the last minute. Making a list in advance can help you feel reassured that you haven’t forgotten anything crucial.
Avoid taking unnecessary electronic devices and other valuables, as you won’t be allowed to have these with you at your desk.
Set out early and allow plenty of time to get to the exam venue, especially if you’re not living on campus. It’s much better to arrive too early than to worry about being late.
Be considerate of others
Taking in-person exams means being around your coursemates before, during and after the exam. And while a bit of friendly camaraderie can help calm your nerves, it’s also important to be mindful of other people’s feelings.
Try not to stress each other out while you’re waiting to go into the exam and, of course, avoid doing anything that might annoy other people while the exam is in progress!
After the exam is over, resist dissecting the questions in detail or speculating on how you think you did. You don’t know how other people are feeling. Take some time out to relax and focus on something other than work before you tackle the next exam.
Feeling a bit nervous before an exam is normal. In fact, we need a moderate amount of anxiety to psych ourselves up for a challenge.
But we all need strategies to help keep exam nerves under control. Here are some ideas you could try if you notice negative or anxious thoughts creeping in:
Reframe anxiety as excitement
Psychologists have suggested that because we respond in similar ways to anxiety and excitement, we may be able to trick our brains into mistaking one for the other. So the next time you notice yourself feeling anxious, tell yourself ‘I feel excited’. See the exam not as a threat but as an opportunity to shine.
Aim for good, not perfect
Remind yourself that no one is expecting you to know everything or produce perfect exam answers. The exam markers know that you’re working under timed conditions and they'll be assessing your work on that basis.
Keep things in perspective
One set of exams won’t make or break your career or your chances of future success. But the transferable skills and strategies you’re developing as you take these exams will last you a lifetime.
Stay focused on what you’re learning – about your degree subject but also about yourself.
If things don't quite go to plan, try not to be self-critical. Turn it into a positive learning experience by reflecting on what you can do to improve next time. (See Moving on from disappointing results for some tips.)
Define success on your own terms
You know better than anyone else what constitutes a meaningful achievement for you. Think about how you’d complete this sentence:
‘Whatever grades I get in these exams, I’ll feel proud that I … .’
Remember, too, that Student Support is always available to help.
The tennis player Arthur Ashe, who had plenty of experience of facing challenges, famously said:
‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’
Approach your exams with this mindset and you’ll come through them feeling confident that you’ve done your best – and that’s all any of us can do.
Good luck! 🙂
If you have any questions about in-person exams, please post them below.