With the excitement of the new school year worn off, you might be experiencing something else: stress. Thinking about tests can make your stomach ache or your heart pound. You may remember a previous exam that didn’t go perfectly and worry, “What if I can’t remember the answers?” or “What if I don’t do well?”
The truth is that everyone feels a bit anxious before being tested, be it during a history exam, soccer tryout or musical performance. The key is managing those nerves. So here are several simple, effective tips from experts to help you control your emotions and do your best:
1. Practise strategically. Having the information and skills you need to succeed is key to managing self-doubt and avoiding failure. So above all, study well ahead of time.
“Practise doing exactly what you’ll have to do on the test,” recommends Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and author. For instance, explains Moore in her book Kid Confidence, for a maths exam, practise doing actual maths problems, like those that you’ll be tested on. Doing anything else, like reading through notes or watching your tutor solve problems, won’t prepare you, Moore says. Sleep also helps your brain absorb and retain what you’ve learned, so ideally, review before bedtime - perhaps asking a parent to help.
2. Do the easy parts first. “If you hit a hard question, skip it and come back to it. Doing the easy ones first builds your momentum and confidence - and might remind you of things you’ve forgotten,” Moore says.
3. Block bad thoughts. “Put your imagination on a leash,” recommends Jane Ehrman, who’s a behavioural health therapist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Deleting” negative self-talk by focusing on your knowledge and abilities, and picturing yourself doing well instead, can help you reach your goals, Ehrman says.
4. Keep calm. This may sound impossible when you’re really nervous, but like anything else, calming down is easy with the proper tools. Oxygen relaxes you and increases brain function, so as soon as you feel panic rising, try this breathe-and-release technique, suggests Ehrman: take a long, deep breath, then part your lips and let it all go, exhaling all your tension and worries out of your body. Repeat for four breaths, three or four times a day. After a couple of weeks, deep breathing daily can “rewire” your brain to be calmer. You’ll find that when faced with new challenges, you’ll automatically breathe-and-release any stress before it’s overwhelming.
5. Take care. Practise healthy habits in general, but especially in the week leading up to a test, Ehrman says. This means getting exercise, going to bed early and fuelling your body and brain with healthy food - not junk food - to be at your best.
6. Stay focused. Because you can think about only one thing at a time, you can replace any negative thoughts with a positive statement, such as, “I know how to do this!” When you feel fear or doubt creeping up, take four long breaths while repeating your statement. In just a minute, you’ll be calmer and ready to tackle what’s ahead.
And remember that if you feel overwhelmed or want help managing difficult emotions or challenges, always reach out to your family, friends, guidance counsellors or others you trust. Having support can help make any difficult situation more bearable.