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How to calm your exam nerves

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When every exam you take feels like the end of the world, what steps can you take to conquer your anxiety?

You’ve read the books, memorised the matieral, and you should have all the answers. But like clockwork, when the day of the exam arrives, you can feel the exam nerves coming on. You freeze. Your chest tightens. Your frayed nerves could send all your hard work up in flames. 

Sit back, close your eyes, and take three deep breaths. There are ways to beat test anxiety no matter how severe; it’s all a matter of self-trust and discipline. 

The night before

  • Can’t sit still? Go running. Don’t let yourself go into a study session with a full mind and restless legs. Doing some light cardio exercise before studying gets your blood pumping, releases endorphins, and helps you focus your thoughts.
  • Trade salty and sugary study snacks for “brain food”. It’s easy to binge eat while you’re studying, but instead of reaching for another packet of crisps, try a banana. Fruits, vegetables, and foods high in protein, such as nuts will give you energy without the crash, and you won’t feel bad later for eating them.
  • Hardest first. Focus on the most mentally strenuous items first. When you first start studying your mind is at its sharpest, so it makes sense to tackle the more complicated stuff first and think of the easy subjects as a reward for all your hard work.   
  • Don’t neglect your sleep schedule.As a nursing student, you know all-nighters aren’t easy to recover from.  While they seem like a good idea at the time, they leave you dozing off at odd hours for days to come.  Instead, organise your time effectively so you can get a good night’s sleep. If you’re only half way through your material at this point, don’t panic. Set several alarms, and wake up a few hours early to study. Your brain needs time to process the material you just slaved over…you might as well use that time to sleep.

The morning before

  • Take a hot shower. Instead of hitting the caffeine - which could make you jittery and nervous - try waking yourself up with a shower. The shower is a good place to clear your mind, and will leave you feeling clean, refreshed and ready for the day.
  • Eat a hearty and healthy breakfast. You may not feel like eating first thing in the morning, but breakfast is essential. Taking a test on an empty stomach could make you more irritable and stressed out.
  • Take a peek. Be sure to glance over the notes you have already studied. If you covered the more difficult material the night before, start with new material in the morning to get yourself warmed up.  Go back and forth between the simpler and more challenging materials.
  • Arrive early. There is no worse feeling than being late for an exam; eliminate this possibility by leaving at least 20 minutes before you need to. Look over your notes while you wait for the exam to begin.


While taking the exam

  • Trust yourself.  When we get nervous, we tend to doubt ourselves. We begin to question even the most obvious answers. Go with your gut feeling; the moment you begin to second guess yourself is the moment you stop feeling at ease. 
  • Don’t panic. If you come across a seemingly impossible question, give your mind a few minutes to absorb the information before you try to think of the answer.  Skip over the question and come back to it when you have finished the exam.  If you’re nearing the time limit and won’t have time to go back, just remember: it’s better to finish the exam with one question missed, than mull over one question and not finish the exam. 
  • Breathe deep. If you find yourself panicking, take deep breaths. Panicking comes from hyperventilation, so remember that it is something that can be controlled. Take a long breath in while you count to four, hold it for four counts, and release it in eight.  The slow release of the breath will help you control your next inhalation. 
  • You’re not alone. Lots of other students will be feeling the same way. The key is to relax, take deep breaths, and remember that when all is said and done, exams are just a stepping stone.
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Readers' comments (1)

  • Adam Roxby

    This is a very useful article and I have some more tips about anxiety which will be coming up in a future blog post so stay tuned for that.

    In the meantime, these tips will certainly help you greatly but feel free to add your own suggestions using the comment section below.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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