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Tackling the exam-room nerves

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We go into the exam room, leave our bags, coats and scarves at the door and wander around the maze of tables to find the correct, alphabetically allocated chair. The time starts and papers are turned over.

First question: “what does the liver do?” Liver? That wasn’t one of our key words, was it? I turn to the girl next to me. “Is this right?” I whisper. “They changed the key words last night,” she nods back.

The exam room referee marches over and tells me to leave. As I stand up I realise I’m in my underwear and everyone is laughing at me.

…By now you will have probably realised this is a nightmare. A savage pre-exam dream.

These semi-naked nightmares, twinned with the hourly body clock panic add to my already heightened stress levels. When my alarm finally wakes me I text my classmates informing them of my appalling night and, not surprisingly, get several replies with similar stories. One of my friends even tells me she is “definitely not constipated”.

So, how do you get over exam nerves? I don’t think you can. There will always be an element of anxiety, no matter how much you’ve revised. That’s perfectly normal. You would get some pretty funny looks if you strolled in happy as Larry. Although you can’t necessarily eradicate exam fears, you can combat them with a number of simple tips.

Step one. Revise. That’s probably easier said than done but it is a key element of exam preparation. Make a timetable detailing what you want to revise and when you can do it and stick to it. I know it is difficult when you have children or a partner or, in my case, some goldfish and an attention seeking moggy, but you have to be selfish.

Of course, revision doesn’t mean you’re confined to the textbooks. Make notes that you can follow. Use spider diagrams, different colours and flow charts. Remember key sentences. Find a technique you’re comfortable with and run with it. I found that making bullet-pointed posters and scouring YouTube for simple videos worked for me.

Revising can be frustrating, especially with Facebook and the Real Housewives of New York vying for your attention, but stick with it. You’ll hate yourself on the day if you feel you could have done more.

Step two. Ask for mock questions and exams. How questions are structured, the format of the exam and where you write your answers – on the exam paper or in a separate book - are not things you necessarily want to find out on the day. Some questions have hidden hints in them. Words like explain, briefly describe or define are asking for specific answers and it’s worth having a few practice ones to master. This was the one thing I wished I had looked into more. I think if you have knowledge of how the exam will be, it’s not quite as daunting.

Step three. Stay social. A problem shared and all that. Invite your friends over for a coffee driven revision rant. Things that you may be struggling with, your friend may love. And vice versa. And rather than writing yourself test questions and then peeping at the answers, get your friends and family to test you. Keep you on your toes. My tutor group set up several group Facebook conversations and we sent regular texts checking up on each other. It’s such a nice feeling knowing someone else is going through the same things you are.

Finally, stay calm. It is never going to be as bad you’ve imagined.


Alice Eveleigh is in her third year of adult branch at Bournemouth University

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