Continuing on in the blog series on tips for exam success with another tip today. This one is all about the mental preparation you need going in.
Tip #2: The Power of Positive Thinking
It may sound cheesy, but having a positive attitude can change the way you approach an exam, help to relax you during an exam, and give you less anxiety after the exam. Let’s discuss further!
It’s not like you need to jump for joy because of the fact that you’ve got a final coming up. However, think about the way you respond mentally or physically whenever you think of the upcoming exam. You might feel anxiety, dread, despair, exhaustion, grumpiness. Every time you mention the exam, you probably are either complaining or stressing about it and even your tone of voice will reflect that. You might involuntarily clench your fists or frown when you talk about it, think about it, or hear others mention it.
What if you tried to go from negative thoughts and reactions to slightly more neutral ones? Try thinking to yourself “Everyone has to write exams. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not like I didn’t expect this when I signed up for university. Exam week is going to be a lot of work and pressure, but at the end of the day, these are just exams, not death sentences. In a couple of weeks, it’ll all be over.” You can even try joking about your exams a bit to lighten the dark mood surrounding the very thought of them. Try breathing deeply and calmly instead of getting tense and anxious physically.
It’s even possible to try to think positively about the exam, though this may be a bit extreme for many! You could think to yourself “I’ve worked hard in this class. This exam is a chance for me to show everything I’ve learned. In fact, it’s going to be a good feeling to prove that I’ve learned a lot.”
In any case, changing your attitude even slightly towards exams from a completely negative one to a more philosophical, humorous or even positive one might help alleviate some tension, which in turn may help you to stay calm and focused when studying, and keep you from procrastinating too much.
During The Test
During the exam itself, you can keep on maintaining your positive attitude just by reshaping thoughts you have. Instead of “I don’t know a single one of these questions! This is insane!” you can think to yourself “OK, this is looking tricky. But I know at least something about the subject. I’m going to give the easy questions my best shot first.”
If your mind begins to really panic, and you start “downward spiraling” in your thoughts, you may find yourself thinking things like “I’m going to fail this exam! Then I’ll fail this class and fail out of university and be a complete failure for the rest of my life!” Definitely try to keep your mind from wandering down this path. Give yourself messages like “I’m OK to pass this exam, at least. If the worst comes to worst and I fail, I may still pass the class. Whether I pass or fail the course, I can always retake the class if I absolutely need to and improve my mark the second time around. It’s going to be OK!”
After the exam, you might fall into the trap of second-guessing yourself, comparing answers with everyone else who wrote the test, and getting butterflies in your stomach whenever you picture yourself getting the results. Again, try to change to a more neutral attitude. “It’s all over now. I can’t change it anyway so I may as well be glad that it’s done.”
Some people have or develop a real condition called exam anxiety. In this case, no matter how positive you try to make your attitude, the thought of exams may be incredibly overwhelming and fear-inducing to the point that it’s really going to affect your performance. You can link to this post on exam anxiety for more information on symptoms, treatment, and where to go for help.