If you have been wondering how to do well in exams, and stay calm and focused under pressure- a sports and performance psychologist can help!
My name is Abra Garfield, and I am a sports and performance psychologist working in both Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, and have helped many people just like to you to do well in exams, and progress their careers. I provide structured and personalised support and help you build the skills you need to optimise your exam preparation and performance.
Sport psychology skills and theories are not just useful in sport – they are just as applicable for any type of written, verbal, technical or movement-based exams. These skills have been tried and tested in the high pressure domain of professional sport, and have a strong evidence base and success rate – so you can be confident that you will learn how to work smarter, manage your stress and anxiety, and get into the zone so you can perform at your best even in the high stress situation of an exam.
Why is it So Important to Do Well in Exams?
We all face exams in our academic, professional and even our personal lives – driving tests, sports and music tryouts, high school (QCS, HSC) and university exams, and in our jobs – such as Law (BAR) and Doctor (GAMSAT) entry exams.
The reason we can become so anxious about doing well in exams, is that they represent significant “gate keeper experiences”, determining what doorways and opportunities we can access. They can be defining moments in our lives, which is why we invest much energy, attention, study, practice and preparation to make sure we do well!
The trouble is, studying and preparation alone is not necessarily enough to help us do well on exams. It is also important to train to be resilient to the pressure the exam environment presents.
If we cannot master the skills required to perform under pressure, exams can become roadblocks to reaching our potential. The very nature of most exams is quite intimidating, setting off alarm bells in the brain.
No wonder many of us suffer stress and anxiety around exam time!
Anxiety and Stress at Exam Time
Although some level of anxiety and stress is completely normal, for some it can be very debilitating. Sadly it can have a negative impact when it comes to preparing for and taking exams, regardless of one’s skills, abilities and aptitudes in the area being tested. No matter how skilled or competent, some people still struggle with stress and performance anxiety, perhaps due to past failures, or simply their genetics and personality.
Performance anxiety is caused by the brain’s security system. This system is built to detect threats to our survival and quickly mobilises the “fight or flight” system, which helps keep us safe from physical harm. In the modern world this inbuilt security system commonly misrepresents threats to our future success (such as exams), as threats to our survival. Unfortunately, the anxiety of the fight or flight response is not an ideal state for when you want to do well in exams!
If performance anxiety is triggered by an upcoming exam, it can create problems with our:
- Emotional state (frustrated, angry, irritable, nervous);
- Thoughts (limits problem solving, overwhelmed, racing thoughts, negative thinking);
- Focus (easily distracted, narrowing of focus, focus fatigue, ruminating on problems);
- Energy (dramatic energy swings, low energy, nervous energy, affecting sleep and appetite).
Our preparation and study for the exam can be impacted, as common reactions to performance anxiety include:
- Feeling overwhelmed by the workload and paralysed by over-analysis;
- Sacrificing self-care activities that keep our batteries filled;
- Procrastinating and avoiding studying;
- Getting lost in details due to poor organisation, planning and time management;
- Wasting energy from stress and its impacts on our health, appetite and sleep;
- Confusion, low mood, negative thinking, low confidence and self-belief.
Somehow, the exam or test turns into a monster in our minds, and we are left feeling helpless and hopeless.
Conquering Exam Anxiety
This anxiety can also affect us on exam day, preventing us from performing at our best, as our nerves lead to:
- Low mood;
- Preoccupation with physical nerves;
- Distraction and concentration issues;
- Over arousal and even panic;
- Difficulty thinking calmly and relaxing the mind;
- Rushing, getting ahead of ourselves and not reading or listening carefully;
- Preoccupation with approval from others in some exams;
- Energy spikes and adrenaline dumps;
- Preoccupation with results and importance of the test;
- Preoccupation with other performers, and unfair comparisons.
If you are a student and regularly face exam pressure, you probably already realise that long term exposure to stress and anxiety can take a heavy toll on our health and wellbeing. While doing well in exams can help us build our self-confidence, experiencing failure or achieving poor results due to exam anxiety can lead to lower self-esteem, and limiting access to opportunities in life. Yet we may actually be extremely competent in the subject – it’s just exam anxiety is preventing us from performing at our best!
How to Do Well in Exams
When working with people wanting to do well in exams, I focus on both the preparation AND the performance stages.
For example, to support you through the preparation stage and lead up to your exams, we will work on:
- Organisation – performance profiling, time management, goals, study plan, gathering information;
- Optimising your study environment to help you stay calm and focussed;
- Building your motivation, confidence and self-belief;
- Improving self-care to protect your body’s batteries and wellbeing;
- Managing exam stress and anxiety, and helping you to reduce procrastination;
- Gauging the test’s challenges and triggers – contextual, social, content;
- Practicing under pressure, not just studying the content eg taking practice exams.
Then it’s time to focus on “game day” – your exam – with things like:
- Developing a pre-exam routine, and equipping you with the mental skills to stay relaxed and reach your peak state;
- Your plan of attack – one step at a time;
- Improving your attention skills to stay focused on task and in the moment;
- Mood and confidence building tools.
If you have been dissatisfied with exam results in the past, and would like to know the secrets to achieving success, I would love to provide you with the knowledge and skills, the support and guidance to help you conquer any exam anxiety, and perform at your best.