Many students feel great anxiety when it’s time to take an exam.
The heart speeds up, the breath becomes agitated, fast and shallow, and your mind goes blank.
You read the exam questions and, despite having studied, it seems that all memory has been erased from your mind and that you will not be able to write a single line.
Here are some things you can do in those cases.
Read the following techniques and use the ones that work best for you.
Mindfulness breathing. Take several breaths, concentrating exclusively on all the details of your breathing and nothing else. Pay all your attention to the air entering through your nose and completely inflating your lungs, then leaving slowly, feel like it’s colder to enter and warm after, observe the movement of your chest … Imagine that there is nothing else, that you don’t have to do anything else except breathe, that you are nothing but breathe.
Self-instructions. Have prepared beforehand phrases that you know can be used to calm you, and repeat them internally. For example: Come on, relax, it’s just a test, now I feel a great anxiety but I’ll calm down right away and I can do it, I don’t have to make it perfect … Get out of your mind any negative comments or self-deprecating, replacing it with these phrases.
Stop time. When you feel anxious to start an exam, you immediately start to think that you’ll be this anxious all the time and therefore you’ll run out of time and you won’t even be able to start, you’ll have to turn in the exam in blank, you’ll feel like an idiot, etc. To avoid that, the technique of stopping time can be very effective.
Do this: start by thinking, “Now I’m going to stop time,” then imagine that time stops and that, therefore, you have several minutes to do nothing at all, except stand still and leave your mind blank. To do this, focus your attention intensely on a word in the test or on the pen or any other small object, so that all your attention is totally absorbed by that object and you forget everything else, even your own anxiety.
Observe. A similar technique to the previous one consists of spending a few minutes observing people, their faces, their gestures, thinking about how you think they feel, what they might be thinking, without making value judgments or comparing you with them, just observing as if you were in the cinema. This will also help you get out of yourself and what you’re feeling. That is to say, when a person feels anxiety, he tends to worry about that anxiety, to focus on it, so that the anxiety only increases. With these techniques you stop focusing on yourself and your emotions, you come out of yourself because you focus your attention fully on the outside.
Modify your thoughts. Ignore all the negative self-talk and use a constructive thought, aimed at giving you courage, seeking solutions and not see the situation as a catastrophe, but as a bit annoying, remember that you have prepared the test well and that you will start immediately.
Describe your own anxiety. Focus completely on your anxiety, observing it as if you were an extraterrestrial studying the human being, observing how your heart beats, how your breathing is, how your muscles are affected… Imagine that anxiety has a certain color, a texture, a shape. Experience anxiety completely, accept it, feel it and surrender to it completely. When you give yourself to an emotion in this way and live it fully, without fighting it, it usually disappears.
This is very different from that tendency to focus on anxiety in the negative way that I commented before. What you did then was focus on anxiety by resisting and fearing it. What you’re doing now is accepting it fully and letting it go through you.
If you go blank: read the question and, on a separate sheet of paper, write any phrase, idea or word related to the topic.
For example, if you are asked about a historical event and that date comes to mind, write it down. Then use what you’ve written to help you start writing. Start equally on that separate sheet, no matter if you start in the middle, the important thing is to start writing, because that will help you awaken associations in your memory. This way, you can write a few paragraphs. Then use what you have written to develop your answer on the test sheet in a more orderly way.