Student life
Posted on: Jul 23, 2016

Big stress of exams (and tips to “survive” before, during and after an exam)

Harmonia Coaching

This post is also available in Greek

At some point I should accept it. It will always be like this. I will feel stress during every kind of exams f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I am older than 24 and I should accept and learn how to live with it.

Until now I have taken a lot of exams and various exams: school exams, Panhellenic exams, exams in my bachelor program, foreign language exams, introductory master exams and right now I am giving exams to pass my master courses. I will not try to remember every little test that I have given regarding any small thing or procedure in my life. I am doing this on purpose because frankly I could lose my sanity!

Three days ago I found myself sitting in a small table (someone could possibly think that it was a desk) in an unbelievably huge underground room – a Greek classmate called it “σφαγείο” (“slaughterhouse”) and in my opinion he was not completely wrong. I sat close to another Greek classmate who sat in the small table behind me and together we were waiting our first exam in a Dutch University to begin. We were both quite stressed but we were trying to avoid making it worse by completely not expressing it. At some point I heard her sighing and by turning my (until then) abstracted gaze to her I saw her face pouting while she was asking me: “It doesn’t get any better, huh?”. “What?” I asked her. “This stress right before exams” she responded, “When you think that your stomach is like bonded, you feel you don’t know a thing and once more future is unstable and you have to endure this trial.

What’s more you have to succeed your final goal”. I knew what she was talking about. “I don’t think that you can stop all this” I answered with a slightly absolute voice. “Even if we are getting older, even if we are learning new things, exams will always be a difficult –almost painful – procedure since you fight with all your strength to prove something”. Honestly, I don’t know what exactly we try to prove during an exam. Maybe that we worth something, that we deserve to be here since we are smart persons and that’s what we should show to others. I am not sure but I suppose you have to show something in an exam and for this “something” finally you take a grade. So nope, when you are aware that you are taking an exam you cannot stay completely calm and probably that is how is going to be in every single exam. In addition, it's of no use if you demand from your stressed self to relax or stay cool because if you don’t have anxiety before an exam then when is the best choice to be anxious? When stress is more logical and you have the right to feel it?

After this conversation that afternoon and after all the big stress that I experienced until my exam was over, I figured out some stuff and I wanted to share them as small secrets with every anxious – feeling in the same way – friend. I am sure about your similar “dramatic” feelings with me and I want to tell you that the truth is that:

- Stress will never leave you, so the only possible solution is to learn how to control it and not to let it “freeze” you. It’s like fear, which many times protect us, but when it’s more close to terror it’s just doesn’t permit you to do anything. So even stress needs some balance. You can feel stressed because you want to succeed your goal but try to keep your equilibrium stable (I know that it could be difficult but please just try!)

- Try to completely stop reading around one hour before the exam (more is even better). The worst thing you can do to yourself is to go in the exam area and still talking to yourself or asking others what is this and how you could do that. STOP! If you know something, you just know it or not! Go and do the best you can, without weird learning attempts by the last minute. Otherwise you will maybe just forget what you already know!

- Be in the exam room on time (20 minutes earlier sounds good). You need time to prepare the stuff you carried with you (pen, pencil, calculator, papers, bottle of water or food, switch off your mobile phone etc.) and to receive the initial instructions before the exam. Honestly, try not to exchange anxious phrases with everyone around you. It is better if you try to stay silent and start a kind of meditation (good breaths!) until you have the exam papers in your hands.

- Try not to believe in an absolute way all the gossip that you will have heard before the exam regarding the course, the professor or the exam itself. Except some rare cases everything that you usually hear doesn’t count anymore or it counts sometimes or it was never like that at all. Try to take all the needed information from your tutor or the coordinator of the course and even then don’t believe that you know everything. Until last minute you cannot be sure about anything!

- During the exam: (a) Never think or say “I don’t know anything” because if you have been studying you can write some answer even to the most difficult question of the exam, (b) try to fill every blank space you see (in other words try to answer every question) unless it is something you really see for the first time in your life. Otherwise, it is possible to answer something correctly, so try not to lose points for things you get but didn’t write, (c) try to avoid spending hours to only one subject since there will be more and easy remaining questions. If you answer them in a rational way you will pass the exam.

-Until you see the grades try not to kill yourself! If you pass, then bravo! If you fail you have always another chance (that’s what I keep telling to myself since I am expecting results in two weeks).

There is nothing magical you can do to pass and general advice could not be helpful for every single one person. Every student, every course and every professor are different. There is not a better or a worse educational system – and I had to leave Greece and come here to figure out that the word “chaos” is Greek, but it doesn’t appear only to one country, one system. Moreover, there is not a best way to study. You should change and try new methods and keep your mind open in order to pass your exams – even if you feel that this goal is impossible to be fulfilled (I am talking again about myself!).

I am crossing my fingers and I am waiting the results while I am wishing that I will be strong enough to stand and manage in an energetic way even a bad result. Good luck to all the future examinees and keep your mind clear!

(And now I am thinking that one day I should give an exam to take a driving license. Well right now this sounds too much for me! Next year, maybe…)

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I am a psychologist who loves travelling, reading books, listening to music, watching movies and theatre, tasting different cuisines but especially writing (almost about anything) when I don’t coach and I don’t read stuff regarding Psychology. I am passionate and I always tell the truth. By the age of 50 I will be an owner of a bookshop (I hate e-readers!) and I will have a small house with a big garden in Chalkidiki!

Read more by me at:
Tis fanis tis fanike oraio
Harmonia Coaching
Ms Psyche blog