With the end of the school year approaching, there is always excitement about summer vacation. But with this, is the seemingly gigantic obstacle that needs to be overcome before the bliss of sunny days and freedom: exams. Your teen may be experiencing some anxiety about this time of the year because of the cumulative projects and upcoming exams. You may see more irritability or expressions of stress and frustration rise in their words and their behaviour. Just remember that it’s only temporary and once that final exam is completed, the excitement of summer will return!
During this time, I always try to remind myself when working with my teenage clients that it can be a very stressful time. I try to incorporate strategies to help in managing test anxiety, whether or not they believe they experience it. So, I wanted to share a few main points that I find to be helpful with surviving exam time:
1. Studying requires breaks! Our brains can only retain a certain amount of information before it begins to shut down on its own. Therefore, even though we are entering into our third hour of studying, the likelihood of remembering is quite low. So take those breaks to give your poor brain a rest, please.
2. When we “blank out” during exams, it is usually not because we are unprepared. It is usually because our anxiety is so high that it is interfering with our ability to remember. If this is the case, it is important to enter the exam environment in a calmer state. Right before the exam, put away the notes (you’re not going to learn anything new in the next few minutes) and focus on relaxation. Sit and listen to your favourite song, sketch in your sketchbook that you haven’t used in a while, watch a television show. Bring your anxiety down from a 10 to a 7. It will make a big difference.
3. Try to reframe your thoughts if they are negative. If you think that you are going to fail, remind yourself of the good (or “okay”) marks you have received in this class so far this semester. Instead of focusing on what you still don’t understand, think of the things that you studied and know backwards and forwards. If you think that it will be a long and grueling process, remind yourself that you will be on summer vacation in less than a week. This time tomorrow, this class will be done and over!
4. Before you start writing anything down on your exam, read over all of the questions and take a deep and slow breath. Exhale all of the worries and remember all of the work that you have put forth to get there.
5. Get a good night’s sleep and eat something small before the exam. Fatigue and exhaustion will make it very difficult to focus, formulate your thoughts, understand the questions, etc.
6. Once the exam is over, IT IS OVER. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the questions and whether or not you got this one right or that one wrong. Leave it in the classroom and take the night off if you can by doing something enjoyable.
7. If you feel panicked or anxious before your exam, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel this way. It may not mean that it is because you are going to fail. But it is definitely a reflection of your desire to do well, which means it is important to you.
Below is a link to a pdf file that has a lot of helpful strategies to prepare for exams and write them. I give this to my clients all the time, even if they are not worried about their exams.
Good luck to all and I hope this post was helpful to you!!