Do you know what a boggart is? All Harry Potter fans out there will be quick to tell me! Yes, a boggart is your worst fear. Your boggart can be a spider, like Ron’s, or a cobra like Parvati’s, but for many of us, our worst fear is the same as that of Hermionie— Failing in a test!
Exams ARE scary! The thought of exams creates a pit in your stomach. You can’t think of anything else, you stop going out, you can’t sleep and you’re stressing all day long.
I’m here to tell you— stop. Take a deep breath. And let’s work together to figure out
Number 1, Why exactly are we afraid of exams? And Number 2, How can we overcome this fear? I’m going to give you specific action plans to handle exam fear
One month before an exam,
one week before an exam,
on the morning of the exam and
in the exam hall.
Reasons for exam fear
Now, what do you mean when you say “I’m shit scared for my History exam tomorrow” or “I’m freaking out about my Maths paper?” Are you scared of writing words on a paper? Are you scared of sitting in a classroom? The simple answer is no.
When we say we are scared of an exam, what we really mean is, we are scared of the results of that exam. By default, we start assuming a negative outcome. You start imagining all the names people will call you, like ‘failure’, or all the people that will be disappointed— like your parents, teachers or even yourself.
However hard it may seem, we must break this cycle! The first step in overcoming exam fear is to stop thinking about the results and start focussing on your actions. How do Harry Potter and his friends overcome their boggart? They unleash their wands and say the magic spell, Riddikulus! The first step in conquering fear is recognising that it is very small, almost ridiculous. It cannot stop you and you must use this realisation to convert your fear into productivity and get going! American self-help author Peter McWilliams, said “To overcome fear, here’s all you have to do: realise the fear is there, and do the action you fear anyway.”
Now let’s talk about the specific action plans we can take at different stages. Are you ready? (Pause)
One month before the exam
This is usually the time when dates for your examination are announced and you realise that things are getting serious. You remember all the books that are gathering dust on your table and you don’t know where to start from. What can we do here?
- Focus on the time you have— Let’s imagine that you have 86,400 rupees in your bank account. Now, suppose someone steals 2 rupees. Will you waste the remaining 86, 398 going after those lost 2 rupees, or will you focus on safeguarding what you have? Similarly, each day also has 86, 400 seconds.You might spend a few minutes being afraid of the exams but you cannot waste the whole day because of these lost 2 minutes. The moment your exam dates are declared, pick up a calendar and start marking the number of days you have left. Keep crossing each day that you use for revision. This will motivate you to make the best use of your time.
- Set up base camp— Get all your textbooks and notebooks in one place. Do a basic read through. This will help you overcome the fear that you don’t know anything at all. Having a basic idea will build your confidence and motivate you to read further in depth. Don’t run behind accumulating supplementary information. Make sure you are well prepared with what you have, and only if time permits go the extra mile.
- Make a schedule— Make a list of all the subjects that you have to cover and arrange them into a time table. To learn how to make a perfect time table refer to this video. I’ll drop the link in the description box below.
- Pace yourself— Don’t think about everything you still have to do. Look how far you’ve come! The moment you feel scared about the future, think about the next 60 minutes. Set your goal for these 60 minutes and complete it. Take your studies one hour at a time.
Dale Carnegie, author of bestselling book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living says, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage”. So, push yourself to keep doing, and the fear will automatically vanish away.
One week before exams
This is the period when you feel that the whole world is falling down on you. There’s chaos all around and you’re paralysed with fear. You just don’t know what to do. Now, when we are faced with such a situation, two instincts kick in— flight or fight. The flight instinct might tell you to give up because all is lost. But believe me when I say, one week can also be the difference between bad marks and good marks. So keep fighting.
So, what’s the road ahead?
- Pick wisely— Pick the chapters that have the highest weightage and study them thoroughly. This way you will be assured of some success. You can also look at previous years question papers to get a lay of the land, an idea of how the exam will be. Study what is important and what has a high chance of being asked.
- Focus on the 3Rs— The 3Rs of studying one week before the exam are revise, revise and revise a lot. Perfect whatever you know till you’re confident you won’t make a mistake with it.
- Positive reinforcement — This is the time when you need a little thrust to keep yourself afloat. Keep pushing yourself till the last day. After all, “It’s better to face the pain of discipline than the pain of regret”. So, speak to the friends and family that will motivate you for these last 7 days. Remember your only competition is you!
On the morning of the exam:
Finally, the day is here. It’s natural to be nervous, but here’s how you can channel your nervous energy in the right direction.
- Sleep well before the exam— It is essential to be well rested before an exam. Only then will your brain be able to function and remember everything that you have learned. We have a detailed exam morning routine with food and power revision tips and I will drop a link for you below
- One last glance— Don’t try studying any new concepts, you will only end up confusing yourself. Instead, have short tables or mnemonics ready at hand, and go over them. Once you have done this, close your books and give your brain time to reboot for exam mode.
- Positive thinking— Before you go into the exam hall, it is very important to think positively. Don’t assume the worst. Don’t think about the outcome. Look at the 3 hours of the exam as an adventure where you’re going to learn a lot.
In the exam hall:
The last stage of fear is when you see that question paper and all the words seem like Greek and Latin to you. You feel like you’ve forgotten everything and the silence in the exam hall is deafening. But you can overcome this fear too! (Pause)
- Breathe and stay calm – Look at the paper not as something that you have to win at, but something you will learn from. Think of it this way, the question paper will help you only if you allow it to. After all, Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” Now how do we understand the paper?
- Familiarise— Spend the first 10 minutes reading the question paper. Mark the questions you know. Always remember, the same question can be asked in multiple ways. Perhaps these questions are ones you have already studied but are just framed in a different way here. Don’t let the fear of the unknown control you.Make the unknown the known. Underline keywords in the question. Think about topics related to those keywords that I’m sure you’ve studied and will gradually start remembering. Now pen down all the information related to those keywords that you know.
- Don’t be afraid of wrong answers— This is something students are afraid of: what will my teacher think if i write this stupid answer? The answer may seem stupid to you but may actually be the correct one. It is always better to write something than leave the page blank. Leave behind this fear of what others will think. And remember, “Don’t let the fear of missing keep you from taking the shot”.
So, these are some ways you can overcome your exam fear. I want to leave you all with a bonus quote.
Fear has two meanings — Forget Everything And Run OR Face Everything And Rise.
The choice is yours.
May you shine in your exams and Happy Learning