I struggle with exam anxiety. As the day draws nearer, I become increasingly nervous. With each turn of the calendar page, my stomach drops further and further, and I spend longer each night trying to fall asleep while my thoughts grind, thinking I should have done more that day. I’m regularly not a particularly nervous person, but there’s something about exams that feels so final, and so out of my control, that it brings out a side of me that I’d rather be without. After struggling with this feeling for the four years I’ve been out of high school, I’ve decided to deal with it once and for all.
I didn’t always feel like this. I can remember taking exams in high school and not feeling the faintest hint of stress. Hell, I even felt excited sometimes to see which tasks we were given! I don’t know what has brought on this change, but I’m guessing the pressure of getting into vet school, and how important each exam was when I was trying to get the perfect grades I needed has made me feel like a lot is riding on every single exam, and that there’s an added pressure to perform.
My friend Anja described it so well earlier today; “On the bus ride there I go into an almost catatonic state, and my whole world seems to be collapsing. The last ten minutes before the exam I feel physically ill. However, when the exam is handed out, all that goes away, and I’m like a machine, doing exactly what I’m supposed to.”
Throughout the week, I’ve had several conversations with my friends, starting with me opening up to one of my classmates about feeling nervous already, even though the exam is nine weeks away. She said “why? Do you know what I do when I feel nervous? I just decide not to.” She asks herself why, and overrides her emotions, because “nothing good comes from her being stressed out”.
Other advice I received when I asked included more long-term preparation, like having structure and focusing on your health as much as possible in the weeks and days leading up to the exam. Getting enough exercise, eating and sleeping well were among the things people mentioned the most. One advice I loved came from my friend Ingrid, who mentioned journaling as a way to unwind. Perhaps seeing it in writing will help you gain a better perspective on why you’re nervous.
If you’re already in an anxious space, focusing on your breathing can help tremendously. When I asked my study group how they deal with exam anxiety, a lot of the answers revolved around self-talk. A quote that stuck with me was “I need to be able to feel proud of the work that I’ve done before leaving for the exam. If I know I’ve done everything that I could, and that still isn’t ‘good enough’, then so be it!” This “Laissez-faire»-attitude could be what I need to go from viewing the lack of control as anxiety-inducing to freeing.
So in summary:
1. No good comes from you being anxious
2. Focus on your health; get enough food, rest, and exercise
3. If you can’t pinpoint why you’re stressed, try journaling
4. Focus on your breathing to get out of negative thought-spirals
5. Use self-talk as a tool, and be proud of the work that you’ve done