Perform at Your Best: How to Manage Exam-Day Nerves

Ah, exams: The final hurdle to jump over before the summer break. The huge, sad hurdle, that really gets in the way of watching Netflix…

Because exams often make up a large part of your grade, it’s totally natural to feel nervous. Here are some things to do before, during and after the exam to beat those nerves and be able show your markers what you know!


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Before the Exam

• I like changing up my studying methods for memory-based exams – I use concept maps, flashcards (Cram is an excellent flashcard app, because all your cards are on your phone!), posters, and notes.
• When preparing for an essay-based exam, it can help you feel more relaxed if you brainstorm some answers to possible topics. You can take a look at previous exam questions (if available) and practise with those. Your tutor or lecturer may supply them, or you can visit the library website.
• If you know you have some exam questions which allow you to focus on certain areas of the course, pick your course area to write on ahead of time if appropriate. That way, you can prepare thoroughly for certain areas you feel confident in and feel on top of things – rather than trying to cover content in detail for the entire course.
• Blast some happy music and have a one-person dance party (you know you want to). A great stress-reliever!
• The psychology student in me is coming out here – but here’s a #lifehack for studying. Basically, your brain uses heaps of things in the environment to ‘cue’ memories. What you want to do is build up an association between studying content and remembering content (in the exam). It can be as simple as spending sunny days studying on the lawn next to the REB, or wearing the same perfume when you study and take the exam.
• Work out what you don’t know. I know, I know, this can be a totally scary idea. However, it has helped me immensely when I sort out all my notes into three piles: ‘Got this: H1 central’, ‘Somewhat confident’ and ‘What was that again!?’. Then, as exam day draws closer, I can really focus on the latter two piles.
• Ask questions! Even if your tutor isn’t allowed to answer certain questions regarding exam content, make use of the discussion board for your subject and ask your classmates.
• Set out ‘incidental revision time’ – bring your notes along on your public transport commute, to read in your break at work, while waiting to meet someone, etc. It all adds up!
• Exercise! Get out there in the sunshine and go for a walk to relax. If you find it hard to set aside time for fitness because you feel ‘guilty’ for not studying (first of all, you totally don’t need to – but I get it!) record your notes and listen to them while you walk or run! If you’ve seen The Imitation Game – running every day totally worked for Alan to solve Enigma. So if we all go running, we’ll be that smart too…. Right!?
• Plan. Schedule your whole week for SWOTVAC to feel organised and calm about what needs to be done. Don’t forget to pencil in some leisure time!
• Test yourself on your content as you make notes – this has been shown to increase retention. You could even write notes in a question-answer format.
• Study sessions with friends: It can make you feel much more confident going through topics with others. They do say that if you can teach someone else, you’ve got it! If this doesn’t work out, check out noticeboards and club communications to see if any are offering revision sessions!
• NON-study sessions with friends: enjoy a few coffee or lunch breaks, where there is a rule to talk about anything except exams. Your brain will thank you for the quick break!


The Day Before

• It’s really up to you if you study or not the day before. A day won’t make a huge amount of difference in terms of the content you remember – so go ahead if it boosts your confidence, but you can also take a day to relax if you think that will be more beneficial. If I have work or take a day to relax, I do set aside an hour or so at night to read over my notes, mostly for a confidence boost.
• Materials: get everything organised the night before – make sure you’ve got your student card! Try and fit your items into a clear bag/pouch to avoid the mad scramble to the shipping containers.



The Day Of

• Breakfast… This is something I found super interesting when I initially came across it: We’ve all heard the ‘eat a big breakfast’, right? However, if there is a lot of food (or greasy food) to be digested, your body’s energy and resources go into digestion, rather than to your brain. So have a medium-sized, healthy meal – as early before the exam as you can, to allow time for digestion and to enable your brain to operate at its peak.
• Like studying the day before – the idea of studying on the day of an exam can relax some people, but not work for others. It’s really up to you; like studying the day before, it’s important to put things in perspective. If you’ve been working hard for three months, a couple of hours before the exam won’t make much difference either way. I have a really long commute to the city, so I feel relaxed if I bring some notes along and read them on the train. It’s super quiet on the train, and reading notes on the train has boosted my confidence with my exams in first year and this year. I throw my notes out at the station though – and then walk to the REB ready to go and do my best, taking some time before the exam to just get mentally ready to go in.
• If someone tries to talk to me about exam content before an exam, it makes me nervous because I start thinking of concept I might not understand/remember perfectly. If this is the same for you, a good strategy I use is to talk about what I’m doing after the exam. You can think of what you have to look forward to rather than what you have to make it through.


After the horror exam

  • Easier said than done, I know – but like talking about the material immediately before the exam, talking about my answers afterwards gets me super worried! At the end of the day, the exam is done and you did the best you were capable of under the circumstances throughout the semester and the exam itself. Celebrate by treating yourself to a coffee as suggested above, or a doughnut (because Doughnut Time is at Melbourne Central now. That is only one station away from Parliament…)


Wishing you all the best for the exam period! Study hard, and walk tall – you can do it!

-Bella :)
Note: These are some tips that have helped me at uni – however, I am not a professional. If you are feeling as if your exam worry is becoming too much, you can contact Counselling and Psychological Services here. They have also published some great tip sheets, such as this one for exam anxiety .



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