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How to deal with anxiety before exams

As we move towards Year 9 and 10 exams we recognise that some of our girls will be feeling more pressure than usual. This will perhaps be particularly true for Year 9 as they sit their first round of exams in the senior school.

We know that many girls work hard in studying for their subjects, but still feel some anxiety at this time. It is normal to feel a bit apprehensive about examinations and it is important to see concerns about exams in this light.

Exam anxiety is:
Excessive worry about upcoming exams
Fear of being evaluated
Apprehension about the consequences
Experienced by many normal students

If girls are feeling anxious in the lead up to the examination period, these are some points to keep in mind:
The better prepared you are, the less you will worry.

Anxiety increases when you are tired, run down or overwhelmed. Eat well, sleep well and exercise to keep balance and normality in your life.

Make sure you are clear about what you need to do in the exam: ask if you are not sure.

Don’t try to be perfect – just aim to do your best.

Don’t keep things bottled up. If you are excessively worried, talk to someone you trust who will be supportive.

Focus on keeping a positive mindset.

Stress can actually enhance performance if viewed in the right light. Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal argues that it’s not our stress levels that need to change, but our attitude to stress itself.

McGonigal references a Harvard study which tracked 30,000 people over eight years and asked them questions such as “How much stress have you experienced in the past year?” and “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” In this study, participants who viewed their stress as helpful – in terms of preparing them for their performance - were less anxious, less stressed and more confident. It was all about how they perceived the stress they felt.

When stressed, the heart beats faster, we breathe faster, and we break out into a sweat. Normally we’d view these as signs that we’re not coping well, but we can see it in a different way: that our bodies are preparing for action.
By pumping more blood and breathing more, we are preparing for something difficult, and are ready to take on any challenge.

We encourage our students to see these symptoms of anxiety as their bodies preparing for a challenge in the same way as they would get energised before a big sporting game or before climbing a mountain.

When athletes are called upon to perform in high-pressure situations many of them describe having peaked senses that they use to their advantage. They’re able to quiet their minds, zone out the audience and focus on what they need to do.

Here is a link to Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk.

Ms Kate Nunn,
Director of Teaching and Learning

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